Spring Preview: Who will be NU's best five on the o-line?
With spring practice beginning next week, HuskerOnline.com begins our in-depth look at each position with our 2020 spring position previews.
We continue today by taking a look at the offensive line heading into spring practice.
What we know right now
Nebraska returns all five starters from last season, but the offensive line depth chart is hardly set in stone going into the start of spring practice.
At this point, there appear to be three starters locked in that top-five group in seniors Brenden Jaimes and Matt Farniok and sophomore center Cam Jurgens. Jaimes will be top left tackle and Jurgens will anchor the line at center.
The issue, however, is where Farniok is lined up by the time the season opener rolls around. If redshirt freshman Bryce Benhart is ready to take over as the No. 1 right tackle, it will allow Farniok to move inside to guard, where many think is his more natural position.
Much remains to be seen on that potential move, though, and veteran guards Boe Wilson and Trent Hixson will be fighting to hold onto their starting spots at right and left guard, respectively.
The good news is that regardless of who makes up the starting unit, the Huskers seem to have more depth on the offensive line than they've had in some time.
Senior Christian Gaylord, juniors Broc Bando, Matt Sichterman and Hunter Miller, sophomores Will Farniok and AJ Forbes, and seven other redshirt and true freshmen give NU a luxury of numbers and competition that could be an invaluable asset once the season gets rolling.
Then there's the unknown status of Nouredin Nouili, the former Colorado State transfer who played in eight games with seven starts at guard for the Rams last year as a true freshman. As of now, the Frankfurt, Germany, native who attended Norris (Neb.) High School will sit out this season, but there remains a possibility he could receive an NCAA waiver to play immediately.
If he gets it, Nouili could definitely shake things up in Nebraska's guard competition this offseason.
Another aspect worth noting about the future of the offensive line is that of the eight players brought in over the past two recruiting classes, seven of them stand 6-foot-6 or taller. That means this group should continue to look much different going forward.
Biggest question to answer
Matt Farniok has started the past 24 games at right tackle for Nebraska, but his role could change in a big way this season if all goes to plan.
Many feel that NU's coaching staff is holding out hope that Benhart will be mentally and physically ready to take over as the new No. 1 right tackle this season and allow Farniok to move inside to guard.
The logical spot for the 6-foot-6, 325-pound senior would be at left guard, meaning he would replace Hixson in the starting group. Sources close to the program have told HuskerOnline that they think Farniok could have legitimate NFL potential as an interior lineman.
That means Benhart will be given every opportunity to win the top right tackle spot this spring and summer, and Farniok will work at both tackle and guard this spring. As long as Benhart confirms he's ready to make the jump as just a redshirt freshman, it should change the look of the o-line in 2020.
There are also questions about the right guard position, as the two-year starter Wilson will have to earn his job again this offseason against some hungry talent coming up the ranks.
Right now, redshirt freshman Ethan Piper, who received a lot of praise from o-line coach Greg Austin last season, looks to be the top competition.
Maybe the best position battle on Nebraska's offensive line this offseason will be at right guard, where Piper figures to give Wilson all he can handle for the starting job.
The 6-foot-4, 300-pound native of Norfolk, Neb., saw one game of action in NU's win at Maryland last season, but he still managed to catch the eyes of Austin and the rest of the coaching staff in his first year.
A consensus all-state selection as a senior at Norfolk Catholic who chose Nebraska over Iowa, Piper started earning praise from Austin even before his first fall camp practice last summer.
"He's a very, very cerebral kid and certainly he's been a delight to coach," Austin said of Piper, and that was last July. Word is that Piper has only gotten better by the day since then, and he'll enter the spring as one of the leading contenders to win a starting spot.
Projected Spring OL depth chart
1. Brenden Jaimes, Sr.
2. Brant Banks, RFr.
1. Matt Farniok, Sr.
2. Trent Hixson, Jr.
1. Cam Jurgens, So.
2. Will Farniok, So.
1. Boe Wilson, Sr.
2. Ethan Piper, RFr.
1. Bryce Benhart, RFr.
2. Broc Bando, Jr.
Other notables: Christian Gaylord, Sr; Matt Sichterman, Jr.; Matthew Anderson, RFr.; Jimmy Fritzche, RFr.; Hunter Miller, Jr.; Michael Lynn, RFr.; Turner Corcoran, Fr.; AJ Forbes, So.; Nouredin Nouili, So.