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Three observations following 2022 DB Malcolm Hartzog's verbal commitment to the Huskers
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Three observations following 2022 DB Malcolm Hartzog's verbal commitment to the Huskers

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Malcolm Hartzog

Malcolm Hartzog, who committed to Nebraska on Monday, intercepts a pass for his high school, Jefferson Davis County, in Bassfield, Mississippi.

Nebraska on Monday landed a verbal commitment from three-star Mississippi defensive back Malcolm Hartzog. Here are three observations following the news.

1. There is a relatively natural comparison to make with Hartzog, though it’s a lofty one.

The last time Nebraska defensive coordinator Erik Chinander identified a prospective defensive back from the deep south that made most of his high school splash plays on the offensive side of the ball, it worked out pretty well for the Huskers.

That was Cam Taylor-Britt, a relatively lightly recruited quarterback in Alabama who saw a surge in his recruitment at the very end and had Nebraska fending off other suitors.

Taylor-Britt, of course, played extensively in all four of his years at Nebraska and now is headed for the 2022 NFL Draft as a polished, accomplished cornerback.

That’s not to say Hartzog will definitely turn into that, but the recruitment does feel a little bit similar.

Hartzog put up eye-popping numbers offensively, rushing for 1,231 yards on just 71 carries (that’s 17.3 per) and 28 touchdowns, according to the Clarion (Mississippi) Ledger. Not only that, but he scored three touchdowns and had 163 yards receiving and also scored six return touchdowns, returned a fumble for a touchdown and logged three interceptions.

2. All of those numbers jump out, but perhaps the production in the return game peaks as much interest as any other.

It’s become something of an annual tradition at Nebraska: Who might be the next return man to break through and give the Huskers big plays in that department? They haven’t had a guy who was a threat since JD Spielman and haven’t had a consistent, high-level producer since De’Mornay Pierson-El.

Perhaps Hartzog can step in quickly and provide a jumpstart for Nebraska.

The Huskers finished 2021 last in the Big Ten in total punt return yards (27) and yards per attempt (2.7). Every other team had at least 75 yards and six averaged more than nine per return attempt. Nebraska was also 12th in the Big Ten at 15.6 yards per kick return (13th in total kick return yards at 187).

3. Nebraska is losing a lot in the secondary from 2021 and the succession plan continues to develop.

Gone will be Taylor-Britt and senior safeties Marquel Dismuke and Deontai Williams. Next in line at cornerback with Quinton Newsome (a regular 2021 starter) are Braxton Clark, Marques Buford Jr., and then others like Tamon Lynum, perhaps Tyreke Johnson or Nadab Joseph and then young players like Malik Williams or incoming defensive backs like Hartzog and Jalil Martin.

At safety, Myles Farmer is essentially a starter and then Noa Pola-Gates and Isaac Gifford could be in the conversation. So could Buford, if Travis Fisher decides to give him time at safety. NU is young there, though, which is part of the reason the program is looking at players like the recently offered junior college safety DeShon Singleton and other transfer possibilities.

It’s going to be a new-look group to some degree in 2022, and the work to fortify depth is not complete yet, but the Huskers now have three high school DBs in the class (Hartzog, Martin and Millard South safety Gage Stenger) and perhaps more help on the way in the coming days and weeks.

Contact the writer at pgabriel@journalstar.com or 402-473-7439. On Twitter @HuskerExtraPG.

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Husker football reporter

Parker joined the Journal Star as the University of Nebraska football beat writer in August 2017. He previously covered Montana State athletics for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 2012.

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