Identifying the Immediate Contributors in the 2013 Class
National signing day is exciting because it offers fans a quick glimpse in to their teams' possible future. But, it's really more about potential than production. Most of the players Nebraska signed in their 2013 class likely won't be making major contributions right away this coming fall. But, a few will crack the two-deep roster and be hitting the field on Saturdays this fall. So, who are the immediate contributors in this class? Based on the Huskers roster needs, recent history and the talents and skills of certain players I'm willing to make a few guesses.
Nebraska has not played a lot of young players - especially true freshmen - while Bo Pelini has been head coach at NU. That might change some in the 2013 seasson. Based on his comments at a press conference, it appears he's given the topic some thought and might be willing to change.
"I look back and 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," he said in reference to recent freshman classes. "I makde that decision a little bit too quick and and I've kicked myself for it. You evaluate and you learn."
So, which players from the 2013 class are likely to play soon? Here are some ideas.
Junior College Players
When coaches have an obvious need on their roster, they often turn to the junior college ranks. Quite often, they are more physically ready to play than a typical college freshman. Considering that nearly all JC players only have two or three years of eligibility remaining, the are also not brought in to sit. There isn't time to waste.
For all of these reasons, look for junior college prospects Matt Finnen, Chongo Kondolo and Randy Gregory to contribute for NU this coming fall. Put plainly, Finnen and Kondolo fill the gaps in the Husker offensive line rotation that were made by the departures of Tyler Moore and Ryan Klachko (both from the class of 2011). Finnen, a tackle, will have more opportunity to get on the field this season than Kondolo, who plays guard. Competition behind the returning starters at tackle will be wide open. Nebraska has a lot of players in their offensive line interior. Both could certainly be major factors in the 2014 season.
Nebraska has an obvious need at defensive end, as one starting job appears wide open. Enter Gregory. He's arguably the most highly regarded player in Nebraska's class. It remains to be seen how Gregory's wide open style of play will fit with Nebraska's defensive system. He played in a very wide technique - outside the tackle or tight end - at his junior college. Nebraska's ends didn't do this much (at least last year). So, "fit" may be an issue, but the talent is there in spades.
Opportunity for Early Arrivals
Nebraska loses both of its starting safeties off of last year's squad. Again, this creates opportunity for a newcomer to compete. I expect DJ Singleton to be one player in that mix next year. Why? He's a bit of a unique case. He's a year older than other members of this class. After not qualifying at Wisconsin a year ago, he sat out and went to prep school. After opening up his recruitment and choosing NU, he got on campus early. So, he's already preparing. And, Singleton will get to play spring ball with the team. That levels the competition with the veterans some, and may let his significant talent win him a role right away.
Another defensive newcomer to keep an eye on is true freshman Courtney Love. Like Singleton, Love enrolled early. He'll get an early shot to enter what could be a wide open competition at linebacker because he will participate in spring drills. Love is a player that Pelini mentioned by name during his press conference as an example of somebody who looked more physically ready to play right away.
Don't snicker. Special teams are important. Can you imagine losing a game because of a bad snap on a kick or a punt? It's sickening for fans, and a nightmare for coaches. So expect to see long snapping specialist Gabriel Miller on the field right away this fall. He was named the second best long snapper in America by Fox Sports. Not only that, but coaches don't use scholarships on specialty players like long snappers unless they are going to play right away.
Looking for a true freshman to play in a high-profile position? Consider the two new running backs in this class worth watching. The departure of Braylon Heard from the Nebraska backfield creates opportunity. Ameer Abdullah is the incumbent starter. After that, Imani Cross played as a freshman and showed ability. But teams need more than two running backs in a season, and running back is one of the places freshman can often play early.
Both of the guys NU signed in 2013 are big-time talents. Collectively, Terrell Newby and Adam Taylor ran for more than 5,000 yards last year in high school. Newby was one of the top prep players in California. He has speed to burn and played in an offense not all that different from what Nebraska runs. Taylor was a massively productive player for the best team in Texas (and ranked No. 2 nationally). Players from programs like this are often not only physically ready but also mentally ready to deal with the pressure or expectations of big-time football.
Recruiting is inexact. But, their are spots on any roster that need immediate help. When you cross reference what coaches need and their choices to recruit certain kids, it gets just a bit easier to guess who may play right away. These are my guesses. What are yours?