Nebraska Team Report
Bo Pelini never promises recruits immediate playing time. It’s not part of his black-and-white sales pitch, and he’s emphatic when he says it never will be.
That said, the Nebraska football coach told members of his 2013 recruiting class to come prepared in August.
“I can’t look into a crystal ball, and I’m not sure, but we’re going to fire our guns next year,” Pelini said when announcing his sixth Nebraska recruiting class.
“I told every kid we were recruiting, I said, ‘Get your butt ready to play,’ because that’s going to be our mind-set. We’re going to get each one of these kids ready to play, and we’re going to try to use every ounce of depth that we have.”
That goes against what Pelini usually says on the first Wednesday of every February, when he normally downplays recruiting hype and douses questions about possible immediate-impact players.
Why the sudden change?
“I think we’re at a point in the program right now where it’s a little bit different,” Pelini said. “I look back, I think the one mistake I did make is that I didn’t play some of these kids more, that I did redshirt some of these kids. I made that decision, I think, maybe a little bit too quick.
“I’ve kicked myself for it. You live and learn. You think back, you evaluate. Sometimes you have to learn from your mistakes, too.”
The players with the biggest opportunity to play this fall are the six who play defensive line, a critical position of need.
How many of the six does Pelini expect to contribute immediately?
“Six, if they can,” he said. “I don’t know. Time will tell. Every guy’s going to be a little different. Depends on how they pick things up, how they work between now and Aug. 31. There’s a lot that has to be done. But I think all six guys have ability. They have the potential to contribute.”
Nebraska signed 26 players from 13 different states, plus Canada. There will also be 15 recruited walk-ons, 13 of whom have been announced.
“It adds a lot to our football team,” Pelini said of the class as a whole. “There are not only a lot of good athletes, a lot of good football players, but tremendous young men. A lot character-type kids that I want to coach, that we want to have represent our university.”
Top Of The Class
RB Terrell Newby (Chaminade High in West Hills, Calif.)—Newby is the top running back prospect in the state of California, according to Rivals.com, and will figure into Nebraska’s rotation immediately. The 5-foot-10, 180-pound Newby had back-to-back seasons of more than 2,000 rushing yards in high school.
RB Adam Taylor (Katy High in Katy, Texas High)—As if getting California’s top running back wasn’t enough, Nebraska also got Taylor, one of the top running backs in Texas. Offensive coordinator Tim Beck compared Taylor’s makeup and work ethic to Rex Burkhead, another Texas native whom Taylor (and Terrell Newby) will help replace this fall.
DE Randy Gregory (Arizona Western Community College in, Yuma, Ariz.)—One of three junior college transfers in the class, Gregory was targeted by Nebraska coaches as a guy who could come in and play immediately at a spot Nebraska needs immediate help. Gregory missed last season with an injury, and will have three years of eligibility.
QB Johnny Stanton (Santa Margarita Catholic High, in Santa Margarita, Calif.)—The dual-threat quarterback has been compared to Tim Tebow, and he broke Carson Palmer’s high school record for total yards. Stanton is expected back at 100 percent after recovering from an ACL injury last fall.
• Nebraska is losing graduate assistant coach Vince Marrow, who accepted a full-time assistant coaching job at Kentucky. That might not seem that big, except that Marrow took with him highly-touted S Marcus McWilson, who de-committed from the Huskers and followed Marrow, who helped recruit McWilson, to Kentucky. Pelini was asked about that situation on signing day, but if he’s having any feelings of contempt, he’s holding back. “I don’t know how that quite happened and why it happened,” Pelini said, “but obviously, like I said, I got the kids in this class that I want.”
• Included in Nebraska’s recruiting class is Drake Martinez, the younger b brother of senior QB Taylor Martinez. Both have impressive speed, and the younger Martinez will use his on the defensive side of the ball, at safety, although Pelini said he could play multiple positions.
Practice priorities: Nebraska’s biggest concern will be to shore up a defense that surrendered 1,229 yards and 115 points over its final two games of 2012. That begins with improving tackling, particularly tackling in space. “The only way I think you become better tacklers is to tackle more in practice,” Nebraska defensive coordinator John Papuchis said, promising a physical spring. “Of course, you always run the risk of getting people injured when that happens, but reality is, for us to get to where we need to be defensively, we’ve got to tackle.” Nebraska needs to build depth along the defensive line and replace all three linebackers. The core of the Huskers’ offense returns, but there’s a big hole at tight end.
Quote To Note: “We’ve got some tough, tough excited football players that are young on our defense, and they bark a lot. It’s going to be time for them to put up or shut up.”—Nebraska defensive coordinator John Papuchis.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Key Losses: RB Rex Burkhead, G Seung Hoon Choi, TE Ben Cotton, LB Will Compton, DT Baker Steinkuhler, DE Eric Martin.
Players To Watch In 2013:
• QB Taylor Martinez enters his senior season having made a Nebraska-record 39 career starts at quarterback, a mark that started his redshirt freshman season. Martinez improved his passing percentage last season and threw for 2,871 yards, the third-highest single-season total in school history, and became only the fourth Husker quarterback to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season.
• RB Ameer Abdullah grew up a lot as a sophomore, but then again, he had to, when he was forced into a starting role because of an early-season knee injury to Rex Burkhead. Abdullah responded admirably, with a team-best 1,137 rushing yards, while proving he could run between the tackles despite his 5-foot-9, 185-pound frame.
• WR Kenny Bell fell short of his goal of becoming Nebraska’s first-ever player to have 1,000 receiving yards in one season, although his 863 yards ranked fourth on the school’s single-season list. He enters his junior season as the top receiver on perhaps the Big Ten’s most-vaunted wide receiving corps.
• CB Ciante Evans had a rough ending to what had been a strong junior season, when he locked down Nebraska’s nickel back role before playing primarily cornerback toward the end of the season. He had 52 tackles and eight pass breakups, and was one of Nebraska’s big-impact players on defense, but struggled in coverage in season-ending losses to Wisconsin and Georgia. His return to that earlier-season form will be crucial.
• RB Braylon Heard is transferring, although coach Bo Pelini said he wouldn’t close the door if Heard changed his mind. “I think the world of Braylon,” Pelini said. “Just, right now, his mind’s set in another place. I wish him luck.” As sophomore backup last season, Heard rushed 52 times for 348 yards and three touchdowns.
• DT Chase Rome, who left the team momentarily during the 2012 season, then returned, is leaving again, and this time for good. “It was mutual,” coach Bo Pelini said. “We sat down, and he thought it was best that he go and play in another program, and I agreed with him.” Rome played in 11 games last season as a sophomore, starting three, and had 19 total tackles.
• LB Sean Fisher is bypassing an opportunity to seek a sixth season of eligibility and will instead focus on medical school. Fisher, who sustained a shoulder injury his first year in the program, and then missed his redshirt sophomore season because of a broken ankle, could’ve petitioned the NCAA for another year.
• DT Thad Randle had surgery to “clean some things up” in his knee, coach Bo Pelini said, and will miss spring practices, which start March 2. Randle played injured last season, Pelini said, and will return at 100 percent.