System Versus Game Experience for Offensive Line
If you were to piece together an early depth chart for the offensive line in 2014, you might see three senior starters, two juniors set to start, with an additional four juniors contending as backups. On paper, that sure looks like a veteran line. But a closer look reveals that not many of these players have much starting experience. What might that mean for the line this season?
Seniors with Starts
Guard Jake Cotton has the most experience after starting 10 games and appearing in 8 others. He best fits the definition of a returning starter. Center Mark Pelini has started a pair of games and has seen time in 17 others. If that doesn't quite make him a returning starter, it's certainly fair to say he's a veteran. Guard Mike Moudy has started a trio of games out of a dozen that he's appeared in. The former offensive scout team player of the year would seem pretty well prepared for live action.
Juniors with System Experience
Tackle Zach Sterup saw action in ten games last year and may be the likely starter on the right side. Ryne Reeves has seen action in thirteen games at guard and will likely be the top reserve behind Cotton and Moudy. Givens Price has appeared in eleven games so far at Nebraska and will also be a top reserve at guard.
Tackle Matt Finnin appeared in four games but still managed to retain his junior year of eligibility. He'll likely start at left tackle but in only his second season with the team, he's more like a redshirt freshman or true sophomore in terms of experience. The same could be said about junior Chongo Kondolo who redshirted after transferring from a junior college. He did not appear in any games so in his case the redshirt freshman analogy really seems to apply. Alex Lewis started a full season at guard for Colorado as well as a game at tackle and a pair of games at tight end for the Buffaloes. He just recently joined the team, however so he's almost like a midyear junior college transfer in terms of experience with Nebraska.
Sophomore Paul Thurston cracked the depth chart at center a year ago but did not play. He could compete as a top reserve behind Pelini. Corey Whitaker might crack the depth chart at guard or center in his sophomore campaign.
Redshirt Freshman David Knevel may be in position to compete for time at tackle. Redshirt freshman Dwayne Johnson could as well, though both players would benefit from adding weight. Zach Hannon might be a guard or tackle but is a bit thicker than the other two after his redshirt year.
The four incoming true freshman will likely need the season to redshirt and get their bearings. In terms of size, Tanner Farmer and D.J. Foster might already be big enough to contribute though.
The interior of the line appears to be the most experienced spot, but the tackles (in particular the key left tackle spot) will a bit greener. There will be a lot of upperclassmen on the depth chart for the offensive line, but it's still a relatively inexperienced group when it comes to game action. Hopefully, what they've gained in practice translates positively onto the field. But otherwise expect to see more false starts, more holds, and more negative yardage plays this season. Unfortunately, there's little substitute for game experience.