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Friday, April 15, 2011
Huskers' offensive line looks to build depth

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Nebraska is accelerating its offensive tempo and entering a league loaded with daunting defensive linemen.

What does that mean for the Huskers' offensive line? Hopefully more hands on deck.

Line coach Barney Cotton has wanted to establish an eight-man rotation up front. The past two seasons, Nebraska rarely used more than six in games. Cotton hopes the number can change this fall.

"This year, it’d be great to play 10," Cotton told me earlier this week. "I don't know if that's possible or not, but the spring is all about competition and development, and we've got a good start on that."

Nebraska returns two starters up front in center Mike Caputo and tackle Jeremiah Sirles. Tackle Marcel Jones missed most of last season with a back injury, but he has starting experience from 2009. The Huskers also bring back linemen like Andrew Rodriguez who saw a bit of time as reserves in 2010.

But the need to build depth is very real. Nebraska loses both of its starting guards, including first-team All-Big 12 selection Ricky Henry. The new offense largely eschews huddling and wants to stay a step ahead of the defense. There's also the matter of durability, especially after the poor end to last season.

"We're all about competing here and how we finish," Cotton said, "and we're certainly not happy up front with how we finished, especially those last two games.”

Conditioning will be a focal point in the summer months, but Cotton wants to have as many options as possible.

"Creating not just depth but playing depth is what’s really going to be important for us," Cotton said. "By playing depth I mean guys we feel comfortable putting in the game when the game's on the line."

Caputo fits into that category. The former walk-on started throughout last season and earned honorable mention All-Big 12 honors.

Cotton calls Caputo "the unquestioned leader" of the line, a role Caputo embraces.

"I’m working on that, trying to become more vocal," Caputo said. "Last year, we were all kind of old and now, me and [Marcel Jones] are really the only old guys left. It's a little different."

Caputo has seen several young linemen step up this spring, including Rodriguez, Brent Qvale and Brent Long, all sophomores. Nebraska's revamping of the coaching staff this offseason put a greater emphasis on the line as Bo Pelini promoted John Garrison to assist Cotton and coach the tight ends.

"This year, we’re very young," Cotton said. "We have three seniors in the top 10, so we've got kind of a youth movement here, but there are a lot of guys who look like they’re ready and willing to step up to the plate."