Monday, January 19, 2009

Feeling a draft for the '09 Husker class

While the NFL reaches a week of hiatus before the Super Bowl, we take a look at current University of Nebraska football seniors and the potential of their careers that require work on Sunday.

Most people seem to have their own idea of how far this Husker senior class can go in the NFL after leading their school back to being semi-relevant. There are offensive linemen (Matt Slauson and Lydon Murtha), wide receivers (Nate Swift and Todd Peterson), quarterback Joe Ganz, running back Marlon Lucky. defensive end Zach Potter, defensive tackle Ty Steinkuhler, cornerback Armando Murrillo and long snapper TJ O’Leary.

Of that group, O’Leary might just have the best shot of having a lengthy career. Granted, projecting the NFL draft is an inexact science. Before we get to O’Leary and why he might have the best shot. Let’s discuss the others.

Murtha and Slauson would appear to have a shot at making a roster but both had injury marred careers as Huskers. Swift and Peterson would appear to be on the bubble but they are proficient pass-catchers in the Ed McCaffrey/Joe Jurevicious mold so it wouldn’t be a big surprise to see them stick.

Lucky was an enigma as a Husker despite coming with the fanfare of a five-star recruit. Despite a decent start to the 2008 season, he suffered a turf-toe injury and fell to No. 3 on the depth chart behind Roy Helu and Quentin Castille. Lucky, however, helped his stock with an Offensive MVP performance for the East squad in the East-West shrine game. Lucky rushed for 68 yards and a touchdown on seven carries to help the East secure a 24-19 win over the West on Saturday. Lucky did not live up to enormous expectations but he can catch the football.

Ganz is certainly no scouts dream with his physique. If I had to think of an NFL comparison, he reminds me a lot of Jeff Garcia. Ganz can be a little erratic but he’s physically and mentally tough, he knows how to keep plays alive and has the ability to get his teammates’ respect.

Potter falls into the “tweener” category, meaning too small to be a 4-3 end but too big to be a 3-4 outside linebacker. He might surprise some folks, however, given the right set of circumstances.

Steinkuhler got overshadowed by tackle-mate Ndamukong Suh but I wouldn’t rule him out.

It’s hard to judge Murrillo. He was a bright spot during the ugly 2007 season and during the Husker resurgence in 2008.

As for O’Leary, I keep thinking back to former Husker Adam Treu, whom I had the chance to cover from 1999-2005 as a freelance writer for Silver & Black Illustrated (a magazine dedicated to covering the Oakland Raiders.

Treu was a Raider from 1997-2006. The former Nebraska walk-on performed solidly at center when given the chance but it was his longsnapping skills learned as a Husker that were his NFL meal ticket.

I remember doing a feature story on Treu in training camp of 1999. I interviewed then Raiders special teams coach Frank Ganz Jr. (no relation to Joe). I remember Ganz saying, “If you are a backup player and cannot play special teams, your longevity in this league will be very short.”

Treu made his living as a trustworthy long-snapper and if O’Leary makes the right impression he could too.

Long-snapper is a position like being a Major League Baseball closer. If you do it right, no one says anything. If you screw up, everyone notices.

Look at Treu’s 1997 class that included Michael Booker, Jared Tomich, Chris Dishman, Eric Stokes, Mike Minter and Jon Heese. Only Minter outlasted Treu.

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