Pernell: 2019 Recruiting Class Position Spotlight: Offensive Line

Categories: Football Recruiting

A determining factor of whether or not Scott Frost can get Nebraska to a point where they are competing for conference championships on a semi-regular basis boils down to how well he rebuilds the pipeline. His offense will have no problem attracting skill position players as we have already seen. But for Nebraska to ultimately rejoin the nations elite programs he’ll need to bring in legit All-Conference talent along the offensive line. The best teams in the Big Ten have big, strong and athletic linemen. Nebraska hasn’t had a quintet that could be described that way in almost 20-years. They’re seemingly light-years behind teams like Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan, Penn State and Iowa.

From 1970-2001, Nebraska had at least one offensive lineman named All-Conference. Since 2002, there have only been three: Richie Incognito (2003), Ricky Henry (2010) and Spencer Long (2012). Scott Frost knows this needs to change. The most telling quote from Frost after the season-ending loss to Iowa was in regards to the line play. “What disturbs me right now is that Iowa is a bigger, stronger football team. I never thought I’d see or hear that or say that about a Nebraska football team,” Frost said. “I look forward to the day where we’re not going to get pushed around by anybody. I want to get to the point where I look across the field and don’t think they are bigger than us. That shouldn’t happen at the University of Nebraska.”

Frost took a huge step towards that goal with the addition of Bryce Benhart. The 6-foot-9, 305-pounder has a rare combination of size and athleticism. His wrestling background has certainly helped with his superb agility, flexibility, leverage and knee bend. He finished fourth at the 2018 Minnesota state wrestling championship as a junior. Benhart also displays excellent feet and balance, and pairs that with an outstanding punch and natural strength. Looking at Benhart, you see a massive frame that still has room for growth as he continues to physically develop.

Frost took the immediate lead in Benhart’s recruitment after offering him January 31, 2018. The competition was heavy, Benhart was known to have been a top target on the boards of several college staffs. The Huskers entered the picture later than most because of the coaching change last year. Nebraska worked from behind the eight ball, but Frost and offensive line coach Greg Austin wasted little time making sure Benhart knew he was a priority. The Huskers hosted the All-American Bowl selection several times during his recruitment, including an unofficial visit June 2, his official visit September 1 for the Akron game that was subsequently canceled, and another unofficial visit October 20 for the Minnesota game. A week later, on October 28, Benhart committed to Nebraska over fellow finalists Wisconsin, Tennessee, Michigan and Minnesota.

As a senior, Benhart helped Lakeville North High School to a 13-0 record and a Class 6A state title while being named first-team All-Minnesota by USA Today. He’s a consensus four-star recruit who is ranked No. 121 (247 Sports), No. 139 (Rivals) and No. 275 (ESPN) nationally, making him the highest rated offensive line signee since Baker Steinkuhler in 2008. Benhart started at right tackle in the All-American Bowl, where he was one of the captains for the West squad. He had a solid week of practice despite having to lose “19 pounds in four days” following the end of his football season so that he could get under the 285-pound limit to wrestle. Benhart was solid during the game, holding his own against Nolan Smith, the No. 1 ranked player in the 2019 class according to the 247 Sports Composite rankings. He is expected to push Matt Farniok for immediate playing time when he gets to campus.

The recruitment of Matthew Anderson is a great example of how connections can pay off in the coaching business. Nebraska was made aware of Anderson through a coaching contact of area recruiter Ryan Held’s from his days coaching junior college. Northwestern State offensive line coach J Pond realized Anderson was too talented to end up at the FCS level, so he told a few FBS coaches about Anderson – including Held. Pond sent over the lineman’s film and from there the Huskers got a photo of Anderson in a door frame. Greg Austin offered the lineman during his first phone call on May 10 and then Scott Frost personally got involved as well. After word got around that Nebraska had offered a little-known kid out of rural Leesville, a town of about 6,000 in Western Louisiana, other notable programs inquired, including LSU, Baylor, Arizona State, Houston and Southern Miss.

Greg Austin and Ryan Held began building a relationship with Anderson and after Held stopped through Leesville to see Anderson in-person, Nebraska pushed for a visit. Anderson took that unofficial visit on June 4 and actually silently committed to Nebraska the next morning. Anderson made the commitment public on June 22, his 17th birthday. He decided to reward Nebraska’s belief in him and didn’t wait on any of the aforementioned schools to offer. He stayed loyal throughout the process as well. When Kansas State hired former North Dakota State coach Chris Klieman on December 11, the new Wildcats coach extended an offer to Anderson the following day. Klieman had also offered while at NDSU, but Anderson wasn’t interested.

Anderson is still relatively new to the game of football. He didn’t play as a sophomore, and played right tackle at roughly 225 pounds as a junior. He fits exactly what Greg Austin is looking for as a developmental player with a huge ceiling. Anderson is 6-foot-6 and is now around 250 pounds. The Huskers would like to bring in linemen that they can start adding the proper weight onto right away than to bring in a guy that they have to slim down first before they can build them back up. Anderson fits this to a ‘T’. This has been a popular approach at several programs, namely Wisconsin. This year, the Badgers had four players earn first team All-Conference. David Edwards (6-7, 245) and Beau Benzschawel (6-6, 240) came into the program with similar frames to Anderson.

Anderson’s a great athlete who moves extremely well and has really good feet. He plays with leverage and shows good bend. Anderson is a guy the staff will hand over to Zach Duval and let Greg Austin mold and develop him for the next couple years. They are confident he will be an excellent left tackle in two or three years.

After a strong senior year, Anderson received additional overtures from Michigan State, Arkansas, Oklahoma State, Mississippi State and Ole Miss. He was named 4A first-team all-state by LFCA, first-team All-Cenla for the second year in a row and was also named first-team All-Louisiana by USA Today. Anderson helped Leesville to a 13-1 record and advanced to the semifinals of the Class 4A state playoffs for the first time in more than 20 years. That also included the first undefeated regular season in school history.

Another guy who fits the approach of finding and developing raw, high-ceiling prospects is Jimmy Fritzsche. The Greenville High School product is the first South Carolina player to sign with Nebraska out of high school since Tyrone Legette in 1988. Nebraska zeroed in on Fritzsche to be the final piece of their offensive line class in the fall. They offered the 6-foot-7, 255-pound athlete on October 19 and then prioritized him leading up to the December 19 early signing period. Greg Austin recruited him hard, visiting him weekly during the contact period. Scott Frost ultimately made his in-home visit on November 28.

It seemed a foregone conclusion Fritzsche would commit to the Huskers going into his official visit the weekend of December 14. An offer from Clemson made things a little interesting. Dabo Swinney offered Fritzsche after he took an unofficial visit to Clemson the day before his official visit to Nebraska. Fritzsche was admittingly torn between the Huskers and Tigers. The pull to stay home and play for a national power just 30 miles from his high school was strong. Ultimately, it was his relationship with Austin and a desire to play in the Big Ten that won out. Fritzsche, who had 13 offers including Louisville, Rutgers, Purdue, UConn, and Cincinnati among others, chose Nebraska over Clemson.

Greg Austin feels Fritzsche has tremendous potential, having only played offensive tackle for a handful of games. In fact, Fritzsche played tight end throughout high school and only made the switch to left tackle mid-way through his senior season. He hasn’t even scratched his potential. Fritzsche will be a great case study of how well Austin identifies untapped talent. He’s purely a projection at this point. But he fits the bill of what the Huskers are looking for from their tackle prospects. Fritzsche has the athleticism, frame and all the tools you’re looking for. Like Anderson, you won’t see Fritzsche on the field for a couple years, but he’s an intriguing prospect.

Michael Lynn is versatile enough to play right tackle for the Huskers, like he did as a prep standout, but the plan is to start him out at guard. Looking at his film, I think that’s a good move. He plays physical and has a nasty disposition that suits interior linemen. Lynn likes to play to the echo of the whistle and does a good job of driving his man back and then moving to the second level. Lynn bends fairly good and plays with nice leverage. He shows quick feet and the ability to move well. Lynn’s a better run blocker at this point and playing inside will help cover some of his pass blocking deficiencies.

The 6-foot-6, 290-pound Lynn helped Cherry Creek to a 12-2 record and a Class 5A state runner-up finish, ironically losing to fellow Husker commit Luke McCaffrey and Valor Christian. He was subsequently named first-team All-Colorado by USA Today. As a junior, he earned second-team All-Colorado honors. Lynn is ranked one of the top five players in Colorado and among the top 70 offensive tackle prospects in the nation by the 247 Sports Composite rankings.

Lynn first visited Nebraska April 21 for the Red-White Spring Game and then received a scholarship offer from the Huskers on June 1. He had a dozen offers from teams including Penn State, Oklahoma State, Arizona State and Washington State. He committed to Nebraska on August 5 over Arizona and fellow finalists Utah and Boise State.

Grade: C+

 

Prior to contributing to HuskerMax, Jeremy Pernell co-founded the all-football website N2FL.com. From 2002-2014, he served as the editor in chief of the college football portion of the website which focused heavily on talent evaluation, which included NCAA recruiting and the NFL Draft. He has analyzed and covered the NCAA and NFL for 25-years. You can email him at jgpernell@comcast.net.