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Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Nebraska’s 2023 Post-Spring Football Position Reset: Running Backs

May 05, 2023

Two transfer portals, winter workouts and an entire spring season have passed. There’s now a clearer picture for Nebraska’s scheme and personnel. Hail Varsity is taking a closer look at what we’ve learned about each position now that the spring season is over and the portal is closed.

Previous resets: Quarterbacks.

Well, one of the deepest quarterback rooms in the country thinned out in less than a week.

Nebraska head coach Matt Rhule wants a team that can win in the elements. Offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield wants to run the ball unquestionably. Their coordinated run effort showed itself in different ways in the spring season and to fans during the Red-White game. Their approach built anticipation and admiration from traditional Husker fans. They not only use a fullback but aren’t afraid to power run between the tackles. Nebraska’s diverse stable of backs allows offensive flexibility based on individual skillsets.

Returning No. 1 Anthony Grant ran for 34 yards in the Red-White game, including a 11-yard ramble. Gabe Ervin Jr. tallied 20 yards with a touchdown on eight carries. Rahmir Johnson led the Huskers with 35 yards on six carries in the spring game. Redshirt freshman Emmett Johnson ran for 6 yards on three carries. The room experienced one departure in the spring window as Ajay Allen chose to transfer out. He had 18 yards on seven carries in the Red-White Game.

Janiran Bonner moved from wide receiver to tight end ahead of the spring season. The coaching staff thought he could play a hybrid H back role and, effectively, function as a multiple-use fullback. Bonner ran for 12 yards on three carries, including 7 yards on the ceremonial first play of the scrimmage. Seward native and UNK transfer Trevor Ruth also saw the field at fullback but took less snaps than Bonner. The redshirt freshman said during the spring he did drill work with receivers, tight ends and running backs. Head coach Matt Rhule, when discussing the position’s future, didn’t see any reason Bonner couldn’t thrive in that role.

“Janiran can play every position that’s out there for us right now,” Rhule said. “I think he has a real chance, depending on how he continues to develop.”

Not only did Bonner show a drive to run through lanes and shake tacklers, he stepped into holes to become a lead blocker against Tony White’s aggressive defense. Satterfield lined the Huskers up in sets with multiple tight ends to utilize power on the edges. Satterfield also called for pulling blockers, giving designed runs an additional lead block and the offensive line a boost of confidence. Interior offensive lineman Ethan Piper and returning tackle Bryce Benhardt both complimented the new offense and their growing confidence.

Benhardt once called the play calling explosive but couldn’t quite describe why. A few plays during the spring game reflect what he meant. During one first-half play, the Huskers lined up in 12 personnel with receiver motion. A guard pulled opposite motion with a fullback following. The running back, in this case Grant, followed both Bonner and Nouredin Nouili for a solid gain. Two leading strong side blockers in front of running backs like Grant, Ervin or either Rahmir and Emmett Johnson, could spring big gains.

“From day one to this day, we progressed in our run game,” Ervin said after the spring game. “From the summer, we just want to master it. Master is what we need to work on. Master all the blocks in the schemes, and we’re going to be a great run team.”

The Huskers ran between the tackles with force and utilized finesse RPOs and sweeps. Internally, Rhule, Satterfield and running backs coach E.J. Barthel want their backs to be aggressive and initiate contact. They want the backs to attack running gaps with physicality. Physically, the kind of athletes they like are also capable of bouncing runs outside and outrunning tacklers. While the Nebraska offense didn’t spring any big runs in the spring season, the offense left some impression of its potential.

Omaha Skutt graduate Caden Becker recently announced his transfer to Nebraska as a walk-on, following a redshirt season on scholarship at Wyoming. Becker was a quarterback at Skutt who the Cowboys moved to the defensive line during the spring season. Becker is seen by Nebraska coaches as a potential wildcat quarterback option but mainly in the hybrid H-back role similar to Bonner. New Jersey native Kwinten Ives will also join the Huskers as an explosive 3-star signing in the 2023 recruiting class. He’s a multi-sport standout who ran for over 3,000 yards with 49 touchdowns in his junior and senior seasons combined.

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