The Class of 2006: Breaking down the future

With "Signing Day" right around the corner, it would almost seem that this is an anti-climactic point of the recruiting season. Everyone is committed or at least that's what we think. If that is the case, the class you see is the class you are going to get. But what's that going to mean in the end. Well, here are some questions that this group will have to answer if they are going to see at least as much success as last year's group.

How many junior college players will hit the field this year?

The assumption is when junior college players commit, these are guys that are perceived to be immediate impact players. Or else why recruit them?

While that is mostly true, there are players like a Terrell Farley or a Mike Rozier, who you recruit just because they are that darn good.

Nebraska might have gotten a couple of those if not more, but we'll look at all the junior college players and break them down as to who we think will show up when and the positives and negatives about each.

Wide Receiver – Maurice Purify – A big-time ball-catcher, Purify was chosen a CCCFCA first-team All-American. At 6-5 and 215 pounds, he's literally got it all. The only thing Purify lacks is that Randy Moss-like speed, but this is a guy that is big enough to be like a tight end in the short field, fast enough to burn you after the catch and he's got the open-field versatility to do whatever he wants to you if you give him an inch of room.

With Terrence Nunn being the only consistent threat Nebraska has in being able to not just make the big catch, but have the ability to do something with it after the catch, Purify is a home run for the Huskers.

The Good: Instant big play threat, someone that can demand the double-team, which opens up the field for everyone else. Even in those circumstances, against most of the DBs Purify is likely to face, he can still be a threat every single snap of the ball.

The Bad: Purify has to qualify. Reality says that if he was a shoo-in to qualify, a lot more schools would have been after him from the outset. Much like Nebraska took a chance with Marlon Lucky last year, they are going to do so with Purify this year, amongst others in the class. Let's hope that Purify can follow Lucky's example and make it to campus this season.

Offensive Tackle – Carl Nicks – Another CCCFCA first-team All-American, Nicks, like Purify, could be the consummate player at his position. He's got long arms, he's quick off the ball and he's versatile enough to be used consistently in both running and passing situations.

His bread ‘n butter is his pass-blocking, though, which is good, because the Huskers gave up a sack for every 12 pass attempts by starting quarterback Zac Taylor, compared to a Matt Leinart, who was sacked once about every 30.

Nebraska loses both starting tackles and a starting guard, but realistically, that's not necessarily a bad thing. Both Fuamatu-Thomas and Evwaraye struggled mightily in the pass-protection game.

The Good: Physically this young man is ideal in everyway and he's got the intangibles for the position. On paper Carl is exactly what the Huskers need. They absolutely have to have a legit group at the tackle-spots this year and considering Nicks' ability, he could easily be that guy.

The Bad: Nebraska hasn't had a junior college offensive lineman play their first year when they have been forced to wait until after summer to arrive. Without the structured strength and conditioning program they have been used to during their time at junior college, it will be up to them to keep themselves in shape until such time arrives they are to report to Lincoln. Thus far Nebraska hasn't had any luck at all, but with Nicks and how bad they need him to play his first year, here's hoping for the Huskers' sake, their luck is about to change.

Offensive Tackle – Victory Haines – Physically Haines is a solid player and can still develop into a markedly better player with enough time in the system. He's got all the basics he needs in technique and physicality. He's also got the long arms and is quick enough off the ball, that outside of the pure edge-rushers, Haines should be able to stay with anyone he faces.

Victory is another that is much better pass-blocking than he is run-blocking, but for his position, if he is indeed sticking on the outside, it's not a bad place to start.

The Good: Victory was indeed a victory for Nebraska, Haines qualifying soon enough to be a January enrollee. That makes his chances at contributing to this team awfully good, especially considering the fact that he's going into a position that suddenly became aparse on the starting line up, going along with the fact that they didn't have any depth to begin with. There's no substitute for a junior college player being able to make it on campus this year, so people will get to see in spring just what Haines has to offer.

The Bad: The only bad thing here is if Haines just doesn't work out. He's got the size and the quickness, plus he's going to be able to take advantage of winter and summer conditioning, along with spring ball. The only thing stopping him now is himself. The offense has stopped a couple of others, Brock Pasteur probably being the most recent casualty of the vaunted eight-pound playbook, so Haines has a lot of work to do, both on and off the field.

If Haines can play his first year and consistently, he'll be the first junior college offensive lineman to do so since Bill Callahan arrived.

Cornerback – Andre Jones – Yet another CCCFCA first-team All-American, this cornerback brings size, speed and aggressiveness to the position. At 6-0 and around 200 pounds, Jones certainly has the size and his reported 4.4/40 certainly means he has the speed.

Nebraska will bring back both starters in fellow junior college transfer Zack Bowman and junior Cortney Grixby. But considering that this group fared probably only as well as they did, because of the fact that the defense led the nation in sacks, the more help, the better they will be.

The Good: From a physical standpoint Jones has it all. Like Bowman, there aren't going to be many, if any receivers, who will have a clear advantage on him physically. He's used to playing "man", but has experience in zone, so he gives you the versatility to be able to read the player and the ball. Jones' junior college experience should give him a leg up physically when competing with other cornerbacks, so it will be just a question of mentally grasping everything he needs to comprehend.

The Bad: While Bowman finished off the year in fine fashion, it took him an awfully long time to get everything back there figured out. What saved him was the fact that there weren't many players that could beat him in a dead-sprint. Jones is fast, but probably not quite as potent of a runner as Bowman, so he'll need to catch on that much quicker or he could have an even more difficult time early on.

Safety – Ashlee Palmer – Yes, yet another CCCFCA first-team All-American, and I have heard Palmer referred to as many things, most involving the word "freak". He is that, sporting size, speed, hips and the ability to be a cornerback with a safety's mentality for being physical.

He hits a position that loses both of their starters, so there's a big need for someone to step in right away and for anyone coming from the junior college ranks, that's exactly what you expect.

The Good: Physically, forget about it – this kid has it all. Like Zack Bowman last year, Palmer could be perceived as this class's best overall athlete. In fact, that is the last thing you will have to worry about when trying to analyze what he can offer to the team. Physically, there's nothing he can't.

The Bad: Not getting Palmer for the early period was a pretty big blow to the secondary, actually. They could have really used him this spring. He'll have the entire off-season to wait now, but he could get here in time to catch some of summer conditioning, which will only help him in the end.

Linebacker – Steve Allen – A ferocious hitter, Allen fits the bill when you are looking for a linebacker who has the body to lay the wood to people, but the jets to be a force catching people in the open-field. He's a guy that moves as well in space as he does close to the line of scrimmage. While not the burner of Steve Octavien, another junior college transfer, Allen should add a lot to the mix.

The Good: The best thing about Allen is that he is going to join one of the few positions on the team that isn't screaming for bodies. If Octavien and Bradley are healthy, Nebraska will have no less than four starting linebackers in this group. There could be even a question as to just where he'll play, but the early projections are that he'll take over Adam Ickes' position behind Steward Bradley and battle him for the top spot on the team.

The Bad: The only bad thing here is if Allen doesn't arrive in shape or can't comprehend the system during his first year with the team. He's got the luxury of time, though. The bad for him really isn't bad for the team, because there's plenty of solid players to go around. However, Allen could add for some incredible depth, making this group of linebackers damn scary for the opposition.

Running Back – Kenny Wilson – Losing Cory Ross was a big deal for so many reasons for the Huskers. His leadership will be impossible to replace, but he was also easily the best blocking back Nebraska had last season. Kenny has the size and the extra junior college experience helps, so in what is perceived right now to be a four-way battle, Wilson should be able to compete.

Kenny Wilson



The Good: At 6-0 and approximately 220 pounds, Wilson has the size. He's also got pretty good speed, running anywhere from a reported 4.4 to at worst, high 4.5s. His junior college experience, especially in the NJCAA, gives Wilson a nice background in dealing with physical defenses and also blocking in the backfield. Just from the intangibles he should have gleaned from being at Butler, Wilson should have a solid shot at being part of the two-deep in the fall.

The Bad: This offense isn't easy for anyone, but for running backs, who have to know what they are doing, but what the offensive linemen are doing as well, it's probably the biggest challenge Wilson will have to face. He's got the physical tools, but it's no picnic trying to get this offense down in a year.

Wilson will have three weeks.

He won't be able to get it all down, but if he can get enough down to be a fundamentally sound presence in the backfield, that gives him a good shot at being on the field his first year.

Defensive Tackle – Brandon Johnson – "The Beast" as he is called, brings a body that is considered to be nearly identical to another former Compton player, Ola Dagunduro. That's good, because the Huskers are going to need at least another one with the loss of both of their starters, Le Kevin Smith and Titus Adams.

Dagunduro, Barry Cryer and Ndamukong Suh are all the odds-on favorites to compete for the starting spots this year. With Johnson's size, ability to be both a one and three-technique guy, he could easily add himself to the mix.

The Good: He's got the body. He's got the quickness of the line. It probably isn't that of say a Titus Adams, but Johnson brings the versatility and physicality to play both the pass and the run.

What I like the most about him is that like Dagunduro, he's deceptively quick for his size and if someone is not paying attention, he can shoot that gap pretty effectively most of the time. With his nickname, you can also bet that like Ola, Johnson will add a little "mean" to a whole lot of man, making himself potentially a solid pick up for the Huskers.

The Bad: Not arriving until fall is bad, especially for linemen. Both Ola and Barry were able to arrive in spring and it paid huge dividends for them, being major factors for why the defensive line had so much get-up-and-go throughout the entire season. So, one of Johnson's biggest challenges will be to show up in at least as good of shape as he was when he finished his sophomore campaign with the "Tartars".

After that, he can then try and get all the blitzes figured out, along with adjusting to the bigger and faster competition.

Now that we have broken down the junior college ranks, let's look at the rest of the commits by position. We'll go down the position, recap who is slated to play there, and then ranking them in order, I will tell you who I think has the best chance to play this year.

OFFENSIVE LINE:

D.J. Jones

D.J. Jones
– The wrap on him (if you want to call it that) is that he's raw. A player who has all the physical traits, but he's just in need of a little polishing. His size gives him a nice advantage in being able to see the field early, but the question will be the same with him as it is and will always be with every offensive lineman that hits Nebraska for the first time:

Can they comprehend enough of that offense to contribute their first year?

While offensive line coach Dennis Wagner is a notorious perfectionist in technique, I think that he can have his guys basically ready to play even with just three weeks of practice. The combination of what Wagner teaches and then the offensive system itself, that has proven to be daunting to most anyone and everyone that has tried to step onto the field.

Jones' pure athleticism, along with his size and strength, I think give him a leg up in doing just that, making himself at least a presence on the two-deep for the Huskers. It will be an adjustment and at times, a harsh one for the Omaha Central grad, but I think with just his physical gifts, he's got a good chance to compete.

Keith Williams – Here's another with the size, which could benefit him big-time in seeing the field right away. I don't think he's terribly far off from Jones from an athletic standpoint and he might even have a leg up on D.J. when it comes to being acclimated to a lot of pass-protection schemes.

The only thing that I think gives Jones the real edge here is being able to combine both and make himself a really effective road block his first year on the field. I think he'll actually see some time, but much of that will do to the fact that if you are an offensive lineman and you aren't slated to play center, you have a huge chance at seeing the field.

Mike Smith – Yes, I know he's listed as a tight end, but he's also at close to 270 pounds right now and it sounds like he plans on getting bigger. You know what that means. He's making the move inside.

And we all know the great story of Robert Gallery, a tight end that became and Outland Trophy winner, going on to fame and fortune in the pros.

I'm not jumping on that bandwagon just yet, but at over 6 foot, 6 inches tall, you can't deny what \Smith brings to the table physically, especially in regard to him already having great hands and feet and for his size, typically long arms.

It's what they call "upside" and his is monumental. Plus, he doesn't like his opponents very much, which will play well with Dennis Wagner. He likes kids with a chip on their shoulder and I think Smith has that, at least when he's on the field.

From a measurable standpoint, this kid is a potential dream come true. Now, it's just a matter of seeing all those numbers translate to the field.

Cruz Barrett – I love how this kid blocks. I love his tenacity, but more than anything, I love his ferocity. He knows how to start a block and finish a block and that's a great starting point for any spot on the line.

Size will matter to a degree here, mostly because the shorter you are, the better your technique has to be to survive at this next level of play. Dennis Wagner has been quite open about the fact that he likes linemen 6 foot 5 inches tall or higher, but he'll even admit that sometimes you just can't pass up on a player like a Craig Roark or in this case, a Cruz Barrett. It's just that sometimes they take maybe a year longer to get onto the field.

Ricky Henry – Like Barrett, Henry knows how to finish someone off when he gets a chance. He's been called a certified jerk on the field, which I personally love. As long as you can keep it within reason and you don't hurt your team, I say take it to the edge every single play. You can bet that's a big reason why Wagner and company wanted him on the team.

Like Barrett, Henry probably would need a year to get used to everything he has to get used to. But more than anything, he's got to qualify first. It's said that he's getting closer and he's still got some time to make up the distance, but that's yet another challenge he'll have to overcome if he wants to get any playing time right away.

Ben Martin – For Lincoln Southwest, even if you are called a tight end, that's basically saying you are an offensive lineman that can catch. Well, I doubt Martin will have to worry about the catching aspect as I think it's a foregone conclusion that he'll make the move inside.

It doesn't hurt Martin that he played for the second most prolific running attack in the state, the Silver Hawks averaging over 400 yards a game on the ground. So, that gives him a leg up in knowing how to not just block, but get downfield and block someone else.

He's fundamentally pretty good, but he'll need a year in the system to get bigger, stronger and of course, more acclimated to pass-protection side of things. You might remember the touchdown pass Southwest had against Millard North in the state title game this last season.

I am sure even the Southwest players were as surprised by that as anyone.

Pass-blocking will be an on-going issue for him.

WIDE RECEIVER

Will Henry – You look at this kid's measurables and you probably have to pick your jaw up off the ground. Can you say "freak"?

He's not only tall (6-6), but he's got a reported 34 inch vertical. On top of that, he's been reported has having run a 4.37, but says that he consistently runs 4.4s.

If this kid has hands and knows how to work himself out of a crowd for those invaluable yards after the catch, he's pure money.

That's probably the only downside to Henry, as he comes from an offense in El Paso that only during his senior year did they truly try to utilize a real pass-catching threat. That inexperience makes him kind of a 50/50 guy when it comes to not just comprehending the offense, but the position as well.

I'll tell you, though, if that athleticism is legit, the staff will probably give him five plays for the entire year and tell him to go out there and get the ball and after that, see what he can do.

Menelik Holt



Menelik Holt – Do you know what "smooth" is? That's Holt. He's smooth. He's not a guy that is going to kill you off the line and he isn't quite big enough right now, that he'll be able to muscle everyone around. With that being said, though, the kid can run routes very effectively, he's got great hands and he knows how to go up and get the ball.

Plus, he's smooth

I'm not sure how to explain it, but some players look like they are trying and some don't. Those that don't look smooth. It's like watching Eric Dickerson run or Michael Vick throw a ball – it's seemingly effortless at times.

I know what you are saying and you are probably right: He's a possession guy.

Yes, that he is, but as we saw from Nathan Swift, you can't have enough of those. What Holt gives you is a guy that probably won't make a lot of mental mistakes. He doesn't get rattled at the line and he warms to the best competition. Out of a group of possession guys, Holt probably has as much chance to see the field as any of them and that's the good news for him.

EVERYONE gets a shot when they are a wide receiver.

He'll have his chance to prove himself and I think he'll probably do just that.

SAFETY

Anthony West – Probably the most underrated player in this entire class, West was actually the top performer for us here at Big Red Report, during the summer camps at Nebraska this last June. He's got blazing speed, great open-field moves and he's just fun as heck to watch.

Being over 6 foot tall, you put that kind of athlete at the safety position, you have yourself a weapon and like many of the would-be safeties on this team, he's one that could play either side of the ball.

Therein might be the biggest danger to his chances at safety, that being his chances to play the running back position instead. The competition is a little less stiff, though, if he ultimately gets the defensive side of the ball.

Anthony West

I like this kid and everything he brings to the table. He could definitely be one of the key freshmen to watch.

Major Culbert – One of the many two-way players from the high school ranks, Major will get his shot at running back, while he is getting his time at the safety position as well. Following a year where he ran for over 2,000 yards, you know this kid is a great athlete. Add to that the fact that he's almost 6-0 and sports running back speed, he's got a great chance to hit a position, which lost its starters to graduation.

It's been speculated that Culbert could actually see some time at cornerback, but I don't think that's necessarily the case. He's got good speed, but considering the players that are already there, I'm not sure he has the kind of speed he would need to break into the top two.

That's good, though, because if he's even close to those kinds of wheels, he should be hell on cleats from a position that will have an open-house of sorts this year, trying to find quality replacements.

Corey Young – Being from Millard North means a lot of things, but one of the absolute standards of the Mustangs, these kids are as physical as you are going to get. It doesn't matter which side of the ball either, because with the run-oriented offense they play, you can find just as hard of hitters on offense as you can the other side of the ball.

Young brings that, plus he's another with a heavy background in running the ball, having good feet, good acceleration and good speed down the field. Honestly, there's not much to say that this young man can't make the field his first year, but it's probably not all going to be up to him in the end.

Going through his second ACL surgery, Young has a tough road ahead. He's been through it before, so he'll no doubt be ahead of schedule this time around, but will it be enough. That's a long time not conditioning the way you need to, especially over the Summer. That's a lot time not being able to simply interact in 7-on-7s or the various things you can do if you enroll in the summer, which is now allowed by the NCAA.

That's the biggest knock against him right now as I definitely see him as a contributor down the line. I'm just not sure it will be the early line for him.

Ricky Thenarse – Out of all the running backs coming in that are slated to play safety, I think Thenarse would have the best chance of any of them to possibly play cornerback instead. With the competition that should be there, I don't know that, that will happen, but Ricky has the athleticism and I think, the hips to do just that.

Being physical, fast and versatile isn't an issue for him as that is his trademark and a big reason for all the success he had his senior year. Again, physically, I don't see anything that says he can't at least get a shot at the field right away, especially considering the state of the line up at safety right now.

Ricky's deal is making it to campus at all, as he has a pretty tough road ahead of him when it comes to making the grade. If he can do that, the sky could be the limit for what should be a very gifted athlete. IF is the question, though. This one could go all the way down to August before we'll even have an inkling of whether or not he'll be in Lincoln or he'll be playing at Butler Community College.

TIGHT END

Michael McNeil – Hey, it's not so bad being the only true tight end in the class. That makes you the favorite to see the field the first year.

I'll tell you what – he probably would have been anyway.

Everyone has been dying to see Matt Herian back, but if they can't have that, they want someone as close to him as they can get. Well, they might just have that in McNeil. Close to 6-5 and running around a 4.6, Herian and McNeil are pretty close when it comes to sheer athleticism. And believe it or not, McNeil actually enjoys being able to block.

So, you have a good athlete at tight end, who can both be a mid-field threat in the passing game, possibly a deep threat in certain situations and he's pretty good at the point of impact on the line.

Considering the fact that they don't have anyone even close to that right now, except for Herian himself, that makes Michael a big-time favorite to get a lot of time his first year. If he can indeed block, his athleticism should make him a staple for the team this season.

DEFENSIVE LINE

Seth Jensen – Physically, Seth can play outside and inside, which gives you a great addition to the line, especially in nickel packages, where Seth can move inside. He plays fast, but he also plays very physical.

Not sure if you read the article I did on Seth, but this kid has a bit of a mean streak to him.

Seth Jensen



That's good

He's also got a really good first step.

Jensen is slated to move inside, which will be welcome, because with the loss of both Smith and Adams, there's going to be opportunities to do for the starters what they did for the starters before them. The thing with Jensen, he has the versatility to play both inside and outside, but best of all, he doesn't have the pressure in knowing that he's got to be the man right away.

That's good, because Seth will be the first one to admit that he hasn't faced many kids during his high school career, who could even come close to matching up with him physically. That's going to be an adjustment he'll have to make.

He'll make it, I have no doubt there, but the question here is time. The great thing is, he's got that time, which should help him even more to improve.

Pierre Allen – Another young man that doesn't have a lot of pressure is Allen, going to one of the few positions where there are not only solid experienced starters, but solid experienced depth. What Allen can offer them is possibly a surprise, which he would certainly seem to have the athleticism to do just that.

At 6-5 and around 230 pounds, he could be like a Barry Turner, more a speed-rusher initially than someone you have coming consistently off the edge. That could be a good thing too, because the loss of Wali Muhammad means they need to find a fill-in for another sold pass rusher in passing situations.

I would assume that Allen will probably redshirt, but he's got good physical tools and in certain situations, if he gets enough of the defense down fast enough, he could end up getting some time.

There you have it, one-by-one, junior college to the high school ranks. We broke them down and you can do it yourself. What do you think will happen? Who do you think will be the early stars from this class of 2006?

Sometimes just the speculation is enough to make the whole recruiting process that much more fun. Because nobody really ever knows. But we still love taking our shots and only time will tell who stepped up, who stepped out and who stepped all over everyone on the way to stardom.

It's going to be another wild ride.

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