Coming out of new head coach Steve Sarkisian’s first spring practice for the Texas Longhorns, one of the central roster management questions regards whether or not offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Kyle Flood will look to upgrade his position group through the NCAA transfer portal.
There are currently several transfers on Flood’s radar, including serial transfer artist Willie Allen, who started his career at LSU, left for Tyler Junior College, started for a year at Louisiana Tech, then transferred to Michigan last October, but didn’t appear in a game for the Wolverines before portaling out of Ann Arbor following spring practice.
Then there’s Pitt’s Carson Van Lynn, a 6’5, 295-pounder who has moved back and forth between offensive line and tight end during his career, starting three games at right tackle in 2020, but mostly serving as a reserve during his career with the Panthers. He might be an intriguing option as a reserve offensive lineman and jumbo tight end in short-yardage packages, but with limited spots remaining for the 2021 cycle, Van Lynn seems like a more fringe option.
That’s in part because the key name to know on the current radar of Flood and Director of Recruiting Operations is Buffalo center Mike Novitsky, who entered the portal after his head coach Lance Leipold took the job at Kansas.
Flood has deep ties to the Northeast as a New York native who played at Iona College before spending more than a decade at Rutgers, including four years as the head coach.
Novitsky is from Victor, just southeast of Rochester, where he was a standout lacrosse player in high school in addition to seeing time at both tight end and defensive line. As a junior, he averaged over 16 yards per catch and had three interceptions.
After appearing in three games during a redshirt season in 2018, Novitsky was an Academic All-MAC selection as a redshirt freshman when he broke into the starting lineup for an offense that produced 3,256 rushing yards, a school record. The 6’5, 295-pounder maintained his academic prowess in 2020 when he was named first-team All-MAC as the Bulls ranked second nationally in rushing yards per game (287.4).
One of the nation’s best centers, according to Pro Football Focus, Novitsky is surely emerging as a coveted player in the portal and a potential NFL prospect.
Center Mike Novitsky making this look easy.— #ManFree (@ManFreeCover1) February 23, 2021
"Drag hand technique" to get a chunk of the NT to turn the shoulders of the DL in order to help RG
After playing well at the end of the 2020 season once Sam Cosmi opted out, redshirt freshman Jake Majors looked like the starter at center coming out of spring with his combination of athleticism and natural leadership qualities.
However, Majors still lacks experience — it’s an unknown whether he could maintain that level of play over a full season, including against better opponents than Kansas State and Colorado. Novitsky, on the other hand, is smart, athletic, and now a proven commodity as one of the nation’s best players at his position.
Novitsky is listed as two inches taller than Majors, so he likely has a little bit more length, but possesses some similar qualities, including his movement abilities and technique working laterally on outside zone and redirection capabilities getting to the second level and acquiring his targets. There are moments running outside zone when Novitsky’s feet and technique with his hands working together are really impressive as he uses that drag hang technique. Like the clip above mentions, he makes it look easy because he’s just a really fluid athlete.
The strength in outside zone is particularly important — it became a staple play last season for running back Bijan Robinson and should be again this season, even if Majors remains as the starter.
In more downhill schemes, Novitsky shows flashes of having better displacement ability than Majors since he’s had more time in a college strength and conditioning program. If there’s a concern, it’s Novitsky’s ability to anchor against a big nose tackle, especially in pass protection, but with everything that he brings to the table, it’s a small concern in the end.
Put it all together and it would make sense if Novitsky emerges as a legitimate target for the Longhorns in the coming days.