Nebraska offensive line coach Barney Cotton said Mike Caputo was the exception and not the rule when it comes to finding players who can handle the center position. Caputo was recruited out of Millard North as a center, but most of the time Cotton will look to offensive tackles or players on the defensive side of the ball and covert them to centers in college. That’s the case this year.
Junior Cole Pensick and Senior Justin Jackson started their NU careers as defensive linemen, a position offensive line coach Barney Cotton say makes for a smooth transition for many centers because d-linemen tend to be more athletic than offensive lineman. It’s a challenge that both players are starting to adapting to and learning to snap the ball is just the start.
There is also the pre-snap blocking adjustments that are called by the center on run and pass plays. As the center is coming up to the line, he has to assess and communicate what the D-line, linebackers and safeties are doing from the time the offense breaks the huddle until he snaps the ball. After all of that, the center has to deal with getting hammered by the biggest guys on the field from the defensive tackle position.
Given all of the responsibilities it takes to play center, coach Cotton has the ability to get an athletic player who hasn’t developed bad habits that are hard to correct and can teach and groom a player to become the type of center Nebraska needs.
As of now, Pensick, who has played as a reserve over the last two years has an edge over Jackson, who switched to center after three years at defensive tackle. Also getting work at center is sophomore Mark Pelini, nephew of coach Bo Pelini, and junior Scott Criss, a Wyoming transfer.