August 17, 2010

Sirles, Hardrick battling it out at LT

One is a 6-foot-7, 320-pound mountain of a man who's already earned the reputation as one of the most aggressive players on the Nebraska football team.

The other is one of the most promising young players on the Huskers' offensive line who has been described as "the prototype" offensive lineman by one of his teammates.

The only problem? They're both competing for the same starting job.

Since the start of spring practice, junior Jermarcus Hardrick and redshirt freshman Jeremiah Sirles have been battling head on to win the starting left tackle spot this season.

At the moment, the competition couldn't be much closer, as both their coaches and teammates say the lead in the race has changed hands on a rep by rep basis.

"Right now, it's pretty even," junior right tackle Marcel Jones said. "Either one of those guys, if they choose Yoshi or if they choose Sirles as the starter, I wouldn't mind because I'm confident in both of them… For physicality, you go with Yoshi. As for technique and just knowing the playbook, I'd go with Sirles. Either way, you can't lose."

As Jones said, the biggest advantage for Hardrick is his unrivaled physicality. While he's only been in NU's system for a few months, the transfer from Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College has a motor that runs as hard as anyone on the team.

In fact, he's been called a bigger version of senior guard Ricky Henry, who had been regarded as NU's most physical lineman.

The biggest downside for Hardrick, though, are the issues he's had with injuries so far. After sitting out the end of spring practice with a broken hand, Hardrick missed two practices during the first week of fall camp after suffering from heat-related issues.

As a result, he's missed valuable reps and practice time, which has stalled his development both physically and, maybe more importantly, mentally. However, Jones said Hardrick has still been able to keep up despite his missed time.

"He's not that far away (from learning the offense), actually," Jones said. "He's taking it day by day. He had a couple setbacks, but he's not that far off. We help him all the time in the film room, and he's picking it up quick."

Then there is Sirles, who has impressed Nebraska's coaches since the day he first set foot on campus. Had he not been sidelined with an injury early last season, there was a chance the Lakewood, Colo., native could have seen significant playing time as a true freshman.

Now healthy and having a full year of experience in the Huskers' system, Sirles is quietly putting together one of the better offseasons of any lineman on the roster.

"He's a young guy who's got some talent," head coach Bo Pelini said. "He's playing pretty well. He's competing with Hardrick there at the left tackle position, and he's done some good things. I'm seeing progress, but I'm seeing some things he can fix too, just like any young guy. But in time, he's going to be a good football player."

As Nebraska enters its second week of fall camp, there's still plenty of time for the competition for the starting job to play out before the season opener on Sept. 4. Until it does, size and physicality will continue to go up head-to-head against technique and potential.

"It's progressing well," Pelini said. "Those guys are both getting better. They've making progress… I think that position is pretty well manned right now. I think they're doing a good job, because I see progress."

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