LINCOLN — The football wasn't in Cole Pensick's hands before the snap for much of last season, and that took some getting used to.
He'd been working at center since 2010, mentally conditioned to recite his own snap count for the rest of the offensive line before triggering the start of every play by delivering the football to the quarterback.
But last year, he had to follow someone else's lead. And it was odd.
“The biggest issue there was more getting used to, being at guard, not calling my own cadence,” Pensick said. “(It was) not me, going in my own head, 'OK, snap it.' I had to wait for the center.”
The Nebraska senior is back in control — for now. He's expected to start at center in the Huskers' fast-paced spread offense, though he made sure to keep refining his technique at guard just in case the coaches decide to move him one spot over once again.
Coach Bo Pelini said two weeks ago that he doesn't want to cement anyone into a role this early, not even at center. He said quarterback Taylor Martinez operates smoothly with both Pensick and junior Mark Pelini snapping the football. So that allows for lineup experimentation.
Preseason practice began Monday.
“You've got to have versatility,” Pelini said at Big Ten media days. “You've got to have multiple guys that can play.”
Pensick was a full-time reserve at left guard last year, subbing in for the now departed Seung Hoon Choi during NU's first 12 games. Pensick started at center in the final two contests after Justin Jackson went down with a season-ending injury.
“There's really not a whole lot of difference,” Pensick said of the two positions.
Well, except for the action of snapping the football. And some responsibilities in the few seconds before that.
Pensick is used to identifying the defensive looks from the center spot and setting the line's blocking assignments, though.
But he never has much time before the snap to analyze it all. When the center's not ready, the guards and tackles aren't either — and suddenly, that means Nebraska's quick-tempo attack is stalling out.
“You have to be there, ready to go. You are the guy,” Pensick said. “If you're not getting set, well, no one else is either.”
Nebraska's no-huddle offense, ideally, would move faster at times this fall, too.
Pensick is ready for the challenge.
He's heavier than ever — about 280 pounds. The 6-foot-2 product from Lincoln Northeast was listed at 260 when he joined the team five years ago.
But back then, Pensick was training behind Ndamukong Suh. He was trying, like every Husker D-tackle, to mimic the eventual Heisman Trophy finalist in hopes that he'd learn to strategize and react the way the coaches wanted.
Six months of practice time as a defensive tackle is actually paying off for Pensick.
He can predict his opponent's moves a little bit. There was one play against Michigan that still stands out to Pensick.
He was on the move, trying to push a defensive tackle out of the running lane.
“I could feel him fighting, trying to fight over the top,” Pensick said. “I was thinking, all right, I know what he was trying to do. So I just dropped and cut him. And down he went.”
If the defender had gotten around Pensick, he might have forced the running back to hesitate. Or worse: Pensick's guy makes the stop in the backfield.
“I really am glad that I played D-Line first,” Pensick said. “I learned the mindset of a defensive lineman in college football, and the tendencies that they look for.”
He'll be utilizing those experiences again this fall. Pensick is an important part of Nebraska's offensive line, which might just have more seasoned contributors than it has had over the past half-decade.
Pensick hopes so. His objective is to help the team, at center or guard.
“We do have a lot of depth. It's a great thing. It pushes the guys who are starting to get better,” Pensick said. “I think it just increases that competitiveness that we're trying to install. There's no down time. It's go, go, go. Do the best you can.”
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