Former Husker Matt Vrzal joined "The Bottom Line" to discuss the shape of Nebraska's offensive line, including expectations for Nick Gates, how he'd choose the center and if some of the younger players ought to be contributing.
Watch the video below for the full interview, or continue reading for highlights from the interview.
On picking up intensity on the offensive line:
“I was able to go down to a practice or two this spring. And I have a problem with it. The offensive line position itself is very cerebral. You stand there a lot of the time, you’re learning. A lot of it is the mental part of the game. You look at the history of football, your smartest players on the field are the offensive linemen. It’s fact, the way the world works. That switch, when you go from learning to executing, is where I think there’s a little bit of a lag. And I agree with you 100 percent. They need to crank this thing up because (defensive coordinator Bob) Diaco and crew aren’t going to give them much of an opportunity. And I like the intensity the defense brings in practice. I like the intensity Coach (John) Parrella brings in practice. But you’re going to start to get embarrassed in practice, and then you find out what you got. Do I have a guy who is competitive and doesn’t want to lose? Or do I have a guy that’s just content, like, ‘Yeah, they’re better. They’re going to beat me.’ ”
On expectations for Nick Gates:
“He’s the leader. I don’t think we get all the information on injury all the time from Dear Old Nebraska U. I don’t know how healthy Nick was. He didn’t look right to me. I think he might have had some ankle or knee problems. … He’s got to be the man. There’s nowhere else to turn. Jerald Foster is still stepping into his role and learning. I don’t know who the center is gonna be — if it’s going to be Michael Decker, if it’s going to be Cole Conrad. I don’t think (John) Raridon is going to be able to pull it off. Boe Wilson is another guy. ... Tanner Farmer, I thought, had the best spring of anybody, really. And then piecing in the right tackle ... who is going to end up at that? Is David Knevel going to be durable enough to make it through the season? Is (Matt) Farniok going to be able to play both tackles? Are we going to have interchangeable parts? They need a leader. They need it bad. And somebody needs to step up and set a tempo and a pace that they can work at, at practice, and get better.”
On how to choose a center:
“I would take the one that comprehends the offense the best. I think that’s the best bid at it. Let’s be honest: At center, I got a lot of protection around me. I got guys I can bump people into. I got guys I can bump off of. We saw it a couple years back when they moved (Zach) Sterup to guard. I was like, ‘Man, this is going to go bad.’ And it was a great move. I thought he was a much better guard. And I think he’s still kicking around the league. … So I like the smarter guy. I like the more experienced guy. I like the guy that’s been around it — knows a little bit better. Especially then, it gives you the opportunity, if you are able to get up in games, you can incorporate a backup in there so you know you have somebody with a little bit of a live bullet on him.”
On if the redshirt sophomore linemen — Michael Decker, Christian Gaylord and Jalin Barnett — will be contributing this season:
“I think so. It’s just so tough for me, Mike’l. I love (strength coach) Mark Philipp and what he’s doing. But if you want to see one piece that directly influences a position, the relationship between the offensive linemen and the strength coach is where you can see a lot of strides get made. Barnett’s body type throws me off. It’s never changed. It hasn’t become more muscular, in my opinion — and that’s just my opinion. Seeing his tape out of high school, it’s like, ‘Man, this kid, get in the weight room, get strong, get that lower body right — we’ll be good. You got that big, thick rear end. You can move people.’ But I don’t know what hasn’t grasped yet in that. Gaylord, to me, he just seems a little slight. I don’t know about your opinion of it, but he just seems a little flat in the pants to me yet. And he could be 275, 280, 290 (pounds), whatever, he may carry it well. But they definitely do have to be a big, contributing role in this now. Honestly, I hope Michael Decker wins the job. I really do. Because I think he’s the guy that can benefit Nebraska. He’s a local kid. He’s going to be running the show. He’s going to show what hard work can do and prove maybe to Nebraska’s staff that some of these Nebraska players are a little more deserving of a walk-on or late scholarship offer.”
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