By Brandon Cruz
Nevada football is officially back with its recent victory last Friday against FCS West foe Cal Poly. Leading up to the season’s start, Nevada coaches searched near and far for the best possible talent they could get their hands on. Many first-year freshmen will get chosen to redshirt, but there are a few we think can make an impact as early as this year.
With the loss of captain Jordan Dobrich and four more backers, Nevada had to add some depth to the command center of the defense. The Pack picked up Lawson Hall, a 6-foot, 215-pound linebacker from Nathaniel Narbonne High School, and Alec Simpson, a 6-foot-1, 215-pound backer out of Palisades Charter High School. Both have great size for the position, but Hall stands out for various reasons. Hall has a nose for the ball and can sniff it out wherever it is thrown. His coverage skills and ability to move laterally are traits any solid linebacker must have. Hall also has a knack for making one-on-one open-field tackles, arguably one of the most difficult tasks on the defensive side of the ball. Lastly, he possesses the ability to do something that many NFL linebackers fail to do at: disguise the blitz. Just when you think Hall is dropping into coverage, he is already through the gap and pressuring the quarterback. Both new recruits can have an early impact on special teams, but Hall is the one who could actually see some playing time.
Nevada’s recruiting staff stuck to the book on this one — lose four linemen, pick up four more. All four have promise, some more than others. The player with the biggest upside appears to be Nate Brown, coming out of Tracy High School. His explosiveness off the ball is matched only by local recruit Nathan Edwards. What makes Brown stand out the most is his ability to get to the second level when he is blocking for the run. Run-blocking is his strongest attribute, as he falters a bit when holding his block in passing situations. While Nevada is a run-heavy team, every player needs to be well-rounded. If his pass-blocking improves, Brown could definitely see the field some time this year, whether that be on offense or special teams. Many may argue that Carl Burton-Hill could also make an early impact, but I am skeptical. While he undoubtedly has the size, sitting at 6 feet, 5 inches, 295-pounds, his explosiveness off the ball is mediocre at best. He also must work on engaging his first defender, shedding him and getting to the next level. Do not get me wrong, Hill has potential. He just seems to have a bit more refining to do than his counterpart.
To become a feared, respected and praised defensive lineman, it is necessary to have the ability to shed blocks, stuff runs, pressure the passer and be fundamentally sound. Nevada welcomed three recruits on the D-line this offseason, all from different cities within the Battle Born State. The two true freshmen who can have an early impact on the D-line are Nick Gregg and Kameron Toomer. Gregg is a 6-foot, 310-pound defensive tackle from Reno’s very own Reed High School. His block-shedding ability is strong, and he understands how to fill gaps when the run is coming. Gregg is also an impressive pass rusher, but his most redeeming quality comes from backside pursuit. He never gives up on a play, has great angles and always seems to find a way to take down the runner. Toomer is a 6-foot-3, 235-pound defensive end out of Palo Verde High School in Las Vegas. As a defensive end you are taught to protect the edge and bounce plays inside because that is where most support lies. Toomer does an incredible job at this and sometimes even ends up with the tackle himself. He is a balanced player who has great run-stuffing abilities and strong pass-rusher traits. Both Gregg and Toomer could have a chance to impact Nevada’s team positively if given the chance.
Brandon Cruz can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @SagebrushSports