LINCOLN — December has earned its “silly season” name in college football for all the moves made by coaches. Those changes trickle down to prospects, who may be left searching for a new home when the staff they committed to leaves for another program or gets fired.
In the two weeks before a newly created dead period restricts teams from visiting targets for one month, Nebraska is trying to take advantage of the fluidity.
Take Rahshead Johnson, a 5-foot-11, 165-pound four-star receiver/defensive back from Long Beach (Calif.) Cabrillo High School. He was pledged to Washington until coach Steve Sarkisian left for USC. Johnson plans to visit Lincoln on Dec. 13.
“He's a big-time athlete,” said Cabrillo coach Jason Brown. “Tall, great ball skills, runs right by you.”
Johnson has two good connections to Nebraska. One is cousin and former Husker safety Rickey Thenarse. Another is Brown himself, who was the head coach at Chaffey College when former Huskers Daimion Stafford and Joe Carter played there.
“I told Rahshead that once he sees the place he'll love it,” Brown said. “There aren't a lot of places in college football like it. A lot of L.A. guys have success at Nebraska. ... He can pick and choose what position he wants to play. He's a top receiver, but I know he's leaning toward playing some defense, too.”
Johnson will be joined during the visit by a junior-college target from California, Saddleback Community College wide receiver Eric Lauderdale. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound four star has Oregon, Tennessee, Florida and Arizona State in his top five, and he'd be quite a coup for receivers coach Rich Fisher, who works the West Coast. Lauderdale is a long-striding speedster, an efficient runner with just enough wiggle to be dangerous on quick screens.
Since offensive coordinator Tim Beck uses the quick screen almost like a running play, any outside receiver NU develops has to do it well. When Quincy Enunwa and Kenny Bell got slowed by injuries in Big Ten play, the Huskers lacked the depth to make the play work. Lauderdale told Husker Online that NU's looking at him to replace Enunwa, who uses up his eligibility this year.
Recent Husker commit Chance Waz is now visiting Baylor for the Bears' game against Texas. Why Baylor waited so long to offer a kid in its backyard is unclear, but Nebraska has to watch that situation closely. Waz had a strong senior year and could project to a good nickel/safety at NU.
Nebraska is still on the hunt for more defensive backs, so watch the movements of Mississippi junior college cornerback targets Byerson Cockrell and Josh Keys. Both are long guys who fit the Huskers' ideal at defensive back, and both would have a shot at early playing time.
Front seven fun to think about
One thing I resist doing is overhyping most recruits. They need to develop. They need to learn the system. They need to merge academic and athletic life.
But I'll sometimes make exceptions for junior college guys. I did for Randy Gregory, whom I compared to a Buddy Ryan-era Chicago Bear. That's some hyperbole! But Gregory darn near lived up to it. With the possible exception of Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg, Gregory is the top Big Ten recruit of the 2013 class.
We'll see how Dodge City (Kan.) Community College defensive tackle and Husker commit Terrell Clinkscales holds up to the hype he's already received and will continue to get through signing day. I've said he's the best junior college tackle I've seen on film for the 2014 class. He might be the best I've seen in a couple of years, and it's not just because of his raw athleticism. At least on tape — and according to the folks I've talked to — he knows how to play the position.
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Clinkscales said he learned how to play defensive line from an uncle. His first junior college, Grand Rapids Community College, taught hand and leverage techniques more than Dodge City. But ask any current Nebraska defensive lineman how often Rick Kaczenski harps on hand placement and other technique pieces of the position, and you'll hear: All the time.
Kaczenski and Clinkscales will make a good coach/player pair, especially on passing downs. Nebraska loves to push the pocket from the interior and collapse it, forcing the quarterback toward ends who have been trained not to overrun the play. A number of NU's blitzes start with middle pressure. If you can generate that pressure right in the quarterback's field of vision, you're taking away that delayed, shallow crossing route throw that sometimes hurts the Huskers. A quarterback can't hit a receiver if he can't see him.
In the run game, Clinkscales' highlight film is impressive. He engages a blocker, shucks him and makes plays down the line. Getting off blocks for a defensive tackle isn't quite as good as penetration, but it's close, especially against power offenses that like creating cutback lanes on stretch plays. An offensive line can catch up with all three linebackers in the flow of the play, but if a tackle has broken free of his blocker, running backs are stuck staying on their tracks.
It's easy to envision a front four of Randy Gregory, Avery Moss and Greg McMullen rotating at end while some combination of Clinkscales, Vincent Valentine, Aaron Curry, Maliek Collins, Kevin Williams and Kevin Maurice patrols the interior. With the exception of Gregory, who may just be too good to stick around for two more years, those seven players are here through at least 2015.
Throw in the linebackers — all of whom will be here through at least 2015 — and that's a front seven to win some games.