Strongest Offensive Line in Years?
The 2000 offensive line was one to remember. The interior featured Dominic Raiola, Toniu Fonoti, and Russ Hochstein. Raiola and Hochstein had All-American seasons and Fonoti was a All-Big 12 (attaining All-American status a year later). Since then, there have been a few standouts, but mostly an unspectacular group. For the first time since 2000, the Huskers go into a season with a returning consensus first team all-conference player in Spencer Long and a second team all-conference tackle in Jeremiah Sirles. There is starting experience at every position.
Starting left tackle Brent Qvale returns. Centers Cole Pensick and Mark Pelini return and former starting guard and top reserve tackle Andrew Rodriguez is coming back. Additional experience returns at guard with Jake Cotton and with guard/tackle Brandon Thompson. The Huskers may get more from standout interior line prospect Ryne Reeves and walk-on Broderick Nickens who cracked the depth chart a year ago.
Beyond that group, Paul Thurston and Corey Whitaker will come off of their redshirt years. Juco transfer Matt Finnin (assuming he signs with Nebraska in the next two weeks) won't have a redshirt year available and could join the mix immediately. Early arriving freshman David Knevel will have a spring practice under his belt. You'd expect a redshirt from prospect Zach Hannon.
Other names in the program may emerge that have previously been quiet. That includes scholarship players like Zach Sterup, Nick Ash, Mike Moudy, and Givens Price and a number of veteran walk-ons.
Combine that with a returning veteran at quarterback and you'd expect the offense to continue to dominate and perhaps even reach new heights. The line could be the critical ingredient if the Huskers are to repeat as division champions. Some key losses on the defensive line for opposing Big Ten teams could create a nice advantage for NU up front. It won't be the 2000 line, but it might be a good deal better than any we've seen in a while.