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Radio Rundown: Raiola details offensive line ahead of fall camp

On3 imageby:Grant Hansen07/21/22

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Nebraska offensive line coach Donovan Raiola was a guest on “Sports Nightly” on the Huskers Radio Network to discuss his position group. The Huskers have the tall task of replacing the entirety of its interior line including a three-year starter at center in Cam Jurgens.

Raiola is the last of the NU assistants to appear on the radio show before the beginning of fall camp next week.  A full schedule of fall practice media availability can be found by On3 Nebraska members here.

Other “Sports Nightly” recaps:

Mark Whipple (OC/QB) | Mike Dawson (DL) Mickey Joseph (WR) | Travis Fisher (DB)Bill Busch (ST) | Bryan Applewhite (RB) | Barrett Ruud (ILB) |

Here is what Raiola had to say:

On the spring standard

***Like many of Nebraska’s position coaches, Raiola reiterated that there has been a strong buy-in from his room. There have been few issues adapting to the new coaching style and in large part, that’s due to the buy-in from the athletes.

“The best teams are player led,” Raiola said. “It’s important for them to grab hold of it and take some ownership of it and they’ve done a great job of that.”

On spring injuries

***Two key pieces of the Huskers’ offensive line were unavailable this spring with injuries. Teddy Prochazka and Turner Corcoran may have been on the sidelines, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t have an impact.

“I encouraged them to be like coaches out there and talk guys through the technique,” Raiola said. “In that way, they can learn what we’re trying to get accomplished.”

The absence of Corcoran and Prochazka also allowed some younger guys to get playing time. That’s a bonus for Raiola.

“Other guys got a lot of reps in different spots and just kept building their games up in different spots that they’re not used to playing in,” the coach said.

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On finding a new center

***The biggest unknown for Nebraska’s offensive line is at center. As of now, Raiola said Trent Hixon is the early leader to replace the NFL drafted Jurgens. The 6-foot-4, 305-pound product of Skutt Catholic High School is about to enter his sixth season in Lincoln.

“As a sixth-year guy, he’s really bought into everything that we’ve brought here,” Raiola said. “He’s believing in the things that we’re teaching and you can really see his game improve each day.”

On top of it all, Hixon is a walk-on who is stepping into a leadership role.

“He’s really done a great job of taking ownership of that role and being more of a voice in that room,” Raiola said.

Ethan Piper and Ian Boerkircher have also worked out at the position.

Nebraska Football Fall Camp Preview: Offensive Line

On Teddy Prochazka

***Raiola provided a status update on Prochazka who suffered a serious knee injury against Michigan last season. The coaching staff hopes the left tackle, who stands at 6-foot-10, 320 pounds, will be ready to go for the season opener next month.

“Obviously going through that injury, each day is something new,” Raiola said. “Different movements, different things could affect it but he’s been great up to this point. He’s fully locked in and getting ready to play a 12-game season, maybe 15.”

Should the worst case scenario come to pass and Prochazka isn’t ready, Nebraska has been working Brant Banks, Kevin Williams and Ian Boerkircher at that spot.

Now fully healthy, the countdown is on for Teddy Prochazka’s return to Nebraska’s offensive line

On Turner Corcoran

***In the midst of his rehab, Corcoran has taken a much more vocal role in the locker room according to Raiola. His attitude and energy are highlights for the assistant coach. Raiola is excited to work on the field with Corcoran and Prochazka for the first time this fall.

“Getting him and Teddy going, working our technique and seeing how it’ll improve their game,” Raiola said. “I’m fired up for things to come.”

On Kevin Williams

***Williams transferred to Nebraska from Northern Colorado. The senior is an Omaha native and graduated from Omaha North high school. Listening to Raiola, it seems the transition has gone smoothly.

“He’s improving,” Raiola said. “Obviously the techniques are different for everybody and every guy has different things they need to emphasize and he’s really taken to it and bought into what we’re building here.”

Raiola said that Williams primarily played tackle with the Bears.

On Bryce Benhart

***Raiola thinks “the sky is the limit,” for Bryce Benhart. The sophomore from Lakeville, Minnesota, had his fair share of struggles a season ago. But, Raiola said he has seen incremental improvement from the right tackle.

“Bryce got better every day (this spring),” Raiola said. “He’s working really hard to get better with his run blocking and pass blocking and he’s shown that he’s taken those steps in the right direction which is great.”

At 6-foot-9 and 315 pounds, the Huskers need Benhart to be a dependable piece in the trenches this season.

On right guard

***Henry Lutovsky and Broc Bando are in a battle to fill Nebraska’s right guard slot this fall. Raiola said consistency is the biggest thing he needs from both athletes on every play. Bando has “really figured out the technique,” according to Raiola. His experience is extremely valuable, too.

“He understands the game,” Raiola said. “He’s been in the program a long time, understands the offense and is a good example for the young guys to look up to.”

Lutovsky is another guy with a high ceiling in Raiola’s estimation.

“I think for him, it’s just building consistency, understanding the game and once things speed up, what he has to do,” Raiola said. “Once he figures things out, man that guy’s gonna be something special.”

On Hunter Anthony

***Another piece to consider in the interior O-Line discussion is Oklahoma State transfer Hunter Anthony. Anthony is a 6-foot-2, 325-pound junior who Raiola says is “awesome to be around,” and sets a great example for the younger linemen.

“He’s played a lot of football at a big-time place, so this wasn’t too big for him,” Raiola said. “He came in and integrated himself into the unit and he’s done a really good job for us.”

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On versatility versus specialization

***Raiola said he gets guys ready to play multiple positions. This gives his players added value throughout a college football season where chaos and upheaval is always a possibility. The assistant said that Piper can play center or guard, Hixon can do the same and Williams can play on the right side or the left.

“I think it’s important that you build them up in that way,” Raiola said. “Get them in different spots and doing different things because it’s a long season. You never know what could happen.”

Odds and ends

***Raiola spoke on the two remaining scholarship lineman in Michael Lynn and Alex Conn. He noted the improvement that each player has made throughout the offseason and specifically mentioned Conn’s explosive ability.

Walk-ons Noah Stafursky and Ian Boerkircher were also discussed in detail. The latter drew major praise for his willingness to try a new position at center.

“Throughout the spring, Ian was playing left tackle and then he moved over to center and never played center before,” Raiola said. “He really took that role on, attacked it and has gotten better at it. Being a center, you take on a leadership role which is good for him because he’s been in the program a long time.”

All in all, Raiola said he is lucky to coach his unit and is ready to begin the season.

“We’ve got a great unit, great guys, guys that are willing to put in the work and are learning how to play together and be together which is great for what we do,” Raiola said.

“They’re all excited, we’re excited. They’re working hard to prepare themselves for training camp and the season. So looking forward to it and really excited to get to work with these guys.”

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