LINCOLN, Neb. — Oft-injured Nebraska lineman Brent Qvale says he is feeling better than ever, which is fortuitous for an offense in need of a new starter at left tackle.
Tyler Moore, the leading contender for the job, was still missing from practice Monday and offensive coordinator Tim Beck said he had no idea whether Moore would return. Coach Bo Pelini announced Saturday that Moore had left the team to address some personal issues and that the door was open for his return.
“It hurts our depth,” line coach Barney Cotton said. “Next man up.”
That man appears to be Qvale, who by all accounts has been outstanding through the first nine days of practice.
Qvale came out of spring projected to be the backup to Moore. But Qvale began working with the No. 1 unit late last week before Moore left.
Qvale played in all but one game last season as a backup guard and moved to tackle full-time in the spring. He’s in line to make his first start Sept. 1 against Southern Mississippi.
“He had a lot to learn when he started this thing,” Pelini said. “He’s come a long way. Athletically, he’s moving his feet really well. Obviously, he has great size and is a big, physical, tough guy. He’s really taken his game to another level.”
The 6-foot-7, 315-pound junior’s career has gotten off to a slow start because of injuries. He came out of high school in Williston, mentioned as a candidate to play right away at Nebraska. A shoulder injury in preseason practice, followed by surgery, kept him on the sideline until 2010, when he played in 13 games as a backup.
Last season another shoulder injury sidelined him for the Penn State game. The loss of two senior starting tackles necessitated Qvale’s move in the spring. He said he’s grown comfortable at tackle after having a full spring and offseason to learn the position.
Crossing his fingers, he said he’s having no shoulder problems.
“I’m 100 percent,” he said. “This is the best I’ve felt in a long time. I’m trying to keep my body healthy.”
Junior Andrew Rodriguez is penciled in as the starter at right tackle. Jeremiah Sirles, who started all 14 games at left tackle in 2010, is rotating between the right and left sides.
Moore’s departure was, Qvale said, “a shock to everyone.” He and the other linemen declined to comment about why Moore left.
“We’re going to make do with what we have and try to move forward,” Qvale said.
Sirles said: “We’re just going to keep trucking along.”
Messages for Moore and his family have been left at his home in Clearwater, Fla.
“You hate to ever lose a guy out of your program. It doesn’t matter what position he is,” Beck said. “He’s just a young guy. You’d like him to be able to work through things. We play Sept. 1, and they’re not going to cancel the game on us. You have to be ready to go.”