Jaimes and Farniok

Nebraska offensive linemen Matt Farniok, left, and Brenden Jaimes give quarterback Adrian Martinez a hand in 2018 against Purdue. 

LINCOLN — Brenden Jaimes shrugged. Matt Farniok shook his head.

Nebraska’s most veteran offensive linemen aren’t sure what the top unit will look like this week, let alone this season. All they really know is that, with the same offense, the learning curve won’t be nearly as steep as their last fall camp.

“Whoever those five guys are need to keep working,” Jaimes said. “Those positions aren’t set in stone. Every week they need to keep working and not think that their spot is secure.”

Jaimes and Farniok started every game a season ago at left tackle and right tackle, respectively. Should the juniors reprise their roles, it leaves a search for three interior blockers from a remaining group of 24 O-linemen (13 scholarship).

Junior Boe Wilson began the last nine contests at right guard in 2018, but no other current Husker lineman has started a college game.

Farniok said his confidence is “extremely high” that capable producers will emerge as camp gets underway.

“The next guy up is always going to be ready and always going to be prepared now,” Farniok said. “Some of the guys are going to be pretty new, and they are going to have a little of first-game jitters. But after the jitters are gone I think it is going to be a solid foundation, and we are going to be ready to rock like nothing has really changed.”

Center remains the largest point of intrigue after the departures of Cole Conrad and Tanner Farmer. Coaches are bullish on the potential of converted tight end Cam Jurgens, but the redshirt freshman from Beatrice continues to fight through a lower-body injury, and coach Scott Frost said NU will “wait and see on his health.”

Redshirt freshman Will Farniok will get first crack at starting center reps, Frost said. Hunter Miller and fellow walk-on Trent Hixson — a likely candidate to receive a scholarship this month — will receive chances, too, along with Iowa Western transfer Josh Wegener.

“We’re going to give all those guys a shot, starting with Will,” Frost said. “One of them I hope steps up and takes it.”

Nebraska offensive line coach Greg Austin said during his first spring in Lincoln that physicality is only one factor in how he evaluates middle men.

“Biggest job for the center is to snap the ball, but secondly is to instill confidence in the guys to the right and left of them,” Austin said then. “So, how confident they are in their calls gives the guys confidence.”

Frost said last month that sophomore Broc Bando and junior John Raridon are left-guard options. Redshirt freshman walk-on and Bellevue West product AJ Forbes also drew praise from coaches in the spring. Sophomore Matt Sichterman, meanwhile, has shifted to guard after appearing in four games at tackle a year ago.

Youth pervades the unit overall, with special-teams regular Christian Gaylord the only senior. Among the six true freshmen is Norfolk Catholic grad Ethan Piper, whom Frost has mentioned multiple times since switching him over from defensive line in the summer. Coveted four-star recruit Bryce Benhart of Lakeville, Minnesota, could also force his way into NU’s early plans.

Asked whether he thinks these Huskers now resemble a Big Ten line, Matt Farniok said he’s always seen them that way. The problems have come, he said, with a lack of focus and taking for granted the importance of good technique. Older players now are adamant with younger ones that they can’t just lean on players and rely on being bigger like they did in high school.

Perhaps key in the eventual combination of the line will be its versatility. Austin cross-trains linemen in practice, giving them a shot at contributing anywhere from tackle to center. Matt Farniok, asked if he could slide inside to right guard, said his fate is as unclear as anyone else’s.

“Honestly, I have no idea,” said the 6-foot-6, 335-pound junior. “Wherever (coaches) tell me, I will go play it. Doesn’t matter. Whatever they want me to do. If they want me to go and play safety, I will go and figure out how to play safety.”

Evan Bland covers Nebraska football, baseball and other sports for The World-Herald. Follow him on Twitter @EvanBlandOWH.

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