- Mitch Sherman, ESPN Staff Writer
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The end of the week means the culmination of another countdown. We’ve looked for the past four days at the top position battles of spring practice, examining positions groups that all included at least one player with starting experience.
This one does not, which makes it that much more intriguing. At No. 1:
The storylines: Nebraska lost Jeremiah Sirles, Brent Qvale and Andrew Rodriguez after last season. And for all the injuries suffered along the offensive line in 2013, that trio managed to start every game at left and right tackle. All three started prior to last season, too.
The Huskers enjoy no such luxury in 2014. Finnin is in his second year out of junior college. He played sparingly last year. Sterup moved into a key backup role last fall in the wake of the injury problems. Lewis, a transfer last summer from Colorado, did not join the team until January because of legal issues.
Knevel, a 6-foot-9 Canadian, impressed coaches and teammates during his redshirt year.
There are others who might factor in the competition as well. It appears Dwayne Johnson, Zach Hannon, Chongo Kondolo and Corey Whitaker, none of whom has played in a game, are more likely to settle at the interior line spots. But O-line coach John Garrison could experiment with a variety of combinations, considering the questions to answer.
Absent from this spring discussion is Nick Gates, the touted true freshman set to join the Huskers in August.
The outlook: The inexperience here is striking. Scary even, with all that talent to protect in the backfield. Say this about the Nebraska tackles: They’re big. Standing slightly below the 305-pound Knevel, Finnin (6-7, 305) Lewis (6-6, 285) and Sterup (6-8, 315) will look good in warmups.
But it won’t come together if bookends don’t begin to emerge this spring. Look for Finnin, an elite juco prospect in the 2013 recruiting class, to step up his play. Lewis started 15 games, including 12 at guard, on poor Colorado teams in 2011 and 2012.
Sterup’s playing time in Big Ten games as a sophomore likely assisted with his readiness.
Between Knevel, Gates and the others, at least one more tackle must earn the coaches’ confidence.
The spring will only serve as a start to this battle.
Countdown of Nebraska position battles to watch in spring practice: