Last week, Nebraska suffered a double-whammy when two prized defensive line recruits decommitted. Defensive end Darius Slade announced he was not coming to Nebraska after feeling "pressured" into the decision (according to the Newark Star-Ledger) and has committed to Michigan State (according to 247Sports). Days later, junior college defensive tackle Terrell Clinkscales announced his decommit from Nebraska, choosing to attend Kansas State instead.
In life you have to do what's best for you. I'm officially decommitting I will be attending Kstate next year I have to go where the love is— Terrell Clinkscales (@TerrellClink92) January 19, 2014
In combination, those two decisions were quite a blow to Nebraska’s 2014 class. According to 247Sports, Nebraska’s 2014 class ranking has dropped to No. 40 nationally, and No. 6 in the Big Ten. With precious little time until national signing day on February 6, that’s certainly not the position in which Nebraska fans would want to see NU’s recruiting.
When the news broke, most fans were more concerned about the loss of Clinkscales. And on the surface, that concern makes sense. Clinkscales is the No. 1 junior college defensive tackle in the country and the No. 5 junior college prospect overall, according to 247Sports. Bringing him to Lincoln was quite a recruiting coup for head coach Bo Pelini and his staff.
Defensive tackle is also what might be the most difficult position to find quality recruits, given the combination of size, strength, speed and agility needed to excel at the position. Defensive tackle prospects coming out of high school generally need at least two years before they are physically and mentally able to compete at a college level. To get a defensive tackle ready to go on day one of his arrival on campus would be a huge boost to Nebraska’s defensive tackle position.
But Nebraska’s current depth at defensive tackle is fairly strong, certainly more than it has been in years past. Vincent Valentine, Aaron Curry and Kevin Williams have all shown signs of growth at the position. Maliek Collins and Kevin Maurice also both saw playing time as true freshmen at defensive tackle last year, giving them invaluable experience going into their sophomore years.
Additionally, there was always a question about whether Clinkscales would ever wear the scarlet and cream even if he did not decommit. As reported by Brian Christopherson of the Lincoln Journal-Star (subscription required), questions have remained about whether Clinkscales would be able to qualify academically. According to the Journal-Star, recruiting expert Jeremy Crabtree tweeted, "K-State fans also have to understand Clinkscales admits he has lot of work to in classroom and wouldn't arrive until start of fall drills."
If Clinkscales ends up as an academic casualty and had not decommitted, Nebraska would have functionally wasted a scholarship offer in the 2014 class.
Defensive end, on the other hand, is a different matter. The departure of Jared Afalava, an outside linebacker who looked likely to play in an end-like position when Nebraska went to three-man fronts, complicates the depth chart. The fact that there is still no word on whether Avery Moss will return to the team is a bigger concern, as Moss certainly would have been a favorite to start at defensive end opposite Randy Gregory next season.
Assuming Moss and Afalava will not be on the roster in 2014, the only defensive end with experience remaining other than Gregory would be Greg McMullen. Behind those two would an untested A.J. Natter and players who have not impressed in their time in Lincoln such as seniors Walker Ashburn and Donovan Vestal, and junior Jack Gangwish.
Nebraska does have junior college defensive end Joe Keels, who has already signed his letter of intent, and Keels’ addition softens the blow of Slade’s decommit considerably. Peyton Newell, another defensive end commit, should help with depth at the position going forward.
But as we have seen, attrition on the defensive line can happen quickly. The loss of Slade from the class, both in the short term and the long term, puts more pressure on Nebraska’s defensive line than the loss of a junior college transfer in Clinkscales who was coming into a position of relative strength on the depth chart.
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