LINCOLN — There is a toughness and attitude that will accompany John Raridon, Matt Farniok and Boe Wilson in future practices, and assistant Mike Cavanaugh can only smile about what they might infuse into his offensive line.
Cavanaugh also could have his hands full.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if Raridon and Farniok ever get in a fistfight, even though they’re both offensive linemen, because they’re so competitive,” Cavanaugh said. “They’re gonna be kind of fun.”
After a season in which injuries hit and depth was challenged, the trio will go from scout team to in the mix as redshirt freshmen in spring workouts.
That should ramp up the options and competition on the line.
“That group we brought in a year ago … tough guys,” Cavanaugh said. “So, (I) really like those guys.”
Nebraska is seeing a little more of them during December practices, and some thoughts turn to the future as the Huskers lose three seniors after the Music City Bowl.
As of now, Cavanaugh projects Raridon at center, Farniok at right tackle and Wilson at guard. The Huskers also have guard Bryan Brokop from their last recruiting class. The staff considered playing Wilson after losing left guard Jerald Foster to a mid-August injury, but improvised instead.
Once the season started, the newcomers went to the scout team and spent the next three months battling the first-team defense each week.
“We get after them every day, and they’re not scared at all, and they try to hammer us as well,” senior defensive tackle Kevin Maurice said. “Individually, guys like Raridon, I think he’s going to be a really good one. He’s always aggressive.”
Nebraska will have one senior lineman next season who started or played much in 2016 — right tackle David Knevel — so the cornerstones will be the sophomore class of left tackle Nick Gates, Foster, right guard Tanner Farmer and right tackle Cole Conrad, all of whom started the Iowa game.
“It’ll be fun getting all those guys back,” Cavanaugh said. “I think it’ll be good from a leadership standpoint, too. I think they’re going to want to do things a certain way, and probably more of the way I want ’em done.”
Gates already has 22 career starts, and at 6-foot-5, 290 pounds managed third-team All-Big Ten despite midseason ankle trouble. Cavanaugh said Gates “got way better” from his redshirt freshman season after moving from right tackle to left.
“And he’ll get better and better,” Cavanaugh said. “To me, the sky’s the limit for the guy. He just keeps working. He’s got that toughness that you love.”
Redshirt freshmen Michael Decker, Christian Gaylord and Jalin Barnett also have a chance to take another step. Though their playing time was minimal, each spent time as No. 2s this season.
Decker and Raridon will be among the options at center with NU losing Dylan Utter. Conrad also worked at center, but Cavanaugh hinted Tuesday that he likes the walk-on at right tackle, where he was one of the biggest surprises this season with four starts.
With the screen game a big part of the offense, Cavanaugh said Raridon can be effective because he is “so athletic and smooth getting out in space, and has great body control.”
“And he’s a nasty dude,” Cavanaugh added.
Cavanaugh said Wilson has all the tools and was physically ready to play this season. He said Farniok is strong and powerful, with improving footwork, and just needs to use his hands better in pass protection.
Cavanaugh thought his linemen improved from Year 1 to Year 2 in seeing things better and communicating.
“And I think technique’s improved,” he said. “Obviously, we’re not where I want to get to, but we work hard on that.”
The need for gains still shows in the Huskers ranking No. 62 nationally in rushing offense. Their yards per game (178.2) and yards per carry (4.3) both slipped from a year ago.
In addition to Foster sitting out the first nine games, both Knevel and Farmer missed at least two starts because of injuries while Gates and Utter had stretches of playing hurt.
“A lot of guys kind of stepped up and amazed me,” Utter said. “I was talking to Gates before the season about how just kind of the first line had experience, and the second team kind of really didn’t play at all. And those guys were thrown in the fire, and that’s the best way to learn. And they did a great job.”
With five weeks between the Iowa game and the Music City Bowl, Utter hopes Nebraska can get all its linemen healthy, play one last game together and show what they can do.
“We had high hopes for the beginning of the season, and even with guys going down our hopes were still high,” he said. “I’m proud of all of the guys that stepped in there. But it’ll be nice to get the core group back together.”
Utter has watched the newcomers work hard, do the extra stuff and pay attention to detail. Their chance will follow, and Cavanaugh is eager to see what that brings.
“I like it a lot,” he said. “Competition is a great thing.”