LINCOLN — Shortly after we arrived in Chicago for Big Ten media days, the word ran through Nebraska's recruiting message boards like Alexander's army in Babylon: Abu Lamin might be coming for an official visit!
For a fan base that's invested so heavily in the Nebraska recruiting meme — that the Huskers have dug a talent hole in recent years and need more athletes to dig themselves out — this was cause for celebration.
Then the 6-foot-4, 305-pound four-star junior college recruit out of Fort Scott (Kan.) chose an official visit to NU over one to Auburn, thanks to the late-night work from assistant coaches John Papuchis, Rick Kaczenski and John Garrison. He rated that visit, according to Husker Online, a “big 10.” Lamin, active on Twitter, posted several pictures of Memorial Stadium.
Monday morning, Lamin officially committed to South Carolina, the school he'd always leaned toward because it's two hours from his childhood home. He'll likely consider an official visit to Alabama, which offered just before or during Lamin's trip to NU.
If you didn't know why I've been writing for nearly two years — and earlier this week on our Big Red Today blog, where you can find this argument in longer form — about how hard it is to land juco defensive tackles, perhaps now you have a better idea. Even the two-time defending national champions, with all of their excellent recruiting, need one.
Good tackles not only are hard to find, they're harder to develop. Really hard. Ask Nebraska. Ask Bo Pelini. In one of his more candid moments in Chicago, he freely admitted that the Huskers have had some “good players, but I don't know if we've had any difference-makers” since Jared Crick got hurt midway through the 2011 season. Lamin has the frame to be a difference-maker. He hasn't played a down of college football — he sat out last year — so it's hard to gauge the quality of his technique, his instinct, etc. However polished he might be, he'd still take development.
However good Lamin's frame is, redshirt freshman Vincent Valentine's 6-3, 325-pound frame is just as impressive. Having a good defensive line is more than recruiting the bodies. It's cultivation, development. It's nurture over nature.
Trying to relay these thoughts on Twitter on Sunday night, the responses shot back at me often reflected the popular-but-tiring notion that NU coaches are proverbial blind men when it comes to recruiting top-flight defensive linemen, and Lamin's post-visit list is yet another example of the close-but-not-quite identity of the program.
There have been head-scratching recruits in Pelini's past — most of them in that giant 2008 class that, under what I suspect was poor advisement from others, Pelini cobbled together in the few free weeks he had before signing day — but, at least on the defensive line, nearly every recruit is a kind of project. Neil Smith wasn't Neil Smith on day one. Ndamukong Suh wasn't Big Suh until halfway through 2008, his junior season. Crick took two years. Christian Peter took two years. Mike Rucker took two years.
So I return to Kaczenski and what he was hired to do. He was Pelini's biggest hire to date on defense. He had a considerable task when he arrived in Lincoln. His face wore the most painful grimace after the Big Ten title game. There's a challenge in rebuilding an entire unit after last year's late-season collapse. A freedom, too. If nothing else, the Husker players under Kaczenski's care — with the potential exception of Jason Ankrah — don't have any illusions about the playing time they think they've earned. Most of them haven't played. The few who did have lost so much time to injury that they rarely developed a rhythm.
This is Kaz's tabula rasa year. A blank slate. You can't ease up on the recruiting gas. But he'll also have to plunge his hands into the big table of clay before him.
|See the latest NU recruiting news, player cards, photos, video and more.|
In the meantime, the Huskers will continue to offer defensive tackle prospects throughout the season, evaluating after the year to see if another Kevin Maurice is out there to find. NU recently extended an offer to three-star Covington (La.) defensive tackle Garrald McDowell (6-3, 260). Lakeland (Fla.) three-star prospect Chris Nelson (6-2, 295) told 247Sports he had the Huskers in the top five. Mesa (Ariz.) Community College four-star Claude Pelon (6-5, 285) has an eye on Nebraska, but he's more likely to stay out west at USC or Washington.
And, of course, Hiawatha (Kan.) four-star Peyton Newell — whom Nebraska's recruited as hard as any player in the 2014 cycle — announces at his school Aug. 30. NU needs to win there.
Beck's philosophy seems to help with recruiting
In a wide-ranging talk this week with offensive coordinator Tim Beck, he uttered a sentence about his offense that recruits surely like to hear.
“In my offense, there are no freshmen,” Beck said. “It's get in there and go. With our two huddles in practices and the tempos we play at, we want to play everybody.”
It's why the Huskers have developed more momentum in their offensive recruiting in the past year. For example, how Nebraska pulls a kid like Cethan Carter away from an LSU grayshirt. Carter was going to play — and probably often — at LSU. He'll do that instead at NU.
As Beck further develops the attack, look for more wide receivers to pay attention. NU has a decent line on getting a few to visit this fall — Oklahoma commit Dallis Todd (6-5, 205) of La Mirada (Calif.) could be one of them — and a big nonconference campaign could bring more.
Around the nation
>> Ohio State picked up its top offensive line commit for the 2014 class last weekend when four-star Fort Worth (Texas) star Demetrius Knox (6-4, 294) chose the Buckeyes over UCLA, Alabama and Florida, among others. One day later, OSU added four-star New Castle (Pa.) safety Malik Hooker (6-2, 185) to the fold. Hooker rebuffed an offer from Penn State, one of the few in-state recruiting battles PSU coach Bill O'Brien has lost since arriving in Happy Valley.
>> Iowa flipped two-star Sycamore (Ill.) athlete Ben Niemann (6-3, 190) from Northern Illinois, his only other decent FBS offer. Why? Ben's dad, Jay, is the Huskies' defensive coordinator. Niemann projects to linebacker. The Hawkeyes have had some success building linebackers out of skill players. Don't be stunned if it happens here, too.
>> Purdue got a commit from three-star Fort Wayne (Ind.) linebacker Drue Tranquill (6-2, 210). Illinois landed two junior college receivers — Los Angeles Pierce Community College four-star Tyrin Stone-Davis (6-3, 195) and Iowa Western three-star Geronimo Allison (6-3, 180), who picked the Illini over Kansas State and Iowa State. Indiana received commits from three-star Cincinnati St. Xavier defensive end Nick Carovillano (6-4, 245) and two-star Rossville (Ga.) defensive tackle Jermane Conyers. Minnesota beat Duke and Iowa State for three-star Owatonna (Minn.) defensive end Andrew Stelter (6-4, 250). The Gophers, with six just commits, have a massive amount of recruiting work ahead of them during the season.
>> In the Big 12, that league you probably don't love to miss, Baylor's turned into a bona fide recruiting power with 21 commits. That's just one behind league leader Texas. Closer to home, Kansas State's off to its best start in years with 13 commits, including three-star Humble (Texas) quarterback Aaron Sharp, who decommitted from Utah and picked the Wildcats over Baylor, Texas and Arizona State. Iowa State, with four-star Urbandale (Iowa) receiver Allen Lazard in the fold, is faring better than usual with 12 commits. At Kansas, Charlie Weis' “have you seen that pile of crap?” pitch has the Jayhawks at seven commits, including three two-star prospects.