This is the first of a two-part series focusing on the 2002 recruiting class and how I see the individual players fitting into the team. Since I have only seen a few of the players in this class on tape, my comments for many of the players will be based on what I've heard and read about them. For the players whom I've seen on tape, I will include my own impressions of their skills.
Curt Dukes, 6-0, 210, 4.6 - Dukes, the only quarterback prospect in the 2002 class, is already enrolled at Nebraska and will participate in spring football. While he will face a steep learning curve this spring, he should at least be able to be in a position to challenge for the backup spot behind Jammal Lord. While I don't expect Dukes to unseat Lord as the starter, he may give him a run for his money. Having seen Curt on tape, I feel that he is very accomplished at executing the option. His passing is generally accurate, though he will need to put a bit more velocity on his throws in order to avoid being intercepted at the college level. Though a bit shorter than Scott Frost, Dukes is very much in the mold of the former Husker QB in terms of his running style and build. Whether or not Dukes redshirts this year depends on how he stacks up against Mike Stuntz, Joe Chrisman and Chris Giacone, both in the spring, and more importantly, in the fall.
David Horne, 6-0, 195, 4.5 - Horne, the most recent in a long line of great Central High running backs, is the only designated I-back recruit in the 2002 class. With a fairly loaded I-back depth chart, Horne appears destined for a redshirt season and could definitely benefit from a year in the Husker strength program. He should be able to carry 20 more pounds without losing much speed, and could end up playing at around 215-220 pounds. Horne will face stiff competition at I-back as a redshirt freshman in 2003, as DeAntae Grixby, Josh Davis, Robin Miller, Marques Simmons and Cory Ross will also be vying for playing time. However, he should be able to see substantial playing time by his sophomore season.
Grant Miller, 6-1, 215, 4.6 - Miller is one of the most underrated members of a Husker class that has probably been underrated as a whole by recruiting services. Playing in Massachusetts, he did not get a great deal of publicity nationally, but on film he shows tremendous ability. Miller strikes me as a Jammal Lewis type of running back, and it would not surprise me at all if he finds a home at I-back instead of fullback. While I do feel that he could eventually develop into a great fullback, I also feel that his skills would be better utilized at either I-back or SAM linebacker. Miller is an extremely impressive runner, as well as a very explosive linebacker, and his talents would largely be wasted as a lead blocker. Nebraska has plenty of other players who can be used in that capacity, including fellow 2002 recruit Dane Todd and walk-on Andy Kadavy.
Dane Todd, 5-11, 225, 4.7 - Todd established a reputation in Nebraska's Class A as a tough-nosed runner and dominating lead blocker. However, due to the depth ahead of him at fullback, he is a definite redshirt for this season. Todd may have to wait until the 2004 season before he will be in line for serious playing time, but he should eventually develop into a major contributor. At 225 pounds, a year in the weight room should allow him to get up to around 240 lbs. for his redshirt freshman season.
Ronnie Smith, 5-9, 160, 4.4 - Smith's high school coach has called him "the best (high school) player in America," and though that's probably a fairly substantial exaggeration, those who've seen Smith's exploits on the football field have come away in awe. While he will probably be the smallest player on the Husker roster in August, Smith will also probably rank among the fastest and most elusive players on the team as well. Described by some as a cross between Barry Sanders and Deonce Whittaker, it's clear that Smith's forte is making tacklers miss, and he should prove a dangerous addition to the wingback position. Smith's size is a bit prohibitive right now, at 155-160 pounds, and in all likelihood he will redshirt. However, if he establishes himself as one of the top two kick or punt returners, he could potentially get onto the field immediately on special teams, with a few plays designed to take advantage of his skills at wingback. Many Husker fans don't realize this, but Smith was considered by UNLV fans to be the crown jewel of their entire recruiting class before he switched his commitment to Nebraska.
Mark LeFlore, 5-11, 180, 4.45 - LeFlore may be the standout in what appears to be the most impressive group of receivers ever signed in a single year at Nebraska. With forty speed that would place him among the top two or three players on the current Husker squad, LeFlore will bring an explosive and elusive element to the 2002 offense in a rotation with Wilson Thomas. Described by some within the Husker program as a "Peter Warrick clone," he figures to contribute immediately this year at split end. LeFlore has the speed to challenge cornerbacks vertically and also uses his great leaping ability to go up and fight for the football. However, in order to be truly effective at the college level, he will need to work to get a bit stronger in his upper body and use his hands better to get off press coverage. One Westside assistant coach told me that they had a great deal of success jamming Mark at the line of scrimmage, so he will need to work a bit on his release. LeFlore's potential is immense, though, and he seems to really have the determination to be one of the great ones. With college coaching, he should blossom into a dominating force.
Isaiah Fluellen, 6-1, 175, 4.4 - Fluellen is another player who has a legitimate chance to see the field as a true freshman. His speed alone makes him a serious threat to defenses, and he's probably the fastest player on the team already. Coach Brown has told Fluellen that he should be ready to play this year, so he may end up joining Wilson Thomas, Mark LeFlore and possibly also Ross Pilkington in the split end rotation. Since Nebraska uses a platoon receiver system, there's ample playing time for 3-4 split ends. Unfortunately, there is a chance that Fluellen's Husker career could be interrupted by the 2004 Olympics, as his best 200-meter and 400-meter times are not far off of Olympic qualifying times. With college coaching, Fluellen could develop into one of the top sprinters in the nation. Nebraska went after speed this year in a major way, and Fluellen is the fastest of the bunch.
Ross Pilkington, 6-1, 190, 4.5 - Although Pilkington is not technically a member of this class, and came to Nebraska as a walk-on, I feel that he is worthy of being discussed along with the scholarship players in the class. Like LeFlore and Fluellen, Pilkington projects as a split end at Nebraska, and despite taking time off to explore a career in baseball, he has outstanding receiver skills and should be able to contribute immediately. I anticipate that Pilkington will have shaken off the rust by the end of spring football, and he may end up playing more this year than any of the scholarship wide receiver recruits. On tape, Pilkington shows impressive speed, outstanding leaping ability and very soft hands. I will be surprised if he redshirts this season.
Matt Herian, 6-4 ½, 215, 4.6 - Herian is not really a tight end yet, as his body is more that of a wide receiver right now. At 215 pounds, he would be an ineffective run blocker and a liability as a pass blocker from the tight end position. Therefore, Herian will redshirt this year in order to gain muscle mass, and also because the tight end depth chart is fairly well stocked. However, with the top three players on the depth chart graduating after this season, and with no proven performers returning, Herian will definitely be looked at to contribute substantially in 2003. His strengths are his speed, explosiveness and outstanding hands, and he should prove very difficult for linebackers to run with in coverage. With dedication, Herian should be able to increase his weight by about 20 pounds over the next year, which will make him a much more effective blocker in-line blocker.
Jemayel Phillips, 6-6, 335, 5.5 - Phillips may be the best of a very solid group of offensive linemen. If he's as big as advertised, then "The Big Smooth" is already the biggest player in the Husker program. Phillips is very athletic for a big man, and should find a home at one of the offensive tackle spots. While he will most likely redshirt this season, he may be able to contribute the following year, as he is already physically ready for the college level in terms of size and strength. Phillips will have to focus on footwork and technique during his redshirt season, as well as learning the blocking schemes, but his potential is immense. Phillips is the type of player who will cause major headaches for the first-team rush ends as he mans one of the offensive tackle positions on the scout team this year.
Kurt Mann, 6-4 ½, 265, 5.3 - Mann is a very athletic prospect who excels in football, track and basketball. He reminds me of Adam Treu coming out of high school in terms of his all-around athletic ability. While Mann is not yet big enough to play on the Husker line, he will realistically not be expected to contribute until at least the 2004 season, which gives him ample time to get bigger and stronger. With Mann's frame, he could probably get up to at least 315 pounds without losing much quickness. If he is unable to gain weight, as is the case with some prospects, he may be able to be an effective tight end. However, once Mann is finished with basketball, he should be able to spend more time in the weight room, and may end up reporting in August closer to 275 pounds. Mann will still need to develop physically, but I expect him to develop into a major contributor by his sophomore or junior season. He will most likely end up at offensive tackle, but offensive guard is not out of the question.
Jermaine Leslie, 6-2, 300, 5.3 - Leslie projects as either an offensive guard or center prospect at Nebraska, and may be able to contribute in 2003 after a redshirt season. With John Garrison playing his final year in Lincoln, Richie Incognito will be the only scholarship center left on the roster. Therefore, I expect Leslie to find a home at center, where he should be able to attain the #2 spot behind Incognito in 2003. Leslie reportedly has very quick feet and outstanding mobility and strength. The only knock against him is academics, and he may ultimately end up at a junior college if he doesn't qualify.
Cory Timm, 6-5, 295, 5.3 - Timm was a late addition to the 2002 class and projects as an offensive tackle at Nebraska. Although he drew early attention from the Husker staff, they did not end up offering him a scholarship until about a week before signing day. Timm may not be on a par with some of Nebraska's top targets like Blalock, Smith, Benedict, Rhodes and Daniels, but he's a very athletic big man who could develop into a future starter, and certainly a better prospect than a number of in-state players who've received scholarship offers over the past decade. Timm will redshirt this season, but could contend for playing time in 2003.
The Husker staff did an outstanding job this year of adding speed and explosiveness to the offensive side of the football. They also secured one of their top quarterback prospects and signed four very athletic offensive linemen. Many of the players in this class will form the foundation of the Husker offense in years to come.