New recruits figure to keep things lively on O-line

2013-02-14T23:50:00Z 2013-03-12T18:20:53Z New recruits figure to keep things lively on O-lineBy BRIAN CHRISTOPHERSON / Lincoln Journal Star

Trouble? It was fair to wonder.

It was 3½ weeks before National Signing Day and one of Nebraska’s commits since May had just announced he was going to Michigan.

From the outside looking in, things seemed less than ideal for this Husker offensive line class after Dan Samuelson’s change of heart.

With that recruiting flip, the Huskers had just two offensive linemen in the class — Zach Hannon and David Knevel — at one of their main positions of need.

Yet inside the walls of the program, there was a high degree of hopefulness. There were good players at many positions still on the board, but particularly at offensive line.

And coaches believed Nebraska was up there on each of their lists.

“We had our guys earmarked, kind of knew where we stood with them,” Husker offensive coordinator Tim Beck explained last week. “We just kept digging and plugging and recruiting them. When you go after good guys that are wanted, it’s going to take time and effort. That’s what it took — time and effort.”

Husker coaches knew the weekend following Samuelson's decommit would be pivotal, with three offensive linemen visiting from Jan. 18-20.

Dwayne Johnson, Chongo Kondolo and Matt Finnin were the three. The last two were junior college players, possible immediate-impact guys.

Plus, there was a significant amount of versatility with that trio. Johnson could be a guard or tackle. Kondolo could be a center or guard. Finnin could be a potential instant addition to the two-deep at a tackle spot that will lose three seniors (Jeremiah Sirles, Andrew Rodriguez and Brent Qvale) after the 2013 season.

That certainly is the plan of the 6-foot-6, 305-pound Finnin.

“I wouldn’t be coming if I didn’t think I could (play immediately),” Finnin said.

It was Finnin, who could potentially have three years of eligibility remaining because of a hardship, who got the ball rolling by committing to Nebraska before he left Lincoln on that weekend visit.

Then a wait. Then a Kondolo. He made his commitment to Nebraska known five days before Signing Day.

A guard or a center?

“We’re going to look at him (at) both,” Beck said. “He’s an inside guy. I think he’d be a tremendous center because he can run. But we’ll see. We’ll see what he can handle.”

Johnson came to the party last, with the lineman from Houston announcing his choice of Nebraska over Arkansas a day before signing day.

Just like that, Nebraska had five offensive linemen in the class, and some impressive head-to-head recruiting wins against Southeastern Conference programs along the way. In addition to Nebraska beating the Razorbacks for Johnson, Knevel was courted by Alabama, Hannon by Missouri and Arkansas, Kondolo by Tennessee.

Finnin, meanwhile, resisted a late recruiting push from Ohio State.

It was a strong enough finish for Nebraska that some even made the case that the offensive line was the position group the Huskers had most improved in this class.

“You look down that list … (and) you’ve got a nice mix of impact jucos and high school players,” said JC Shurburtt, 247Sports national recruiting director, to “You can throw those guys into the development cycle and those guys can help Nebraska in different stages. That’s important. That’s your core right there.”

Knevel, a rare Canadian recruit who has potential but is admittedly raw, is the only one of the five already on campus, making him eligible to participate in spring ball. The others will have to pick things up in a hurry when they arrive in the summer.

Where do they fit into the Husker O-line puzzle?

Finnin and Knevel will join Sirles, Rodriguez, Qvale, Givens Price and Zach Sterup as notable names at tackle.

Johnson could be an addition to the position battle at the guard spots, which includes Spencer Long, Jake Cotton, Ryne Reeves, Mike Moudy and Corey Whitaker.

Kondolo could be in the mix there or also at center, along with Cole Pensick, Paul Thurston and Mark Pelini.

The chess pieces, of course, are always subject to being moved around, beginning March 2 when spring ball begins for the Huskers.

The battles for playing time will come soon enough.

Beck expects the new additions to only further motivate those linemen already in the program.

“Boy, I love it,” he said. “… (We) tried to get an older outside guy and older inside guy, and keep things alive in our room and don’t get stale. I think we have a chance to be pretty good offensively, but we have to keep pushing each other and keep challenging, keep creating competition.”

Reach Brian Christopherson at or 402-473-7439. You can follow him on Twitter @HuskerExtraBC.

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