LINCOLN — Whether you deem it sufficient or not, Nebraska coaches emphatically addressed their need for defensive linemen in the 2013 recruiting class by adding three high school commits in the last two weeks.
Maliek Collins, Kevin Maurice and Ernest Suttles all possess good frames and terrific motors. But they're not exactly seasoned prospects; only Collins is sniffing anything above a mid-range three-star ranking, and that's just from one recruiting service, Scout.
They'll need polish from defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski, who was hired by coach Bo Pelini, in part, for his reputation as a teacher and molder of raw potential at Iowa. He'll need to be that kind of coach again — even if the Huskers should have capitalized better on the success of Ndamukong Suh than they did.
When Kaczenski told reporters at Capital One Bowl practices that Nebraska had to create more depth with “projections” who looked good on tape, he could have easily been talking about Suttles, the 6-foot-5 220-pounder from Tampa (Fla.) Gaither High School who has played two years of football after moving to Florida from New York City.
Suttles started playing the way some big kids do: A coach saw him shooting hoops in the school gym.
“I told him, 'Man, you have to play football,'” Gaither coach Jason Stokes said earlier this week. Stokes said he was thrilled Suttles agreed. Gaither was able to play Suttles as a run-stopping defensive tackle for some downs and a pass-rushing end for others. In part because he hadn't been banging around the youth football circuits in South Florida, Suttles stayed firmly under the radar. Whether he develops into a three-down end is up to him and Kaczenski. Pierre Allen and Zach Potter did. Recent Husker graduate Joe Carter did not.
That NU took Suttles from Iowa State should cause Husker fans no alarm; Cyclone coach Paul Rhoads and his experienced defensive staff know good talent and develop it. That's how they put three ISU defensive players on the All-Big 12 team last year. They identified former Nebraska safety Daimion Stafford as worthy of an offer before any other programs did. By the time Stafford signed with the Huskers, USC wanted his services.
Some Husker fans equally scratched their heads when NU offered College of DuPage (Ill.) offensive tackle Matt Finnin in December. Kansas was his top school then. Still might be. Should Nebraska really compete with a team that just went 1-11? Yes — when the KU offensive line coach is Chicago native and 11-year NFL veteran Tim Grunhard.
Finnin, a 6-foot-8 305-pounder who began his career at Western Michigan before transferring to DuPage, takes his official visit to Lincoln Friday and has quickly become one of the key final targets on Nebraska's 2013 wish list.
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The Huskers' poor edge pass protection in the Big Ten championship and Capital One Bowl points to why. NU should want more competition for its returning senior trio of Jeremiah Sirles, Andrew Rodriguez and Brent Qvale. Finnin, who's now collected offers from Oklahoma and Florida State, fits the bill. In his Hudl highlight videos, he moves his feet well and has a good first strike on a defender.
Two more linemen will visit, too: Fresno (Calif.) City College tackle Chongo Kondolo; and Houston (Texas) Bellaire High School tackle Dwayne Johnson. Johnson, a recent offer and Purdue decommit, could be a replacement of sorts for Dan Samuelson, the Plymouth, Ind., guard who officially switched from Nebraska to Michigan last Saturday.
For the 6-foot-4, 290-pound Kondolo, Nebraska will have to beat Tennessee — where Kondolo took a visit last Friday — Arkansas and Florida State. All household name programs vying after a mid-level prospect. That's how slim the pickings get three weeks before signing day.
The other prospect visiting this weekend: Ft. Lauderdale (Fla.) Cypress Bay cornerback Boaz Joseph.
Scratch this visit
NU coaches thought they might be able to add one more defensive line commit to the list when Petaluma (Calif.) Casa Grande athlete Elijah Qualls told recruiting services this week that, even though he'd been committed to Washington for months, he'd take an official visit to Lincoln just before signing day. Qualls' coach, Trent Herzog, told Scout later in the day that the 6-foot-1, 290-pound Qualls, a four-star prospect, needed to concentrate on schoolwork and stay committed to the Huskies.
In part because of a blog post I wrote about the switch speculating that Washington put the heat on the kid and his coach, Herzog called to make it clear: UW coaches, especially recruiting stud Tosh Lupoi, hadn't pressured him or Qualls into not taking more visits. Herzog added that Qualls needed remaining weekends before signing day to work on a class that would keep him academically eligible.
“I'd love to see one of our kids go to Nebraska,” Herzog said. “But Elijah's been 100 percent for Washington.”
Nebraska got close, but couldn't quite get Qualls to Lincoln when it might have still been a horse race during the season.
Is a Nebraska commit — Youngstown (Ohio) Cardinal Mooney safety Marcus McWilson — going to take a visit to Kentucky? The Wildcats are working on it and Pelini visited McWilson this week. McWilson told recruiting site Husker Online after that meeting that he was still committed to NU.
If McWilson visits anyway, remember: The Huskers just took a commit from Suttles, who was an Iowa State commit until the moment he switched. What's good for the goose, right? Plus: Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops is a Mooney guy like Pelini. He's going to recruit his alma mater. Especially when another Mooney grad, Vince Marrow, is on the staff.
Lots of offense
While offensive skill players Quincy Adeboyejo and James Clark officially visited Nebraska last weekend, it wasn't surprising they didn't commit. Both have more options to explore. Adeboyejo, a 6-foot-3, 180-pound wide receiver from Cedar Hill, Texas, has Texas Tech, Ole Miss and UCLA on his radar. Clark, a Jamal Turner/Kenny Bell hybrid from New Smyrna Beach, Fla., is looking at Clemson, Florida and maybe Ohio State.
The good news: NU's able to show skill players an offense that's diverse, creative and spreads the ball around. If Rex Burkhead, Ben Cotton and Kyler Reed go in the NFL draft in April — I still think all three will — the news gets a little better.
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