Greg Bell has an excellent chance to play a significant role right away for Nebraska — as in next season.
That’s not recruiting hype. It’s common sense.
If you’re a Nebraska football fan, you’re hereby excused if you’ve forgotten that coaches generally expect junior college players to shine immediately.
You’re excused because Mike Riley, in his three years as Husker head coach, never signed a junior college player, in large part because he hardly tried.
The new coach in town, Scott Frost, so far has three in Nebraska’s class of 2018.
Of the three, I’m most interested in Bell, a 6-foot, 200-pound running back from Arizona Western Community College.
Bell sparks my interest because Nebraska didn’t have a running back who cracked 500 rushing yards this season — ridiculous, I know — and the Huskers finished 120th nationally with a paltry average of 107.5 rushing yards per game.
If Bell doesn’t play a sizable role in 2018, Arizona Western head coach Tom Minnick would be surprised.
“He’s a damned good player, probably the No. 1 back in junior college football,” Minnick said from Yuma, Arizona.
A native of Chula Vista, California, Bell is joined in Nebraska’s early signing class by Arizona Western teammate Jaron Woodyard, a fleet receiver, and Deontai Williams, a hard-hitting defensive back from Jones County (Mississippi) Junior College.
The triumvirate announces in resounding fashion that the Huskers under Frost are back in the business of recruiting junior colleges — as was the case under Bo Pelini, Bill Callahan, Frank Solich and Tom Osborne.
“We’re going to take the right kids,” Frost said during a teleconference. “Sometimes the right kids are high school kids and sometimes they end up somewhere else. I don’t want to make a living off junior college players, but if they’re good kids and we think they can play and add to what we’re doing, we’re going to give them an opportunity.
“I think you’re crazy if you rule out any option or any method of getting players who can help you win football games.”
Riley has to be kicking himself for eschewing junior college players. On the other hand, few people on earth handle losing better than Riley. He was simply magnificent in that regard. But he might have won more games at Nebraska had he tried to fill roster holes by turning to junior colleges.
He expressed concern about a junior college player’s limited “clock” in the program to which he transfers. Time is of the essence for jucos, Riley said, because if a player doesn’t pan out, nobody’s happy.
At any rate, Frost is going to recruit junior college players as needed. At the moment, he said, they’re needed most in the secondary and receiver positions, where Nebraska is “way down” in numbers.
“But we’re not just going to take a bunch of junior college kids,” he said.
Coaches have to be somewhat discerning. If you do take a juco player, Frost said, he has to be the right fit.
Minnick thinks Bell will fit well in Frost’s fast-paced spread offense.
“His nickname’s ‘The Eel’ — he can get through small places, make you miss and take it the distance,” the coach said.
In terms of overall talent, Minnick said, Bell is comparable to Damien Williams of the Miami Dolphins, via Arizona Western and Oklahoma.
Bell actually is a little faster and has better field vision than Williams, Minnick said, although Williams runs “a little bit tougher.”
“Greg will try to make you miss more,” the coach said. “Other than that, they’re the same style — as close as you can get.”
Both catch the ball well.
“Greg could’ve lined up at receiver and probably been our best one,” Minnick said. “He’s got great hands and can track the ball. You can throw the ball up and he can spin around and catch it like it’s nothing.”
In other words, Nebraska’s top returning running backs — Tre Bryant, Devine Ozigbo, Mikale Wilbon and Jaylin Bradley — probably will have more competition for playing time. Bell isn’t coming to watch.
He seems like a confident sort. He should be confident. His high school program was superb, as was Arizona Western — it was 9-1 this year and 11-1 last year. This year’s team, which reached the juco national championship game, has 17 players with Power Five scholarship offers.
As for intangibles, Bell checks almost every box, although Minnick said the running back needs to spend more time in the classroom.
“That would be my main concern with him,” he said. “As far as football goes, he’s pretty polished. Down the road, he’ll have a great chance at the NFL when it’s all said and done.”
OK, that last part sounds like recruiting hype, although Bell did run for 1,217 yards and 11 touchdowns this season. As a freshman last season, he ran for 1,187 yards and seven TDs.
For now, let’s just say he’ll have a chance to immediately bolster what’s been an anemic ground attack.
Coaches try to fill needs any way they can, within reason.
It’s just common sense.