The Huskers still haven’t hired a new defensive line coach, but that hasn’t stopped them from recruiting the position.
The defensive line — both end and tackle — is a major need for Nebraska in the 2017 recruiting class. NU signed two pass rushers in 2016, Collin Miller and Ben Stille, but whiffed on several targets throughout the cycle, both national and within the 500-mile radius.
It’s a big reason why Hank Hughes was fired.
According to the last coaching search update, Mike Riley had his initial list of 50 candidates trimmed down to 10, telling Tom Shatel in a Q&A last week he’s looking for “a blend of football coach, recruiter and right staff member.”
While that search continues, the rest of the coaching staff is tasked with finding some players that could eventually play under the new hire. It’s a weird situation, recruiting without a position coach, but it’s still early enough that it shouldn’t be an issue. Defensive coordinator Mark Banker and linebackers coach Trent Bray are certainly capable of carrying the flag for now.
And they’ve been on a tear this week. Nebraska has extended offers to at least nine defensive linemen since Monday, six of those offers coming within the last 24 hours. The other three were part of that massive Presidents’ Day offer spree.
Let’s take a brief look at each of the new defensive line targets to receive offers this week (as of Thursday afternoon):
Defensive end Logan Rudolph, Rock Hill, S.C.: This three-star landed his offer Thursday. He comes from a football family, with his older brother, Mason, the starting quarterback at Oklahoma State and his dad a former North Carolina Tar Heel. He has more than two dozen offers already with most schools recruiting him either as a defensive end or outside linebacker, though some analysts believe he could play tight end on the next level. UNC, South Carolina and OK State are considered the early favorites, but Rudolph doesn’t plan to decide until his senior season.
Defensive end Labryan Ray, Madison, Ala.: Ray has blown up on the recruiting scene in the last few weeks. He’s added offers from Michigan, Arkansas, Tennessee and Ole Miss since late January, but the biggest one came from Alabama on Feb. 9. 247sports considers him the second best player in his state for 2017, and stealing a player that caliber from the Crimson Tide would seem a tall order.
Defensive end Ryan Johnson, Mobile, Ala.: Another defensive end from the state of Alabama, NU extended him an offer Wednesday. Auburn has been on him for quite some time, and the Crimson Tide officially entered the mix earlier this month. His primary recruiter from Auburn is now on staff at LSU, and they also offered him Wednesday. Again, it’ll be a tough task to pull someone like Johnson out of the SEC footprint, but the Huskers at least appear willing to give it a shot with he and Ray.
Defensive end Earnest Brown, Denton, Texas: NU has offered several recruits from Texas recently, and Brown’s one of the state’s hottest. He’s added offers from Texas, Oklahoma, Baylor and Ole Miss within the last two weeks. At 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, he’s a long, athletic edge rusher that Scout crowned a top performer at a recent local combine. Brown “just looks mean like a great defensive line prospect should,” Scout’s Greg Powers wrote.
Defensive end Corey Bethley, Katy, Texas: Another from Texas, Bethley helped lead Katy, one of the state’s top high school programs, to an undefeated season and state championship as a junior. He’s still relatively new on the recruiting scene with only a handful of offers coming from schools like Baylor, Oklahoma State and TCU. Analysts believe Bethley could end up playing end or tackle on the next level.
Defensive end Isaiah Buggs, Ruston, La. (Mississippi Gulf Coast CC): The lone junior college defensive lineman to receive an NU offer thus far. Buggs is originally from North Louisiana and had to go the junior college route after not qualifying academically out of high school. He played in 11 games for Mississippi Gulf Coast last season, recording 59 tackles, including eight for a loss and four sacks. Both LSU and Alabama have offered Buggs since NU did on Monday, with those schools joining an already impressive offer list. Buggs figures to be one of the nation’s top junior college prospects this year.
Defensive tackle Marlon Tuipulotu, Independence, Ore.: Perhaps Mike Riley & Co. can get back in the old stomping grounds to pull a player like Tuipulotu, considered Oregon’s best prospect by 247sports. He does already hold offers from the two big in-state programs, plus USC and Washington, but Riley’s reputation could help the Huskers get in the mix.
Defensive tackle Greg Rogers, Las Vegas: Another tackle from Pac-12 territory, Rogers already holds offers from USC, UCLA, Arizona, Arizona State and Washington, among others. He’s listed at 6-foot-3, 290 pounds, so he can occupy a lot of space on the interior defensive line. Keep an extra close eye on him should UCLA DL coach Angus McClure be the Huskers’ new hire.
Defensive tackle Deiontae Watts, Plano, Texas: Watts had to quit football two games into his sophomore season to focus on academics, not returning to the gridiron until about halfway through his junior year. That limited sample size has been enough for several colleges to extend offers, including Nebraska. Watts has also recently landed offers from Texas A&M, Baylor, Colorado, Colorado State, Kansas and SMU. Watts told Huskers Illustrated that his older brother is a big NU fan, and he hopes to attend their spring game next month.