Older, better and in shape, Nebraska’s offensive line could surprise this season

Older, better and in shape, Nebraska’s offensive line could surprise this season
Nebraska’s Jerald Foster (left) and Tanner Farmer, No. 63, are two of Nebraska’s most experienced players. Maligned in recent years, the offensive line could be one of NU’s surprise positions this season. (MATT DIXON/THE WORLD-HERALD)

LINCOLN — “Say that again?”

Left guard Jerald Foster didn’t love a reporter’s insinuation that, while all of the skill position players in Nebraska’s run game — quarterback, running backs, tight ends — were largely different, the offensive line was more or less the same as 2017. After all, four regular starters — including Foster — return.

Foster, a captain on that team, wanted to set the record straight.

“Same offensive line? We’re older,” Foster said. “So let’s just check that. We have more experience in understanding what’s asked of us. Offensive line, we have matured.”

As so many parts flit around in coach Scott Frost’s no-huddle offense, the line — particularly interior linemen Foster, center Cole Conrad and guard Tanner Farmer — wants to be the bedrock.

There may be times when NU runs a run-pass option Saturday in which the guy throwing the ball (Adrian Martinez), running it (Maurice Washington) or catching it (Andre Hunt) are all true freshmen. NU will start two sophomore tackles (Brenden Jaimes and Matt Farniok) and a sophomore tight end (Jack Stoll).

“There’s some youth in key positions on this offense,” offensive line coach Greg Austin said.

And there is the trio of fifth-year seniors right in the middle of it, too. They see themselves as leaders on the offense. Austin called them together, Conrad said, and held them to a higher standard.

“If somebody’s not doing something, they’re going to be called out,” Conrad said. “We just can’t have another season like we’ve had.”

Keep a level head, Austin told his fifth-year seniors. The line doesn’t have to cover so much for Martinez, but it can project confidence so Martinez doesn’t get “happy feet” in Saturday’s season opener against Akron.

“If we do our job, he’ll be able to do his job,” Austin said.

But he and Frost want more from that trio, especially off the field. Frost commended Foster for his willingness to speak up, but he needs leaders in every facet of a player’s day. And Austin said he thinks the leadership piece will kick in fully after they’ve played Akron.

“They’ll see the fruits of their labor and then it’ll come all the way around for them and then they’ll say, ‘OK, this is why, this is why we need to do this, why I need to say this at this point in time,’ ” Austin said.

Not that the trio bailed on accountability before. But as a 4-8 season showed, consistency was lacking. The offense lacked direction and discipline, Farmer has said more than once. The linemen weren’t in as good of condition as they are now — Foster joked Monday he has zero worries about NU players getting tired during Saturday’s game.

The energy and excitement are there, Farmer said, in ways they haven’t been. He couldn’t put it into words.

Austin could.

“It’s that brother-to-brother, eye-to-eye, I-got-you deal going on between Tanner, Cole and Jerald,” he said.

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