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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Callahan's Lasting Legacy: The Redshirt Diaries - 2005

The 2005 class was supposed to lead Nebraska to the Promised Land. Unfortunately, the ballyhooed recruits have left town, struggled, or slowly worked their way to respectability. That’s certainly not what fans had in mind as many penciled several of these guys in as immediate starters. Things didn’t quite workout that way, but 12 did play as true freshman. These are their stories.

Matt Slauson - Slauson was sort of a strange addition to the 2005 recruiting class. He made an impression early on in fall camp, however and quickly became a regular on Nebraska’s extra-point and field goal units. Slauson could have quickly become one of Callahan’s dreaded redshirting decisions, but then the coaches had an epiphany and Slauson entered the offensive line rotation late in the season. He would go on to start at right tackle against Kansas State, Colorado and Michigan after senior Seppo Evwaraye was slowed by a foot injury. Slauson’s performed well during this time helped the Huskers finish the 2005 season with three straight wins.

Barry Turner – With a lack of depth at DE and Turner’s great speed off the edge, the decision to burn his redshirt made perfect sense. Turner would go one to have one of the best true freshman seasons in recent memory. He played in every game and made a huge impact as a pass rush specialist, earning him first-team freshman All-America honors. Turner tied for the national lead among freshmen and set a Husker freshman record with six sacks. He also made 14 total tackles, with six hurries and two blocked field goals.Turner’s best statistical performance came at Baylor, as he set career highs in tackles (four), tackles for loss (three) and sacks (two). He had blocked field goals against Oklahoma and Kansas State, while also playing on NU’s kickoff return unit. There’s little doubt that Turner should have played in 2005. Now we’re all just waiting for him to repeat those numbers.

Harrison Beck – Ah, Harrison Beck. Callahan’s first big-name QB recruit. He was the expected starter according to many fans going into the 2005 season (come on, you can admit it). Instead he sat the bench before finally taking over the backup quarterback position midway through the season. That meant little until the home finale against Kansas State. When Zac Taylor went down with a concussion, Callahan made his most talked about redshirt-related decision, one he of course called "a no-brainer". Rather than keeping his redshirt alive, Callahan called on Beck. Beck then quickly fired an interception that led to the Wildcats’ go-ahead field goal, but would he would later respond in the game’s waning moments. Beck wound up connecting with redshirt freshman Nate Swift on a 21-yard strike to help put Nebraska in position for Jordan Congdon’s game-winning 40-yard field goal with 1:05 to play. So Callahan’s decision allowed us to win a late-season game, but could have been costly down the road had Beck and his mother not lost their minds early in 2006. Beck wound up playing in the final quarter at Colorado, and directed NU to a field goal to account for the final 30-3 margin. He finished the regular season and his Nebraska career 1-of-10 passing.

Jeff Souder - Souder was a Nebraska boy who many thought would become a big-time contributor in Lincoln. His tenacity and fire quickly earned him a spot on special teams. However, because he never cracked the depth chart at either linebacker or safety during the 2005 season, he became another special teams only guy. In other words, Callahan once again burned a redshirt a guy who probably needed to mature physically and emotionally before he could become an everyday contributor. Instead Souder played in 10 games and finished with six tackles. Souder didn’t spend a whole lot of time on campus, but managed to make his share of headlines. He was shot in the leg at a party during a confrontation. Then in January of 2006 Souder left the team for personal reasons. He has since taken up MMA fighting (video here), and also earned All-Conference and honorable mention All-American honors as a linebacker at UNO in 2007.

Leon Jackson – This one is a doozy. Jackson began the 2005 fall camp as a running back. However, he eventually switched to free safety. The timing of the switch meant he missed out on valuable practice time and apparently struggled to pick up the defense. One would think, this would make him ripe for a redshirt year. Nope. Instead Jackson sat on the bench for the first two games before becoming a member of the kickoff coverage team. He would go onto see action in nine of the final 10 games as a special teamer. He would end his tremendous true freshman season with one fucking tackle, which came on the opening kickoff against Texas Tech. Interestingly, Jackson also doubled as a receiver on Nebraska’s scout team unit, and actually earned scout team MVP honors. He would then spend the pre-Alamo Bowl practices primarily at receiver. You know what? He could have done all of that as a redshirt!! Instead the coaching staff moved him around like a chess piece leading to a frustrated Jackson transferring to Hawaii. With the talent he apparently showed on the scout team, you have to think Jackson would have found a home as a receiver with more practice time under his belt.

Jordan Congdon – The decision to burn Congdon’s redshirt was immediate, mainly because Nebraska had nobody else at the kicker position. Congdon would go on to have a standout freshman season, connecting on 19-of-23 field goals and 31-of-32 PATs en route to freshman All-America honors. During the season he had a streak of 11 straight made field goals, and closed the season by hitting his final 31 extra-point attempts after missing the first of his career (oops!). Like several of his recruiting classmates, Congdon would eventually leave the team, under somewhat strange circumstances.

Marlon Lucky – There was little doubt in anyone’s mind that Marlon Lucky was going to play as a true freshman. He started the year off strong with a a season-high 44 yards against Maine. Unfortunately, Cory Ross then took command of the starting job and Lucky was mainly regulated to special teams duty. He averaged 20.9 yards on 15 returns, including a season-long 57-yard return at Kansas. He also had a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against the Jayhawks nullified by penalty. Overeall, Lucky played in all 12 games and ran for just 143 yards including 33 yards in a 30-3 win at Colorado. Lucky also caught two passes on the season. So we knew Lucky was going to play, but many thought he would be the workhorse back from day one, but that job actually went to Ross and rightfully so. Given what we know now about Lucky’s lack of maturity early in his career, perhaps a redshirt would have done him some good.

Chris Brooks – A serious head scratcher, this one. Brooks came in as a skinny, unpolished true freshman receiver. He should have been an obvious redshirt decision as he was nowhere near the top of the depth chart at receiver. But for some reason, Callahan and Co., decided Brooks needed to “play.” So Brooks did. Sort of. He wound up appearing in four games as a true freshman against Maine, Iowa State, Texas Tech and Missouri. Shockingly, Brooks did not have a reception in 2005, something that he could have also easily accomplished while redshirting. Brooks would go on to do just that in 2006 and fans are still waiting for him to contribute in some manner.

Cody Glenn – The “other RB” recruit in the 2005 class, Glenn began his true freshman campaign behind both Cory Ross and Marlon Lucky. This meant that he sat the bench for the first two games of the year. Given this situation, a lot of coaches would have decided to redshirt Glenn to save him a year of eligibility and to separate him a year from Lucky. Instead, Glenn would eventually appear in seven of the final 10 contests. He finished with 131 yards and four touchdowns on 45 carries in 2005, and lost yardage on just one of his 45 carries. He ran for 20 yards on four carries in a 7-6 win over Pitt, then played a huge role in the Huskers’ near-comeback against Texas Tech, with 12 carries for 39 yards, including second-quarter touchdowns of one and five yards. He also had a season-high 41 yards in a 23-14 win at Baylor. Injuries have since plagued Glenn, but in spite of this he still hasn’t redshirted. He’s now switched to defense and will have just the spring to learn a new position before spending his final season in Lincoln as a linebacker.

Zach Potter – Quite frankly, I still can’t believe this one. Potter just didn’t seem physically ready to play DE as a true freshman at Nebraska. But instead of sitting him down for the year and allowing him to grow into his body, the coaching staff decided we really needed a 6-foot-7 guy to do nothing but attempt to block FGs. Don’t get me wrong, Potter became a star at just this skill. He literally had a hand in a pair of victories. He blocked a field goal in NU’s 7-6 win over Pittsburgh in the third game of the year, before blocking a Kansas State PAT in NU’s 27-25 win over the Wildcats. But this is seriously all Potter did as a true freshman. He saw only limited action on the defensive line and had ONE tackle against Wake Forest. If that wasn’t bad enough, in his second season, it was more of the same. He made just three tackles while serving as the top reserve at base end. He had one tackle each against Nicholls State, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M. He was, however, once again a regular on both NU’s field goal/PAT and field goal/PAT block units. Finally, in his third year in the system and now physically mature, Potter became our most consistent defensive lineman in 2007. Unfortunately since he wasted two years of eligibility jumping up and down with the hopes of blocking a kick, Potter has just one more season to finish his Husker career with a bang. A true waste if you ask me.

Phillip Dillard – Another guy that probably could have redshirted, especially given that Corey McKeon who was ahead of him on the depth chart somehow had a monster season. Dillard played immediately in the season opener against Maine and finished with a pair of solo tackles against the Black Bears. He would also technically get the start at Missouri when NU opened with four linebackers. Overall, Dillard finished his true freshman campaign with 11 total tackles, including a tackle for loss. With that type of productivity the year was essentially wasted. It mattered little, however, as Dillard tore his ACL in the 2006 season opener and redshirted that season. He finally has the starting MLB job all to himself and should be a leader on the 2008 defense.

Ndamukong Suh – There’s little doubt in my mind that Suh should have been redshirted from the get go in 2005. Instead, he played sparingly in the first two games of the season. Against Wake Forest, he did manage to register one assisted tackle. He would then miss the rest of the season with a knee injury that eventually required surgery. Suh has apparently received a medical hardship for the 2005 season, as already lists him as just a junior for the 2008 campaign. I’m still waiting for Suh to become consistent and to quit taking plays off. If he doesn’t learn this, I don’t think Pelini will bother playing him. Should he listen to Pelini, however, Suh has a great chance to become a force along the front four.

So there you have the 2005 edition of true freshman that played under Callahan. Go back through and really look closely at their contributions. Why did these guys play? Take Congdon, Turner and Slauson out of the equation and you have some pretty minor contributions. Granted, we might not win the KSU game without Potter’s block and Beck’s lone completion, but that’s a lot of development to waste for one game. Lucky and Glenn had some bright spots, but why not redshirt at least one of them? But Brooks? Potter? Jackson? Souder? Dillard? They now just seem like further evidence of Callahan’s inability to understand the game of college football. You just don’t waste a guy’s eligibility like that especially when the trade off is a kid who comes back the next year physically and mentally more mature, as well as more comfortable at their chosen position.