Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Cornhusker Combine News

It's been a couple of weeks since I checked in, main reason being there is pretty much nothing going on with the Huskers except 2009 recruiting (which is way too early to talk about for me) and getting ready for spring practice (which is still a month away). So I figured I'd take this time to weigh in on the NFL Combine, which receives way more attention than any event with guys running around in spandex ever should. That said, I'm not criticizing anyone who gets into the combine. I don't even really like pro football all that much, but even I have sat down and watched the kids doing drills on the NFL network. There were five Huskers invited to the draft this year: Sam Keller, Mo Purify, Carl Nicks, Steve Octavien, and Zach Bowman. I, like everyone else, am completely shocked that Corey McKeon was not invited. I'm not going to predict draft selections or anything, this is just a look at how the guys have done so far in the combine and pre-draft stuff.

A look at how the Big Red fared:

Sam Keller, Quarterback
Height: 6'4"

Weight: 241

40 time: 4.91

Vertical: 32 1/8"

The Skinny
Keller has been a question mark throughout the NFL scouting season. He played erratically during his only year at Nebraska, which as we all know was cut short by injury when he went down at Texas. Scouts love his size and pedigree (his dad played in the NFL, and he was a highly-sought recruit coming out of high school), but are still skeptical of his overall arm strength, accuracy, and decision making (what, so if he's not good at any of these, how the hell is he even considered a potential draft choice?). Anyone who watched Keller hop around in pocket for extended periods of time last year, only to watch him throw another 3-yard out to Lucky while getting hit, knows that he has a tendency to hold on to the ball too long and force passes into coverage. In addition to that, I was never impressed with his ability to add touch to his throws. It was maddening trying to watch him throw a fade route, because he was the only QB I've seen who's fade throws were still going UP when they reached the end zone.

He has failed in wowing anyone at either the Senior Bowl or the Combine, and besides the questions of his quarterbacking ability, Keller has to deal with the added scrutiny that comes with the Arizona State situation and his reputation as a bit of a partier. In the NFL, even the seemingly smallest of transgressions is going to have to be explained. Keller's answers to these questions will go a long way in determining if he is drafted or if he is merely a free-agent invite to camp. All this aside, I really hope Sam wows someone and gets a shot, because after all the b.s. he's dealt with the past three years, this kid deserves a break.

Keller links:
Arizona Republic
NFL Draft Scout
Lincoln Journal Star

Maurice Purify
Height: 6'4"

Weight: 224

40 time: 4.56

Vertical: 34"

The Skinny
The thing that will always stick in my craw is this: what kind of year would Mo have had if Joey Ganz was at the reins the entire year? With Keller's trouble with progression through his checkdowns, Purify was nowhere near the factor we had expected him to be his senior year. I knew we were in trouble when Keller couldn't hit him on a fade three times in a row during one of our non-conference games. Once Ganz entered the picture, it was as if Mo was trying to make up for lost time. His average game with Keller: 4 catches, 46 yards. His average game with Ganz: 8 catches, 134 yards. Now obviously, this is a stupid comparison. There's no way of knowing if Ganz would have lit it up the entire season, and the stats are skewed due to the fact we put up 76 points against KSU and 51 against the Buffs. But the fact of the matter is that Ganz understood that Mo is a playmaker, and that when you give him the opportunity, he can absolutely abuse a defense. Keller never seemed to understand that and was content to check down to a tight end or a back every time.

Most scouts expected Purify to run in the 4.7 range, so his 4.56 time was a pleasant surprise, and according to pretty much every report I've read, Purify looked fantastic in individual drills catching the ball (NFL Draft Scout called him one of the most dynamic wideouts there). If I were him, I'd just give every scout and coach I met a tape of the Kansas game where he demoralized star cornerback (and sure-fire 1st rounder) Aqib Talib. He's a proven producer in the red zone, and creates a bevy of mismatches when used out of the slot on slower, shorter linebackers.

All of that said, he has well-documented off-the-field issues that will definitely have to be answered for. His involvement in a bar fight as well as the DWI (or whatever they call it in Nebraska) were both atoned for through community service and being benched a game, but NFL personnel guys will want to know that the drinking days are behind him. Still, he definitely raised his stock this past weekend.

Mo links:
NFL Draft Scout
Lincoln Journal Star

Steve Octavien, OLB
Height: 6'

Weight: 239

40 time: 4.67

Vertical: 32.5"

The Skinny
In addition to the numbers above, Octo also completed an impressive 26 reps on the bench press. Always known as a physical beast, Octavien didn't fail to impress at what amounts to a showcase for people good at working out. He moved fluidly in pass coverage drills, showcased great speed for his bowling-ball build, and showed decent strength with the aforementioned bench press rep amount. That said, everybody knows the knock on him: injuries, injuries, injuries. His inability to stay on the field has many teams concerned about his durability, and unfortunately, no matter how many tests you do on a guy, you never know if he's gonna be an every-game guy or somebody who's nicked up for extended periods of time. Octo is seen as a high risk/high reward prospect because of this, so it's tough to project how early he could go.

One the few brightspots on the cheerleading squad, er, Blackshirts last year, Octo racked up 92 tackles last year, which is twice as impressive when you take into account there was seemingly no game plan after the 5th game of the season (with the exception of the Texas game). In addition to his good play this past season, Octo also had several good games in 2006 (with the Texas snow game being most prominent). Steve is seen among pundits as one of the biggest risers among his position at the combine. He is on par with top-10 pick Veranon Gholston (out of Ohio State) in many of the tests except bench press, where the former Buckeye put up an astounding 37 reps. So they are comparable, even if Gholston's production was greater. I would argue that in a similar system to OSU (i.e., one that doesn't suck), Octo would have been a force to be reckoned with. He is an ideal player for the 3-4, where he can be used off the edge or in pass coverage.

Octo links:
NFL Draft Scout
Sports Illustrated

Carl Nicks, T
Height: 6'5"

Weight: 341

40 time: 5.12

Vertical: I couldn't find it, but I'm guessing it's not very high.......

The Skinny
Nicks is going to be Nebraska's highest drafted player this year, with many projecting him to be a 2nd round pick after his good showing at the combine. Considered somewhat raw due to the fact he only started one year, his athleticism and frame intrigue pro scouts, who see him as a potential road grader at right tackle (some websites say he is the #1 RT prospect in the draft). In addition to his surprising mobility, he also put up 31 reps on the bench press.

Nicks links:
Omaha World-Herald
NFL Draft Scout

Zack Bowman, CB
Height: 6'2"

Weight: 200

40 time: 4.38

Vertical: Couldn't find one........gayness.......

The Skinny
Obviously there's a bit of concern from scouts about the injuries that Bowman suffered the past couple of years. Still, with the good combine showing, he showed he has great ability, though from what I read he didn't play well at the Senior Bowl. Anyways, I'd love to break it down and give you my opinion on his abilities, but I've only seen the guy play like 3 times, so it's a tough call to make. I'm just glad he made it through the scouting circuit without some freak injury happening. I was always expecting something like this coming across on the ESPN ticker: "Nebraska CB Zack Bowman in intensive care after being trampled by elephant at NFL combine." Hopefully God cuts him a break, he deserves it after the past couple of years. Plus, from what I hear, he is one of the more upstanding, good guys on the team.

Bowman link:
NFL Draft Scout
NFL Draft Countdown

Some other draft opinions really quick:

- Still not sold on Matt Ryan. I really don't get it at all, the high opinion of him by NFL guys. A comparison I would make would be me after 20 beers at a bar filled with girls who are no better than a 6 on the classic 1-10 rating scale. It's like every GM or scout is just s*itfaced and Matt Ryan is the 6 who suddenly is looking pretty damn good. Which is why 5 years from now, when the former BC star is the new Joey Harrington, some GM is going to be like me the morning after: "Aww, what the hell was I thinking? Oh wait, I wasn't, I was hammered." The guy has questionable arm strength, still throws way too many picks, and tends to be a "gunslinger" type when he doesn't have the cannon to do so, which is why he has a lot of the aforementioned interceptions. Time may prove me wrong, but I just don't think this guy is going to be anything special, at least not worthy of a top 10 pick. Then again, I never thought Tom Brady would be anything but a 3rd-string clipboard carrier. And now he's the biggest pimp on the planet and has 3 Super Bowl rings. You never know. (By the way, I still don't think Gisele is all that hot. I just don't. I'd take at least 4 other Victoria's Secret girls over her. Maybe more.)

- Ooooh, Darren McFadden ran a 4.33! How stupid is the combine? Does McFadden really need a good sprint to validate his worthiness as a stud? Do these dumbasses even watch college football? Living in Minnesota, I'd be nearly irate with irritation when all these Viking fans were shocked with how good Adrian Petersen is. I just wanted to backhand them and be like "Do you have any f*cking idea how good this guy is? Did you watch him at Oklahoma? The guy could sleepwalk to 1300 yards!" Anyone who watched the Big 12 knew that he'd be a top 3 NFL back the day he was drafted, so it just irks me when these NFL fans (most of whom, in my opinion, don't know as much about football as college fans) are so shocked.

- If you had told an NFL fan 30 years ago that someday we'd be watching grown men go through workouts wearing nothing but spandex, he'd be dumbfounded. He'd wonder why we would want to watch that. It is just insane how insatiable the appetite for football is right now. And it will continue to trickle down. High school, the last bastion of innocence, is already being televised at a ridiculous rate, and every year there are more all-star games. Used to be, it was about the Friday Night Lights and just playing with your buddies. And in some places where football isn't king (like Minnesota), that still holds true. But more and more, HS football will be seen as merely a place to showcase your abilities and try to get a scholarship. The football machine will never stop growing. And I really can't decide if that's a good or bad thing. Probably both.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Hot Routes

Originally I planned on breaking down the recruiting class at great lengths in this post, but when I realized that every other single Husker blogger had already done that, I quickly soured on that idea. Speaking of those breakdowns, I wanted to quickly give some props to Double Extra Point on their well-done analysis. By the way, does anyone know what that means? I've always given "props" to friends/people who have done a good job at something, but I'm not sure what it stand for, or if it is just another phrase white people stole from hip-hop culture....if anyone knows, fill me in. It's evident that the guys over at DXP have studied the film of all the recruits (something I am currently working hard on while I'm supposed to be doing actual work), and their capsules on all the guys are great.

Anyways, instead of breaking down every guy, I just wanted to pass along my thoughts on a half-dozen or so of the players, the ones I am most excited about or who I think have, in the words of ESPN's Bill Simmons, "Tremendous Upside Potential" (TUP from here on out). Also, I'll pass along some assorted college football links that I thought were worthy of a read. Not that my opinion validates these articles, but still, if I like, them, they must be pretty f-in sweet, right? No? Damn. You'd think my status as a 3rd-string Husker blogger would get me some clout.

Annnnyways, on the recruits.

Most Likely Immediate Impact

Baker Steinkuhler, DT
Ok, I know that this guy is a bookend offensive tackle, our #1 recruit, and a bona-fide stud. But let's not forget that our defensive tackle position is about as deep as a kiddie pool. Add to that the fact that Pelini is a defensive-minded coach who has done some special things with tackles before (Glenn Dorsey, anyone?) and you have to think that they'll give the kid an early look on the d-line just out of necessity. If we weren't in such dire need, he probably would be slated for offense (and still might be), but I can't help but fantasize about having Steinkuhler and Suh completely negating opponent's inside running games.

Ricky Henry, OL
With two years of CC football under his belt, he has the seasoning to step in and bolster the Huskers' interior line (at least if he can keep his grades up, something he's struggled with in the past). That said, his 6'4", 300-lb frame is impressive and tailor-made for the G position.

Tyson Hetzer, TE
A good pass-catching JUCO tight end who should fit into Watson's offense well and can work the seams really well down the middle of the field. With the loss of both J.B. Phillips and Josh Mueller, this is a position that is relatively up for grabs with relative unknowns Mike McNeill (injured last year), Ryan Hill (true frosh), and Hunter Teafatiller (9 career catches) in the fold.

Will Compton, LB/Mason Wald, S
We don't yet know who will be redshirted, so this is a tough call, but I can see both of these guys getting on kickoff coverage this year (with Compton seeing some PT at backer). Pelini will play the best guys, regardless of age, so I wouldn't put it past him throwing these guys into the fire and hoping for some explosions.

Tremendous Upside Potential (TUP) Recruits

This is for the guys who have the potential to make a big impact down the road depending on how things pan out and them getting in the weight room. I borrowed the phrase from ESPN's Bill Simmons, who stole it from Jay Bilas. During the NBA draft, guys who don't have solid body of work to analyze (like 6'10" foreign small forwards nobody knows about) are often described as having "Tremendous Upside Potential", meaning they could completely suck, or be the next Dirk Nowitzki. So here are my nominees from this year's Husker signees.

Sean Fisher, LB
The 6'5", 210-lb linebacker out of Millard North has the kind of length and size that recruitnicks and coaches drool over. This is the type of kid you immediately recruit on your NCAA dynasty, knowing he will turn into a beast. With that height, he has the potential (there's that word again) to get up to the 250 range and be an absolute monster. Can you imagine in two years a linebacking crew composed of him, Compton, and a beefed-up Blake Lawrence? How much fun would that be? And how would any QB find a throwing lane with a couple 6'4"/6'5" guys on the outside? It's a tough call on how it will all pan out, because Pelini often uses shorter, quicker guys on the outside because of his constant blitz calls, but still, it's fun to daydream about the possibilities. I'm looking forward to seeing what happens with Fisher, a home-state kid who turned down OU (among others) to stay with the Big Red.

Kyler Reed, ATH
While it's tempting to see the 6'3", 205-pound Reed at linebacker, the signing of four other players at that position makes the Overland Park, Kansas product (a tight end as well in HS) a likely candidate for Watson's H-back position. Reed's blend of size and speed (plus the frame to easily add an additional 20 pounds) could make him a dangerous weapon in an offense that would constantly have him shifting before the snap.

Justin Rogers, CB
A stud prep tailback in Alabama's largest class of high schools, Rogers knows his potential lies on the defensive side of the ball. With great closing speed and very quick feet, he could develop into a good cover corner a couple of years down the road. Also, CB recruit David Whitmore is an intriguing prospect with great height (6'2") for the position, though after watching his film I think the 4-star rating was more based off of long term potential (which is why I'm making him a TUP recruit). I could see Whitmore getting some nickel-back opportunities in light of the fact we graduated a decent-sized group of secondary players (Grix, Jones, Bowman) this year.

Mason Wald, S
The dozen of you who regularly read my blog know that I'm already a big fan of this kid (a high school teammate of the aforementioned Rogers), so his addition to the TUP list probably comes as no surprise. Yes, I do have him as an immediate impact candidate as well, but I thought he should be a TUP guy because of the the fact he could get up to 220 and become a monster two or three years down the road.

Steven Osborne, WR
The lanky Texas wideout has the height but lacks one thing that makes him an elite prospect: that final breakaway gear. But that's something that the strength and conditioning guys at NU can help with, and aside from that, he looks like a good all-around player on film. He has sure hands, sets up his blocks well, has good vision, and is committed to good run-blocking (an absolute must). Could be a pretty good player a year from now.

Some other thoughts on the 2008 recruiting season.....

Blaine Gabbert has been mentioned in the same sentence as Josh Freeman quite a bit the past couple months, but there is a distinct difference between the two's reneged commitments to the Huskers. First off, let me say that I don't have any problem with either of them switching. They are kids, bound to change their minds about things. But when Freeman headed to K-State, he didn't start calling up other Husker commits and asking them to come with him. It has been said that Gabbert, on the other hand, didn't have any problem calling up guys like Compton and Dan Hoch to try and sway them to Mizzou. I understand that he's trying to help his future team, but dammit man, let them make their own decisions after talking with the coaches. His influence was said to have a big impact on the 4-star Hoch, a Harlan, Iowa product who many thought would stick with the Big Red. One recruiting-site contributor said that Gabbert should have gotten an award for the damage he did (and no, I can't link to anything or comment on it because it's a subscriber matter on one of the recruiting sites). And yes, part of this rant is because I really didn't want him to go to a team we have to play every damn year.

When it comes to Trevor Robinson's going to Notre Dame, I still can't understand it. He's going to play for a guy who is one losing season away from serious job insecurity, in addition to having to worry about super-douche Jimmy Clausen hitting on him all the time. I still don't understand the obsession with Notre Dame, an institution that hasn't been truly relevant in 20 years (I know, I know, we haven't been tearing it up lately either, but at least NU played in a title game just seven years ago). The only thing that would be an enticement is the degree you'd get. It certainly wouldn't be the junior high squad masquerading as the Fighting Irish.

Congrats to Alabama on getting the #1-rated class. It did wonders for our program three years ago!

A couple links before I sign off of here....

- Cool article over on about ISU's Jack Trice, who is still the only African American to have a D-I stadium named after him. I had no idea who Jack Trice was (and I went to ISU for a year), so this was an eye-opener for me.

-Reggie "3 yards-a-carry" Bush is scheduled to give a desposition regarding the alleged improper benefits he took during his career at USC. Finally, after years of denying any wrongdoing and continuously refusing to meet with investigators, Bush will finally have to answer for the benefits his family received during his Trojan tenure. I know it's wrong to assume guilt before it is a sure thing, but anybody who has read "Tarnished Heisman" or any of the Yahoo! sports reports that broke the story a couple of years ago knows that Bush will be hard pressed to prove his innocence.

Finally, I never really commented about the Super Bowl, but am I the only one who is really pissed off that the '72 Dolphins are still the only undefeated team? I can't stand these guys, and I was hoping that the Patriots would put an end to their reign as the only unblemished team. But noooo, instead we still will be talking about them any time a team gets to 7 or 8-0.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

You Can't Always Get What You Want....

but if you try sometimes, you just might find.... YOU GET WHAT YOU NEED, AW YEAH...

That song came on the radio as I left work yesterday, and as I sat, driving through Minnesota's relentless cold, I thought about the connection between the song and the recruiting class that Bo Pelini announced yesterday. During Callahan's tenure, it was often a conference extolling the stud blue-chip prospects that he had hauled in. We all fawned over the top-10 classes with all their stars and rankings. And that will always be an alluring thing, everybody will always WANT 5-star guys, everybody will always WANT top-5 classes. But yesterday, I couldn't help but feel that while we only signed one 5-star recruit, we came away at the end of the day with exactly what we NEEDED. Guys who want to be part of the Husker tradition, hard-nosed kids who will sacrifice for the next 4 to 5 years for the greater good of the team. And that's not to say that the 5-star guys wouldn't do that. But for all the hoopla over guys like Harrison Beck, there's a 2-star kid from some small podunk down that will out-work and out-sweat other guys because that's what it takes to get on the field and contribute. I was laughed at on a message board the other day because I wrote that I wanted Mason Wald more than the stud 4 or 5 star guys. And I stood by it, because when you watch his film, it's not his size or any tangible thing that jumps out at you. It's tenacity and fire, and it's obvious that those traits attracted Pelini's staff to the kid.

Pelini came back to the same theme again and again: TEAM. He never once talked about an individual's recruits talents. He lamented the hype behind the recruiting process, saying that he knew what his staff was looking for and he didn't care about stars or the rankings, that he only wanted good football players who will come in and work hard. And at the end of the day, that's all any of us can ask for, is kids who understand how important it is to wear the N on the helmet and the pride the state takes in it's program.

That's why you'll find almost as much written today about the walk-ons as you will about the scholarship kids. The re-emphasizing of the walk-on tradition is a point of pride for the Pelini staff, and the state is excited to see the change. You never know what unknown recruit might develop into an All-American, which has happened more than a few times at NU. If you want a perfect example of an unheralded guy who wasn't offered a scholarship coming out of high school, look at the New England Patriot's Pro-Bowler Wes Welker, a former walk-on at Texas Tech. You can measure height, 40 times, vertical leaps, and any other stat you want. But you can't measure heart.

I'm going to let the dust settle a bit before I write a more detailed breakdown of the recruiting class next week, just wanted to put a brief 2 cents in today. Hope everyone is as excited about this class as I am.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Christmas in February

And so, after a long (at least when it comes to Husker standards) football layoff, we finally get something new to talk about in the form of Signing day, which has become a holiday of sorts for football fans hungry for new developments and something to break up the off-season. While some may view grown men celebrating high schoolers picking a college as kind of creepy, I for one am thrilled that we managed to assemble a relatively strong recruiting class despite a coaching change. With only one month to convince all of Callahan's recruits as well as add new commits, Pelini's staff has done an excellent job salvaging the 2008 class after an initial flood of decommits when Callahan was fired. While we lack the star power we used to have under Callahan, this class has a great deal of depth and targets many of our need positions (i.e., DEFENSIVE GUYS). Sure, we don't have the all-star offensive line class we originally would have had this year with Cally, but on the flip side, these kids might actually be coached into good players, something the last staff proved completely inept at.

In addition to the scholarship guys, the new staff has managed to get a lot of under-the-radar kids to walk on. These guys might not be highly recruited, but they all have the size and mentality to contribute to the program and eventually have a shot to star. You never know where studs might come from, and Nebraska has had more than a few guys go from walk-ons to All-Americans.

The list of commits (table comes from the OWH):

Sean Fisher
Millard North
Ricky Henry
Omaha Burke
Micah Kreikemeier
West Point Central Catholic
John Levorson
Collins Okafor
Omaha Westside
Baker Steinkuhler
Lincoln Southwest
Antonio Bell
Daytona Beach, Fla.
Will Compton
Bonne Terre, Mo.
Ben Cotton
Ames, Iowa
Khiry Cooper
Shreveport, La.WR
Alfonzo Dennard
Rochelle, Ga.CB
David Grant
Killeen, TexasOL
Tyson Hetzer
Redding, Calif.TE
Tim Marlowe
Youngstown, OhioRB
Cameron Meredith
Santa Ana, Calif.DE
Courtney Osborne
Garland, TexasSafety
Steven Osborne
Garland, TexasWR
Kyler Reed
Overland Park, Kan.LB
Justin Rogers
Birmingham, Ala.RB
P.J. Smith
New OrleansSafety
Kody Spano
Stephenville, TexasQB
Brandon Thompson
Woodlands, TexasOL
Quentin Toailoa
Highland, Calif.DT
Lester Ward
Brenham, TexasRB
Alonzo Whaley
Madisonville, TexasLB
David Whitmore
Port Arthur, TexasDB
Josh Williams
Denton, TexasDE

***Late note: Word has gotten out that Mason Wald, the Alabama safety whose talents I wrote about a couple of days ago, has accepted a scholarship offer to play for the Huskers. I haven't been this pumped since I got a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle van for Christmas when I was 8.

I'll have more on signing day tomorrow when everything is finalized. I'll be looking at what needs we filled, what positions we could have used additional guys at, and which players have a chance to make an impact immediately next year. For additional coverage, go to, who has links to several sites with links to individual stories and capsules.