This is #3 in our 5 part series for the holiday week to give you ammo to argue with your family over eggnog and turkey. Our first two articles were grading the coaching hires, and going over Rhule’s hires and my concerns. Now we will shift to what exactly Rhule is looking for to build this roster.
I want to start out by saying that another reason Rhule was the perfect fit here, is because he has been touted by many as a “master roster builder”. He is taking over a program that has massive deficiencies in some key areas and it’s a bigger overhaul than some might imagine. You only have 4 scholarship defensive linemen coming back, you only have 9 scholarship offensive linemen with one of them not even close to playing, when your starting QB went down in 2022 you apparently had no one behind him to help despite 5 kids on scholarship and a walk-on that had been here 5 years and now you have 6 with the addition of some transfers, you’ve only got 4 edge guys coming back. I mean we are in a mess. I get that in coaching transitions these things happen, but you can’t get lopsided like we did the last 4-5 years. It’s going to take some time, and I can assure you this spring game is going to look a bit different as we just don’t have the bodies right now.
If you haven’t read this article from 247sports, I have referenced it a ton, but it goes into how Rhule tried to take down Penn State while at Temple and “never getting a draft pick over them” referencing the fact that if Penn State offered there was no way Temple would land them.
The basis of the article is the fact that they went after guys that may not be heavily recruited, put up massive speed, power, or explosiveness numbers at either a camp or track season, and went all in on them. It can be very boom or bust, because the philosophy is “I can teach you how to play football, I can’t teach you how to be that fast.” There’s a ton of good with this, but let me start with the bad and we will circle it back to the positive after.
Here’s the bad… some kids are really good at track or do really well in combines because they know they aren’t going to get hit. Can they replicate the things they are doing in 7 on 7 when in October or November the safety will actually decapitate you instead of letting you catch it? Let me go a step further, and I got into a pretty good argument before I was kicked off the message board about this. One of the things you have to remember is the fact that sometimes kids just aren’t all in on football. There was a kid named Kenzo Cotton that went to Papillion La-Vista in Omaha and people were just screaming that we needed to offer him. People were just dumbfounded that we weren’t offering him with the kind of speed he had. But did he love football? The answer that I knew was “no”, and he needed to go run track in college. Another example for Nebraska is a kid by the name of Ben Zajicek, he was an unreal talent in Beatrice running sub 11 seconds in the 100 meter dash. But once he got lit up by Jonathan Vilma in the Rose Bowl, we never heard from him again. Football in college is a 24/7 thing anymore, the decisions you make on and off the field reflect directly on you, your team, and your coaches. If you aren’t all in, it could get ugly for you.
Further, sometimes those numbers just don’t translate. I’ll give you a good Nebraska example and this name may sound familiar. Dusty Stamer was an absolute beast at Grand Island Senior High. He was faster than anything else out there, and was damn good on the football field too. He ends up going to South Dakota and earns conference player of the year honors as a true freshman runningback. From there he decides to walk-on to Nebraska. But when he gets here, Solich tells him that his speed just isn’t translating to the field, and it may be best to just focus on track. Dusty still has the fastest time recorded in a Nebraska uniform, running the 100 meter dash in 10.14w seconds. So hopefully you can see where i’m going with this… while I don’t really agree with Solich and his assessment, sometimes track speed just doesn’t show up (again in the coaches eyes). So handing out scholarships due to that doesn’t necessarily mean a victory on the recruiting trail.
Lastly, i’m old enough to remember how when the UCF staff got here, all they cared about was speed:
That fell straight on its face for us. We just need to make sure we are vetting these guys to make sure this is truly what they want to do. I’m quite sure we are, but I just wanted to give the “uh oh” issue for going this route on some things.
But let’s be real, sometimes there’s kids that are really good football players AND faster than everyone else as well. Those are the kids that right now Alabama, Ohio State, and others are getting. We are going after the less recruited guys. Perfect example is Jaylen Lloyd who is a massive track star that was choosing between schools like Georgia and Florida before Rhule got here and convinced him to play football. Lloyd was essentially not being recruited at all to play football, but Rhule saw his 10.4 100 meter speed and 50 foot plus triple jump and knew that was exactly the kid that helped him get Baylor to where they were. Again, a gamble, but those are the guys we get as of now. And a tweet from Sam McKewon really sent people up in arms:
You had people pissed… and a kid like Lloyd fits what Rhule is talking about a bit. That kid I don’t even believe had a recruiting ranking so really kept an anchor on our team ranking. People began to say things like this:
Let me get back to that tweet in a second… but Nebraska isn’t far off. Take a look at Malachi Coleman. Kid runs a 10.5 100 and we are in his final list of schools. You pull that one off and you grab the #1 kid in the state and someone that Michigan and others really wanted. We can absolutely do both, Rhule just meant that there are really good kids no one is looking at and we trust what we do. That’s refreshing to hear.
Allow me to elaborate on the recruiting rankings thing from the tweet earlier, because it really pisses me off a bit. First, i’ve always said if I were Nebraska’s head coach people would have to deal with lower team rankings as I would grab more Nebraska kids than other coaches. And those Nebraska kids are severely undervalued by the services (in my opinion). But I always tell a couple stories on this. First, is when Daishon Neal was at Omaha Central, he committed to Nebraska in the spring before his senior year (I think). Neal ended up hurting his knee during football but didn’t sit out (sat out most of basketball that year). He had good games, but for the most part he was underwhelming as a D1 recruit on the field. He was a 3 star at the time, a great get for Nebraska. Bo gets fired and tells Bob Stoops the gates are now open to Nebraska for the coach and to go look at him. Oklahoma ends up offering, so does Michigan, so Neal opens back up his recruitment. The recruiting service does a “re-rank” and Neal moves up to a 4 star because 1) They could click bait Oklahoma and Michigan fans with a four star title and 2) teams other than Nebraska were now recruiting him that were traditional powers. Again, I promise you he didn’t get moved to a 4 star because of his play on the field.
What i’m getting at is if you ever hear someone say “ya, rankings don’t matter to Alabama that’s why they have the best class every year”. No… they have the best class every year because if you commit to Alabama you are getting a 4 star evaluation 90% of the time. It’s the chicken and the egg. And I don’t want you guys to think i’m saying Alabama and other schools aren’t getting the best recruits, because they are, and the services know that. The services “hit rates” on getting the ranking right is way better giving high rankings to teams that always win. My point is that there are really good kids out there that are 3 stars that can be just as good as those guys with development.
The other story going around is about Ernest Hausmann. Commits to Nebraska out of high school as a three star. He ends up going into the portal and from what people tell me he was 15th ranked in the portal. He commits to Michigan and ends up being the #1 recruit and a 4 star per the service that ranked him a 3 star out of high school.
It just bothers me, there are really good kids out there to get that aren’t 4 and 5 stars. I get it, you need them. I’m not saying don’t recruit them. But i’ll take that kid that is overlooked with a chip on their shoulder over some of these 4 and even 5 stars we’ve been getting. Nebraska’s only 5 star player on their roster according to the 247 composite is the Ohio State transfer Tyreke Johnson.
I mean, look at us the last decade in the B1G, 2022 was the first time teams like Iowa or Indiana had a better overall and per recruit ranking than us. In my opinion the recruiting services started figuring out other teams are developing better. There’s the word, development. We haven’t been doing it. So we need to get the guys that can be developed the best to raise our ceiling.
So when we talk development, I always said something on the previous message board to try for an analogy to have it make sense. What I always said was “think of the recruits like clay, the guys that just focused on football 24/7 have had their clay in the kiln for a year or longer. The guys that focus on multiple sports and are good in multiple seasons (fall and spring), their clay is easier to be molded by the football coaches.” What i’m basically getting at is if you have a kid that’s been all in on football, he’s been coached all year how to do things. Habits are tough to break. Conversely, if you have a kid who will finally start focusing on one sport now that you have, and you have six figure coaches teaching him technique as well as how to lift and what to eat, the ceiling can be much higher. And that’s what excites me about how Rhule is constructing this.
Eventually we will get to a point where we are getting the fast track guy as well as the good football player, and hopefully that starts with Coleman today. But I like the long game we are playing here with development of these guys. We have seen for far too long players come in and play as freshman, only to seemingly regress the more time they got in our program.
The second part of the problem
We discussed it in the top paragraph or two, but Rhule has a really tough situation where he’s not going to fully see what he has (or doesn’t have) until spring ball. Shifting away from the type of player we are going after, Rhule has a massive problem in a few key areas that he needs to fix in a hurry when it comes to depth and quality of players. He is fixing that a bit now with the addition of Sims to the QB room. But even take that as an example, people are asking if Thompson will stay, but the kid is 25, probably wouldn’t be 100% if he participated in spring ball. So we are asking Rhule to get our guys ready not knowing what he has at QB if Casey stays and is your guy. Because frankly I think the only way you keep Thompson is if he is your starter again.
Our OL was freaking bad and the numbers are even worse. We started a walk-on at DL all last year and he was arguably our best guy. They just have to get massive talent upgrades along the lines, and i’m not sure there’s enough in the portal to get that done. I will say that Rhule seems to believe in his ability to develop OL. He’s got a ton of unknown to figure out in the spring.
The one thing that is lacking a bit is the local flavor for this staff. We have guys from Texas, Florida, the northeast, but no one really that is familiar with Nebraska or the radius. He hired a high school coach from Florida, and one from Texas to help, and I like that, but the amount of kids from Nebraska coming would dwarf those numbers.
Again, not anything i’m overly concerned about, seems like they are doing better in-state already compared to Frost:
I don’t think it’s the “end all be all” but I would watch for as coaches get promoted to other jobs or move on if we bring someone in with a more local tie or affiliation.
Listen, i’ve always said if we could get some players that actually would be developed with how we recruit, we would own the west. We got the players every year, and Mike Schaefer from 247 sports said it best, “we’ve gotten good enough recruits to win 6 or 7 games every year. The problem is we haven’t developed them.” Go further, and there’s positions that have been recruited for 3 different schemes/coordinators. I think Smothers committed while Walters was OC, Lubick was here, then Whipple, now on to Satterfield.
I also always said I could tell you exactly how Frost and his tenure here would go by the 2019 OL class they decided to pull in. They had a bunch of older guys that stuck around for the first season in 2018. But they needed a ton to backfill. If you don’t remember, that was the class that grabbed 4 guys that were 6’7″ or taller to try and get them in “Husker Power” and develop them. Banks, Anderson, Fritzsche, and Lynn all came here and basically did nothing at all. Piper was a local guy and still could make waves, and Benhart you take all day but he almost looks worse than he did as a freshman. They didn’t develop anything. They had a plan, and either they executed it and it was the wrong plan. Or their development was awful.
For now, we have to get those under the radar kids a bit. But I think Rhule is showing quite quickly that he can develop some relationships and get us back in the top 25 recruiting class area. If he can do that and develop at the same clip he did at Baylor… watch out.
Tomorrow we will go over a pretty sobering talk about where we are in regard to NIL to help us pull in some of these guys.
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