There might not have been a more highly anticipated recruit in the 2011 class than Braylon Heard. The standout running back from Youngstown (OH) Cardinal Mooney initially was a non-qualifier, but stuck it out and received a passing test score in time to be in Lincoln last summer and play as a true freshman.
Playing as a true freshman though was something that a lot of running backs did. Besides Heard, Ameer Abdullah and Aaron Green, both saw time and as a result cut into each other’s carries throughout the year in limited action behind Rex Burkhead.
To add to the competition at the running back position, Heard also missed time last year due to injury. He finished the year with just 25 carries for 122 yards and a touchdown.
Braylon Heard was a standout corner in high school
In comparison to the other freshman running backs, Heard had the second most carries and yards and also had the highest yards per rush average of the three.
While promising, the competition that is there will inevitably require all three to give up quality reps. But, Heard can do more than play running back.
Rumors began to surface weeks before signing day the Ohio product was on his way to play defense. Heard, as a junior at Cardinal Mooney, was actually Division IV All-Ohio selection as a cornerback. If you watch his film, you see similarities to a former Husker who was a standout running back in high school, turned collegiate great cornerback.
Prince Amukamara was rated as a running back by Scout.com in 2007, but Nebraska had him pegged for defense. The fact of the matter was that Nebraska’s passing defense, particularly in the area of interceptions, was lacking.
The Huskers intercepted just 12 passes in 2006 and the cornerback position only accounted for three of those. Nebraska pulled down 17 interceptions the following year, with the cornerback position accounting for another three interceptions.
The word around summer workouts with the freshman class of 2007 was that Amukamara was an excellent running back. There were some rumblings about him wanting a chance to play offense. That was until during passing drills in the summer, when Amukamara routinely made excellent plays on defense - including intercepting the football - which is something that the cornerback position at Nebraska had not been doing very well.
The similarities between Prince and Heard are pretty compelling.
Consider the measureables: 5-foot-11/180-pounds to 6-foot-0/180-pounds.
Consider the high school rushing statistics: 1,973 yards/24TDs to 2,106 yards/24TDs.
And when you look at them both on film you see long, fluid athleticism. You see players that were not only athletic at the position at which they were playing, but instinctual.
(Picture By: Bruce Thorsen-USPRESSWIRE)
Personally, I really liked the junior film for Heard. It featured many long runs that required Heard to break tackles, field vision, bounce to the outside and then get the fifth gear.
However, what I really appreciated about Heard’s film were the clips on defense. He had a natural ability to break on the ball. The junior would also be able to challenge taller, bigger receivers, by being physical with them and going up to get the ball against them.
This move doesn’t just make sense for Heard to get over to the defense now before spring, but also for Nebraska when it comes to addressing the projected starters at the cornerback position.
Nebraska really lacked another option opposite Alfonzo Dennard last year, until a late emergence of Andrew Green. Others showed promise like Jean Stanley-Baltiste, who arguably made the biggest play of the 2011 season.
Nebraska returns Green, Stanley-Baptiste, Cianta Evans and Josh Mitchell, but there are big questions about the group as a whole that mainly center around their lack of experience.
So enter Mohammed Seisay and potentially another initial non-qualifier that could be in Lincoln this summer, four-star and the second rated cornerback in the nation a year ago, Charles Jackson.
And consider circumstances. Amukamara was looked at as a player that would breathe some life back into a secondary that needed help in the area of making plays and particularly that of interceptions by cornerbacks.
Last year, Nebraska only intercepted their opponents eight times, even less than in the years leading up to Amukamara coming to Lincoln, and out of those eight interceptions the cornerback position eerily only accounted for three of the picks.