Dever, like Nichols, red-shirted his freshman year. Unlike Nichols, he found the field as a sophomore, though for just over 16 combined minutes. Dever's playing time dipped as a junior backup: 14 minutes in a season that featured 10 games decided on the final possession.
Like Dever, Nichols hopes to debut as the starting right tackle for Brian Kelly's spread offense.
"It's an opportunity to take advantage of and its nice to be back on the field fighting for a spot," said Nichols of a sophomore season lost to a knee injury and shoulder surgery. "My size is something that brings a lot of things to the table. I'm rusty in some areas as far as technique because I've been hurt for awhile. Coming back I think I can definitely bring a physical nature to the right tackle position that will help us out as an offensive lineman."
The 6'8" 325-pound Nichols ranks among the team's most imposing players. He's in competition with at least two others in classmate Christian Lombard and redshirt-freshman Nick Martin. That pair competes at right guard as well, with Nichols the only player taking reps solely at right tackle (nowhere else) to date this spring.
"I don't think it's necessarily an advantage because at the end of the day the best guy is going to play," he offered. "Getting all those reps (at RT) is going to help me become the best guy, I think, but at the end of the day, if (Lombard, specifically) is better than me he's going to play. I don't think me just being at right tackle gives me an advantage."
Big on Big?Multiple media reports have noted Nichols involved in a practice fight (and not your garden-variety pushing and shoving love-fest, either) with sophomore defensive end Aaron Lynch.
Coincidentally, Nichols one day with the media this spring followed that day's (March 31) practice. Asked about what appeared to be a physical scrimmage and Lynch in particular, Nichols noted:
"Aaron Lynch is definitely a great player, and I feel really privileged to be able to go against him in practice. He's so good that it's only going to make me better going against a guy like him. Because if I can block him, I can probably block a lot of the people we're going to play."
"He had a chance to watch what's going on there (behind Taylor Dever) and see what needs to be accomplished," said Brian Kelly of Nichols' two years in the program. "Now, the guy hasn't played a snap, he still has to prove himself every single day against very good defensive linemen. One thing we know, we're going to get an offensive tackle ready and a (right) guard ready because they're going against some pretty good players."
A tight end and defensive end in high school, Nichols has since prepared to protect quarterbacks in the pocket since with full knowledge he'd make the transition to tackle at the next level.
"I finished my senior year at about 270 and I worked with a guy that played for the (Cincinnati) Bengals for a long time, Joe Walter. He played right tackle for about 14 seasons. That gave me a head start, so I wasn't as far behind as a lot of guys would have been switching positions.
Asked what Walter, a family friend, helped him with the most, Nichols noted, "Definitely pass blocking. I had never done anything like that in a live game situation. Working with him for a few months before I got here helped me nail that technique down a little bit, and let me know what I was getting into so I didn't come in here and not know what was going on.
"I have long arms, and that's something I have to utilize," he continued. "Now that I'm healthy, I'm getting back into that, being able to put my hands on people. That's definitely the biggest thing in pass blocking that I'm kind of having trouble with. Pass blocking isn't something you're naturally good at. It's a technique and a skill you have to learn," Nichols admitted.
"I'm working hard to get my technique better, but I'm rusty, as you would expect. I don't think it's going to be my Achilles heel or anything like that. I think it's something I can be proficient enough, and good enough at to compete, and good enough to win with." As for his competition for the role, Nichols takes nothing for granted.
"The right side (competitors) they're all good players; all highly recruited," he offered. "I definitely want to start and do what I can to help the team. It'll come down to competing for the starting job. Right now we're all taking reps."
After a year on the shelf, that's enough for Nichols. Field time is soon to follow.