McKewon: Husker staff ready for recruiting stretch run

Nebraska quarterback pledge Johnny Stanton tore his ACL during his senior season, but should be ready for fall practice. He’s a physical runner who throws short passes on time and precisely.


LINCOLN — Get ready to watch Nebraska's coaching staff get busy.

One month remains before Signing Day. NU's recruiting class stands at 18 commits. In late December, coach Bo Pelini said the Huskers would sign a full class of 25 players — at least. He didn't discount the possibility of a few extra signees if Nebraska loses a few players to attrition.

What's that mean? More late offers to kids who NU coaches think had a good senior season. Many of the nation's best-rated recruiting programs don't use that method, but remember: A recruiting service's perception of a recruit is usually formed before the kid's senior season, and it doesn't always change much. There are under-the-radar prospects out there.

But sleepers and a big class alone won't make Nebraska's 2013 crop the top 15 class it should be. The Huskers have to close on a playmaking cornerback, a defensive tackle who can play next year without a bunch of sculpting from the strength and conditioning folks, and one more home run hitter on offense at running back or wide receiver.

The Huskers can easily fill their class with bodies who will say yes to a Big Red offer. They did that in 2008. That class had its share of major contributors — including Alfonzo Dennard, Will Compton, Cameron Meredith and Baker Steinkuhler — but far too many transfers and benchwarmers, guys who took up roster spots for years, denying Nebraska the ability to recruit more talent. That can't happen again.

As NU enters the final month of recruiting season, here's a look at who's on board — and the targets Nebraska's still pursuing. Player ratings are from 247Sports composite ranking, which aggregates a number of recruiting services together.

QUARTERBACK

Already committed: Johnny Stanton (4 stars, 89.5 rating)

Targets: None

Skinny: The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Stanton perfectly fits the mold of what offensive coordinator Tim Beck wants in a quarterback. He's a physical, willing runner. He throws short routes on time and with precision. He leads by action and vocally — much like 2012 commit Tommy Armstrong. Stanton tore his ACL during his senior season, cutting it short by several games, but better to suffer it midway through the year than at the end of it. Stanton will have a shot to fully recover by fall practice, when he'll try to beat out Armstrong for the backup job. Stanton is a physical enough runner, however, that Nebraska could develop a Blake Bell/Tim Tebow-style package for the goal line.

The next month: Stanton will continue his rehab. Nebraska is not likely to add another commit to the class, as it's already working hard on 2014 prospects.

RUNNING BACK

Already committed: Adam Taylor (3 stars, 88.8 rating)

Targets: Terrell Newby (4 stars, 91 rating); Jojo Kemp (3 stars, 88.5 rating)

Skinny: The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Taylor recovered with gusto from an injury in his junior season, leading Katy (Texas) High School to the 5A state title while running for 275 yards in the championship game. Taylor is a one-cut-and-go runner who gets downhill as fast as possible and can usually break arm tackles. NU hasn't had a lot of backs like Taylor; they're more common at schools like Wisconsin or Iowa. After his spectacular season in which he ran for more than 2,500 yards, Taylor will get looks from schools in Texas, but he seems committed to NU. Newby — 5-10, 180 — has long been a top Nebraska target, and even at four stars, he's probably underrated. He has Nebraska, Oregon, UCLA and now Arkansas in his top four. NU has as good a chance as any of them.

The next month: If Newby picks a different school, look for the Huskers to explore more options for a speed back.

WIDE RECEIVER/TIGHT END

Already committed: Dominic Walker (3 stars, 86.4 rating); Kevin Gladney (3 stars, 84.9 rating); Greg Hart (3 stars, 85 rating)

Targets: Brandon Vandenburg (3 stars, 86.1); Cethan Carter (3 stars, 81.1 rating) James Clark (3 stars, 85.7); Brian Lemelle (3 stars, 85.2 rating); Shelby Christy (3 stars, 85.9)

Skinny: Walker and Gladney are solid outside receiver recruits with good offer lists. They'll fit into coach Rich Fisher's room nicely. Nebraska's still on the hunt for a top tight end signee to complement the 6-foot-5, 220-pound Hart, who will be more of an H-back/slot receiver in the Huskers' offense. Vandenburg — a 6-6, 260-pound junior college prospect from College of the Desert (Calif.) — appears to be the top guy now. He'll visit Friday, as will Clark, a talented slot receiver from Florida with the same skill set and build as current slot Jamal Turner. Clark has visits to Texas and Rutgers planned, as well. Carter is another tight end prospect, while Christy is a Mississippi State commit who visited Nebraska months ago and may still have the Huskers on his radar.

The next month: Nebraska will add another tight end recruit. Count on it. The Huskers would like it to be Vandenburg. At receiver, NU has options behind Clark, but he'd be a good, late get.

OFFENSIVE LINE

Already committed: David Knevel (3 stars, 87 rating); Dan Samuelson (3 stars, 87.5 rating); Zach Hannon (3 stars, 86.25 rating); Gabriel Miller (2 stars, 76 rating)

Targets: Aaron Cochran (3 stars, 86.8 rating); Matt Finnin (3 stars, 84.8 rating).

Skinny: The top priority right now is keeping the 6-foot-5, 275-pound Samuelson from switching his commit from Nebraska to Michigan, which has come on strong in the past month. After that, the Huskers want at least one more tackle prospect on board. Junior college prospect Finnin (6-8, 330 pounds) and Cochran (6-6, 350) are both giants, which seems to be the trend the Huskers now prefer at tackle. Knevel (6-8, 290) certainly fits that bill. At guard, Hannon (6-5, 295) is a polished athlete who comes from a powerhouse program in Kansas City. Miller is NU's long-snapper recruit.

The next month: If Nebraska can get both Finnin and Cochran — unlikely, but possible — it would be one of its best offensive line classes in a decade.

DEFENSIVE LINE

Already committed: Randy Gregory (4 stars, 91.6 rating); A.J. Natter (4 stars, 89.29 rating); Kevin Maurice (2 stars, 78.6 rating)

Targets: Jaylen Miller (3 stars, 85.6 rating); Maliek Collins (3 stars, 80 rating); Ben Bradley (4 stars, 89.5 rating); Elijah Qualls (4 stars, 92.4 rating); Ernest Suttles (3 stars, 84.5 rating); Casey Sayles (2 stars, 77.9 rating).

Skinny: It's no secret that Nebraska needs a lot of help at the position; what's surprising — and disappointing thus far — is an inability to close on top prospects at tackle. Gregory, a 6-foot-5, 240-pounder from Arizona Western College, is expected to contribute immediately next year and probably start. Natter, if he's ready, shows the kind of toughness on the strong side to set the edge and stop the run. The 6-foot-3, 280-pound Maurice is a project, plain and simple, whom NU likes as a future run-stopper at tackle. Among the targets, Bradley, the junior-college prospect, announces his decision Monday. Qualls (Washington) and Suttles (Iowa State) are committed elsewhere but interested in visiting. Miller is a fast-riser from South Carolina who may not get out of the South. Sayles is the Omaha North product already committed to Ohio, but wanting a Nebraska offer.

The next month: The Huskers hope to add one more defensive end target and several more defensive tackles.

LINEBACKER

Already committed: Marcus Newby (4 stars, 89.5 rating); Josh Banderas (4 stars, 91.1 rating); Courtney Love (3 stars, 87.6 rating)

Targets: None

Skinny: Nebraska's thrilled with its haul at linebacker, where Newby, Banderas and Love all played for good teams and stood out during their senior seasons. All three can run, tackle and hit with authority. The best of them may be Banderas, whose 6-foot-2, 215-pound frame is built for the Big Ten. Because Nebraska is getting an extra year of eligibility from Zaire Anderson, the Huskers don't need to take a fourth linebacker.

The next month: Recruiting other positions.

SECONDARY

Already committed: Marcus McWilson (4 stars, 90 rating); D.J. Singleton (3 stars, 88.8 rating); Nathan Gerry (3 stars, 85.3 rating)

Targets: Priest Willis (4 stars, 97.7 rating); Tre'Vell Dixon (3 stars, 87 rating); Boaz Joseph (3 stars, 81 rating); Drake Martinez (3 stars, 81.9 rating)

Skinny: Nebraska's pretty set at safety, as McWilson, Gerry and Singleton all play the position. Singleton could be the best candidate to play right away, as he's enrolling early and is technically a 2012 recruit. The Huskers would love to corral Willis, a consensus top-30 recruit, but he seems to be leaning toward UCLA or LSU. Dixon is a former commit who never really looked around much, while Joseph is a late target from Florida.

The next month: A full-court press on Willis.

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