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Photo Credit: John Peterson

Nebraska Backfield Embracing Fullbacks in Preseason Camp

August 04, 2023

A noticeable change within the Nebraska football roster right now are the letters next to a few names. Janiran Bonner, Trevor Ruth, Braden Klover, Landon Ternus and  Barret Liebentritt are all listed next to “FB.” They’re officially fullbacks on the school’s roster. Bonner showed glimpses of the position during the spring game but preseason camp is already giving coaches a better sense of the position. The Huskers went full pads for the first time on Thursday. A fitting marker to discuss fullbacks and the physicality they’re already bringing to the offense.

Running backs coach E.J. Barthel said Liebentritt has done “a great job” at fullback. He complimented the Omaha Skutt graduate’s intelligence and playbook comprehension. Those traits shouldn’t come as a surprise from someone who just transferred after walking on at Norte Dame. But Barthel also didn’t want to get too far ahead of himself with praise.

“He’s a guy who is showing me I can rely on him thus far,” Barthel said. “We have a long way to go. Today was our first padded, really thumping, so we can see on film how physical he was at that point of contact and things like that.”

Head coach Matt Rhule, offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield and Barthel share a similar skills list they want to see in fullbacks. They need to be able to adjust, be physical at the point of contact, be athletic, can catch out of the backfield and be capable of running the ball when asked. So far, Barrett “The Bull” has shown all those traits, Barthel said. But Bonner, Klover, even Luke Lindenmeyer, have shown what they can do if they step into the fullback spot. Nebraska intends to run a pro-style offense and utilize multiple looks. That requires players to be versatile and embrace different roles for different situations.

“You’re looking for alignment pretty much anywhere and be able to be versatile,” Barthel said. “I’m not just talking about putting your hat down and blowing guys up. Being versatile and that’s what we’re doing.”

The coaching staff appreciates effort from the diverse group taking snaps at fullback. Not everyone can step into that role and be physical in the offense, Barthel said. And physicality is a big part of the Nebraska offense. On Thursday, Satterfield stressed how the offense relies on Huskers to be durable and get downhill. He said it will take multiple backs with several carries to run the ball in the Big Ten, especially with as much as this team wants to run.

Falling in line with the dynamic attributes of the fullback position itself, the offensive coordinator doesn’t have a target carries account. He doesn’t even have a preference on run-pass ratio. At any given point, the Huskers will have to either pass or run to be successful. And they’ll have to be successful doing either when the time comes. It all depends on circumstances.

“There will be certain games and certain defenses where they’ll be utilized more and some where they don’t have as a big of a role in that game. It fluctuates,” Satterfield said. “We have tight ends, we have fullbacks, guys who do the same thing for the most part. Just that fullback between the tackles can give you a little more of a vertical push at times. We’ve got guys playing the position now and it’s fun to have a fullback on the field.”

Satterfield called it a “position-less offense” because players will be asked to step into different roles. While coaches will move players to suit their strengths, players will have to deliver when put in that position. And a few of the Husker running backs are excited to play behind fullbacks.

Gabe Ervin Jr. and Anthony Grant both played in the I formation at Buford High School in Georgia. Ervin said lining up behind a fullback is “like second nature to me.” He loves the extra blocker to follow into the second level so he can make a move on the secondary.

“Barret’s a really good fullback. Running behind him is going to be good,” Ervin said. “It’s going to be a show.”

Fellow running back Rahmir Johnson also complimented Liebentritt’s adaptability. Johnson went to school with several people who either play for Notre Dame or played against Notre Dame. The Nebraska native fit in right away when he transferred, Johnson said. Personally, Johnson is learning to be more patient and read blocks behind a fullback like he did in high school. But he’s adaptable so he’s confident they’ll figure it out.

“He’s a tough dude, too,” Johnson said of Liebentritt. “Got the physique, tough, smart, aggressive. He’s a true ideal fullback, honestly.”

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