Nebraska Looking to Win Out Wide
Johnny Rodgers won a Heisman, but he was more of an all-purpose guy. There’s no doubt the gold standard for Husker wide outs is Irving Fryar; a member of the famed “Triplets” offense in 1983, Fryar was the first overall pick in the 1984 NFL Draft.
What has happened since? Only two wide receivers have been drafted (I refuse to count Bobby Newcombe or Eric Crouch). Dana Brinson was taken by the San Diego Chargers in 1989, where he caught all of 12 passes. Niles Paul got the call in 2005 but is now an H-back with the Redskins.
With little exception, the wide receiver position at Nebraska has been a bit of an afterthought. For years guys like Abdul Muhammad, Matt Davison and Tyrone Hughes were brought in to block for the triple-option and catch the occasional pass.
But now that is starting to change. The Cornhuskers are looking to win out wide. It started in the Bill Callahan era with players like Nate Swift (Nebraska career and single-season record holder in receptions) and Maurice Purify (Nebraska single-season record holder in touchdown receptions).
That trend is continuing with Bo Pelini at the helm. Last month, Quincy Enunwa became the Huskers’ first true wide receiver to be drafted in more than a quarter century. He is 6-foot-2, weighs 225 pounds and has amazing hands. It seems like all “Q” did last year was catch touchdowns, no matter who was throwing the ball.
And let’s not forget the cult icon that is Kenny Bell. The Boulder, Colorado, native has taken Lincoln by storm thanks to an Afro that any ‘70s movie star would drool over. Bell is a character, and the fans love him – wearing fake ‘fros to games and shirts that read “Fear the Fro”. And Bell loves it. That’s become a hashtag for him on Twitter, where his handle is @Afro_Thunder80.
The thing that makes the sideshow work is Bell backs it up on the field. He’s had two-straight 50-catch seasons. He went up to catch balls that bailed out Tommy Armstong and the Huskers time and again last year. And the NFL scouts and so-called experts are already talking about how Bell and that famous hairstyle will end up playing on Sundays next year.
So what’s the difference? It’s all about size. The thing Swift, Purify, Quincy and Kenny all have in common is their frame. All of them are taller than six feet. They have the size to create space, make a catch and take a hit.
Last season Enunwa said he wanted Nebraska's receiving corps to be the best in the Big Ten. That’s certainly looks like the direction Pelini, offfensive coordinator Tim Beck and wide receivers coach Rich Fisher want to take.
Check out the 2014 roster: 10 of the 14 wide receivers currently on the team are taller than six feet. Taariq Allen and last-year’s surprising star Sam Burtch are each 6-foot-3. Jordan Westerkamp, the man on the other end of the Ron Kellogg Hail Mary, comes in at an even six feet.
Now let’s look at the recruits. Just last week Damare’ea Stringfellow announced he’s leaving Washington to come to Nebraska. He attended the same high school as Enunwa. As a freshman, Stringfellow saw a lot of playing time, catching 20 passes including an eight-catch, 147-yard day against UCLA. Stringfellow comes with some baggage but also a ton of raw talent. And did I mention he’s 6-foot-3?
The 2014 recruiting class includes a pair of 6-foot-3 pass catchers, Jariah Tolbert and Monte Harrison. Harrison was just drafted and signed by the Milwaukee Brewers to play baseball, but you never know. The Huskers already had a 2015 commitment from 3-star (and 6-foot-2) wide receiver Spencer Tears out of Illinois, but he has de-committed. The point is the Huskers are going after a certain style of athlete to play wide receiver.
I know height doesn’t guarantee great hands, but there is a growing trend in college and the NFL of big, strong wide receivers. Guys like Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald and Brandon Marshall are all tall, jump-out-of-the-gym types who go up and grab everything in sight. That is kind of player starting to come to Nebraska; and I can’t help but feel it’s going to not only help the Huskers win out wide, but win games as well.
Jay Saunders is a Big Ten contributor for FanIQ with keen knowledge for Nebraska football. Follow him on Twitter: @JayinMilwaukee