First, apologies for my supreme delay in actually getting a FRU up and running over at SBNation. Work and crap et al. You care not for my olive branches, you want red meat. Moving on.
After a painfully slow three months for Gopher recruiting developments, the staff has kicked it into high gear the last month or so by securing five more commits -- including several at key positions of need (linebacker, running back) while also nabbing some high end talent to boot. This weekend's slate of official visitors brings more of the same flavor: some highly touted linebacker recruits (linebackers on linebackers on linebackers) and a potential scholarship kicker/punter?!?
Official Visitors (list courtesy of Gopher Illustrated)
Rankings according to 247Sports industry composite*, where available.
|River Ridge (LA) John Curtis HS
|Loxahatchee (FL) Seminole Ridge HS
|West Palm Beach (FL) Dwyer HS
|Gophers recruiting as an OLB
|Pace (FL) Pace HS
|Under Armour All-American
Of note, I'm intrigued by the fact this coaching staff has brought in six non-committed linebacker prospects (5 preps, 1 JUCO) over the last three official visit weekends, two of whom have committed (Damien Wilson and De'Niro Laster), another chose Penn State over Minnesota (Jonathan Walton) and the other three coming this weekend are all projected as outside backers. This is a clear signal to me: the staff wants at least one more linebacker in the 2013 class, and potentially could take more depending upon scholarship availability. The other trend? Speed -at all costs- over size. Rinse and repeat.
Depending upon your flavor of recruiting site preference, Duke Riley is the headliner of the group. A four star recruit on ESPNU, Riley has listed offers from 6+ AQ conference schools including Ole Miss and TCU. Competition for the New Orleans area native is likely to be fierce over the coming two months, so Kill and the staff have their work cut out for them. That said, even landing an official visit is a strong sign a prospect is interested and Minnesota has been recruiting Duke for a long time. Perhaps that persistence will pay off in February.
As of writing this post, Riley indicated he was offered by LSU. Welp, that was fun while it lasted.
Next on the list is Rayfield Dixon, another linebacker prospect with multiple listed AQ offers. Of the prospects visiting this weekend, some in though feel Dixon may be the closest to accepting Minnesota's offer and committing. Dixon is also really light for a linebacker prospect.... as in borderline safety size. One thing to consider, however, is the recent history of the soon to be graduating linebackers. Keanon Cooper came to Minnesota as a 6'0", 190 lbs. safety prospect, he'll leave at a listed 220 lbs. Spencer Reeves was 6'1", 193 lbs. as a high school senior; he's listed at 234 lbs. currently. Rallis was a 207 lbs. high school safety prospect; he bulked up to 245 lbs. to play Mike linebacker as a redshirt senior. Point being, there's certainly precedent for a lighter linebacker prospect at Minnesota to gain 30+ lbs. over the course of five seasons, so one need not be pulling a chicken little over Dixon's lack of heft (or fake 40 time).
Last of the linebackers is Malik Brown, an interesting recruit in that Minnesota is the only team aggressively recruiting him as an outside linebacker versus a defensive end (the Gophers' main competition, Syracuse, wants him as a DE/OLB hybrid). Minnesota has seemingly gotten on Brown late in the game -a reason one might realistically put the Gophers' chance behind the Orange at this point- though taking an official visit to Dinkytown indicates something to the recruitnik. A comparison visit? Courtesy visit? Legitimate interest? Who knows. Another odd aspect of Brown's recruitment is the variance in listed measurables. The range on the big four recruiting sites in printed weights is 25 lbs., not an insignificant margin for a potential LB/DE prospect. My educated guess is he's closer to 215-220 lbs outside linebacker tweener.
Santoso = mini Janikowski? Honestly, can't really say much about recruited scholarship kickers, even if they are Under Armour All-Americans. He appears to boot the ball with some distance and Kohl's kicking camp thinks highly of him. A great punter/kicker/kickoff man can be worth a victory or two over the course of the season due to field position, though finding the ones worthy of a scholarship are difficult. If the staff thinks he's worth one, I'm cool with them pulling the trigger and going after Santoso. I won't lose sleep over missing out on a kicker, however.
Overall, I'd suspect the Gophers to land at least one commitment out of this official visit weekend, though it may take a while if the staff is dead set on pursuing Riley over the other prospects. My hunch -and it's just that- is Dixon will pledge to Minnesota within the next two-three weeks and if Riley wants to commit after taking more official visits, the staff will find room for him. You can never have too much raw talent and speed on defense, which is the M.O. of Claeys and Kill.
As always, I'm prepared to be horribly wrong with all of my qualitative predictions.
I didn't get around to posting a SofS when it first happened, so thoughts on arguably the biggest commitment to date below.
There has to be some sort of implicit dramatic irony embedded in Kill's recruiting coup of Berkley Edwards, with the location of one of his three finalists (Cal) firing their head coach [not to mention, he shares a name with the place] and the other (Iowa), a school that employed his brother's former position coach at Michigan no less, decided to pull Berkley's offer weeks ago. Of course, I could care less about how potential difference making players at positions and skill attributes (speed) of need wind up committing to Minnesota; A well regarded running back choosing the Gophers is good enough for me regardless of circumstance.
Edwards, in my opinion, is an important symbolic pledge for Kill and the Gophers, especially in the wake of the recent Twin Cities media maelstrom. Stan and Braylon went through the process themselves and were heavily recruited in their own right, so you know the family advice holds special merit with this recruiting scenario. The takeaways? The Edwards clan is sold on Kill, regardless of controversies with walk-ons or his epilepsy. That a family with such a Big Ten and NFL pedigree can rubber stamp their approval of Coach Kill seemingly in spite of the insipid local feelings is a pretty big deal.
Broader, even common fans know who don't follow recruiting at all have heard of Braylon Edwards, so landing the talented younger brother of a Michigan great will resonate with them more so than a similarly rated prospect without the same pedigree. It should (but probably won't) quell some fears about Kill's recruiting efforts, that he can do more than recruit locally and take a flyer on what people perceive as MAC level talent.
Schematically, Kill and Limegrover may have just landed the precise ingredient they were missing from their offensive recipe. Berkley is a fast, one cut and go back capable of taking any carry to the endzone if he hits a seam. His running style fits Limegrover's offensive line blocking scheme very well, while his hard working personality matches that of his future head coach; rather than coast because of it, Berkley is determined to live up to his family's rich Big Ten athletic pedigree.
Minnesota fans have been looking for a home run hitting back since Laurence Maroney left back in 2005. In Edwards, Kill may have grabbed a similarly capable running back.
I've read and heard a fair amount across the Gopher Intertrons that the breadth of linebacker recruiting this year is somehow indicative of how the staff views the current linebackers on the roster. I guess one could look at another position from a previous cycle as a case study on how exactly that panned out: cornerback.
Heading into 2012, people knew Minnesota was thin at CB and Safety. Kim Royston and three other DBs were graduating, Troy Stoudermire was no guarantee to receive a 5th year and Michael Carter has one step away from never playing football again. The only experienced returning starter was Brock Vereen, with three true freshmen -- Derrick Wells, Cedric Thompson and Grayson Levine -- remaining as the only players coming back with any amount of game experience. Any way you sliced it, heading into spring of 2012, the Gopher secondary had loads of question marks. An influx of JUCOs was needed during the offseason to boost competition at cornerback, along with players switching between CB and Safety, plus the re-dedication of Carter.
Then they played the games, and Minnesota ended up top 25 in virtually every passing defense category. So much for our worries.
The same sort of scenario applies at linebacker for 2013. Rallis, Cooper and Reeves are graduating, taking 154 tackles with them. Whether Brendan Beal can return from yet another knee injury is anyone's guess. The only player with starting experience coming back is Aaron Hill, a former walk-on. James Manuel and Lamonte Edwards are new converts to outside linebacker, though Edwards was plagued with injuries throughout the year and Manuel couldn't find himself into the starting rotation of what many fans considered an insipid corps of linebackers. With how much attention is being paid to outside linebacker in this current recruiting cycle, what does that say about the players currently on the roster at the same spot?
Two answers: 1) next to nothing and/or 2) who knows.
Remember, there's roughly 45+ practices between the end of the 2012 regular season and the start of the 2013 campaign. That's practically an eternity for a player like Edwards, Manuel, Peter Westerhaus, Jephete Matilus, Jack Lynn, Nick Rallis or former walk-on Dominic Schultz to see the light bulb go off. This is the hidden benefit of bowl eligibility that Jerry Kill is constantly mentioning yet few internalize when projecting depth charts into the future. We know about known commodities like Hill and to a lesser extent Manuel. It's the unknown unknowns like how the younger players will develop, grow and improve over the next 9 months that's the exciting and dynamic part of college football. Even a suspected impact player like Damien Wilson, who seemingly has a clear cut path to starting at Mike LB, could see himself challenged in spring and fall camp. You just never know.
So I caution all the Gopher recruitniks to avoid jumping to hasty conclusions about the implicit meaning of linebacker recruiting at this point. With 4 scholarship linebackers graduating and a 5th (Beal) in serious doubt of ever playing again, doesn't it not make more sense to simply replenish the coffers at linebacker with athletes to develop versus minding a motive in the number or type of players this staff is recruiting? Occam's Razor applies here: simpler is better.
As a data analysis by trade, I've got a number of different ways I can analyze and look at things statistically to make sense of them. This extends to my passion of overanalyzing college football, including recruit ratings and rankings.
I'll keep it simple: ratings are subjective, with a high degree of variance and a smidgen of predictability, albeit after standardization over a multi-year period. In other words, it's complicated... and there are no direct conclusions or assumptions to be made.
Knowing all that, I keep remembering a remark on recruiting one of the Gopher staffers mentioned to me over the summer. Paraphrasing, with the seven year contract, this staff has the freedom to build things "the right way." No quick fixes with a lot of JUCOs and/or "red flag" recruits other schools pass on. Recruit kids you can develop and know will "fit" with your program. And most importantly, each year, recruit a little better than you did the previous year. Do this continuously and eventually, as the coach said, "you'll be pretty damn good."
I can't help but look at the latest recruiting cycle and think out loud that even from the most critical of perspectives, recruiting is going reasonably well for Jerry Kill. In fact, the quality of out-state prospects legitimately considering the Gophers this late in the process seems, on the surface, better than Kill's first two recruiting classes. And even with a limited amount of scholarships available, the level of talent the staff is bringing in as potential Gophers for the remaining spots at cornerback (Marquez White), linebacker and wide receiver (Hunter Jarmon, etc.) is beyond encouraging, since each would have rated among the best prospects in the entire class for either 2012 or 2011. I could also show from my perspective how the per recruit average of Minnesota recruiting is better in 2013 versus 2012, though that's a separate stats geek post entirely.
Point being, things are looking up on the recruiting trail. Don't look at things from the prism of comparison to the Brewster years. Instead, look back historically to what is sustainable at a program like Minnesota over a period of several years to build a program.
*Why 247Sports industry composite and not just some other services rating? Well, I like noise reduction techniques, and the folks over at 247 have gone through the trouble for us of averaging out all the different ratings available across the Internet, which tend to vary based upon the perspective of the service evaluating an individual prospect. Their rankings formula is fundamentally flawed, which is important to know going in, but something approaching a consensus of opinions is still better than a singular data point.