Dedrick Mills is a sweater. Dedrick Mills is a hammer. He’s a lunch-pail guy. He’s a gym rat in the weight room. Freshman Wan’Dale Robinson has the pomp and fanfare early on in fall camp (and Robinson is playing a lot more in the backfield than maybe some expected to start fall camp) but Mills has quickly become a guy others like to talk about.
“He’ll run people over so you better watch out,” said senior wideout Mike Williams.
“I had a little pent-up aggression against him the first day because we were in helmets and that’s it and he was running through the hole like we got full pads on,” said senior defensive tackle Darrion Daniels. “The way he runs the ball you can tell that he’s running for a bigger purpose.”
“He’s putting his face in, he’s getting after it, he’s making us better every day,” said fourth-year junior outside backer Collin Miller.
That’s high praise for a new guy coming from old guys who have seen plenty of talent in their college years. But Mills isn’t new new. He played at Georgia Tech for a year, went to Garden City Community College for two and stepped on campus in Lincoln in May of this year. So he’s had plenty of time to work on his body.
He’s listed at 5-foot-11, 220 pounds on huskers.com, and boy oh boy does he use all of it.
“When we go (to) our power stuff and it’s more downhill, the pile is going that way (gestures north) when he hits it,” running back coach Ryan Held said. “He’s probably one of the best backs I’ve had, in four years at the places I’ve been, of hitting it downhill.”
The comparisons to former runner Devine Ozigbo are a little loose. Ozigbo had a finesse to his game that Mills is still working on. But Mills has the boom.
“Shoot without full pads it still gets pretty physical,” Held said.
Thank Mills for that.
The biggest thing for Held right now is fine-tuning the detail things about the scheme and the way plays work and the assignments Mills has on any given snap of the ball. It helped that Mills arrived when he did (he’s had the playbook for a while) so he could start to get around meeting rooms.
He’s still learning and playing a little on talent right now, but he’s not swimming.
“He's picked up the offense well. Tough kid, downhill, you hand the ball to him and he's going to get his three or four yards, which you need," Walters said. "He's doing well in pass protection. Big kid, so if they do want to blitz he's going to be solid in pass protection.”
The best thing Held can say about him is that he doesn’t have to worry about Mills.
“He is going to work hard and sweat,” Held said. “We’ve got to have a towel with him at all times because he works his rear off. He comes to work every day. I saw it when I watched him at junior college practice, I’ve seen it in the weight room when I’ve walked through there and then out on the field. I don’t have to worry about him working hard in practice.
Just like Walters, several others have also mentioned what a good teammate Mills is. Held said he already has a good relationship with the defense. Miller said he’s a guy who helps them get better.
After going through what he went through at Georgia Tech, and everything that came after, maybe a guy with the life experience Mills has serves as a potentially positive influence for other guys in that running back room.
Held was asked if he would look to take the same approach as last season, when Ozigbo got the lion’s share of the carries, or if he’d go by-committee more. He said the staff wants two or three guys, just like last season when things began with Ozgibo, Maurice Washington and Greg Bell all filling roles.
But Bell ran afoul of the coaches over his usage and left. The hope is that won’t be the case with Mills this time around.
“I like his attitude, I like his work ethic,” Held said. “I’ve just got to keep fine-tuning him on all the nuances of the offense — you’re not going to get it done in five days — but I like where he’s at.”
Other Running Back-Related Notes
>> Mentioned above, but Wan’Dale Robinson took a good deal of handoffs just in the first 30 minutes of practice the media watched Wednesday morning. The split was probably close to 50-50 with regards to his time as a runner and a receiver. Held said his usage as a runner is going to evolve, most likely dependent on what happens with the rest of Held’s room.
“He’s definitely going to play running back. He’s really, really talented at running back,” Held said. “We’ll see. He definitely can do both. He’s done a good job up until this point.”
>> Washington was on the practice field Wednesday like normal. Held said he’s worked to add some muscle (his metabolism is really fast so his weight can yo-yo because of it) and has been good about handling his football business.
“He’s been dialed-in in meetings, dialed in to where he’s supposed to be, dialed in on the practice field,” Held said. “The other stuff is the other stuff, he just has to worry about what he can control right now and that’s being out on the field and helping his teammates, being a good teammate and getting better himself.”
>> Held really likes freshman Rahmir Johnson, the former Bergen Catholic (NJ) runner.
“I’ve told everybody, keep an eye on Rahmir Johnson. He’s got a chance. He’s a good player. I’ve just got to get him to cut it loose every time, but he’s got really good speed, he’s got sweet feet,” Held said.
The challenge right now is getting Johnson to not dip his toes in the water, but dive in and embrace the “No Fear of Failure” motto.
“I don’t care if he makes a mistake, I want him to go 100 miles an hour, because his gift is speed and feet, he has the ability to really run and he’s soft on his feet,” Held said. “He can jump and then go. Early on he kinda was going and tip-toeing through and ‘I’m making sure I’m not going to make a mistake,’ and then two days ago he freaking hit it and it was 60 yards. That’s what I want him to do, is not worry about making a mistake.”
>> There isn’t currently a timeline for Ronald Thompkins Jr. to return from a knee injury suffered at the beginning of his senior high school season.
“I’m liking the returns I’m hearing from the medical staff on him. Trust me, when he is cleared, I am throwing him in the mix,” Held said. “I’m not going to do too much with him but I’m going to give him a chance to go out there and play, because he is as talented as anybody and if he wouldn’t have gotten hurt, he would have had everybody in America recruiting him. I’m glad he’s here, he’s had a good attitude, you can see the weight he’s put on and I’m getting good returns. I’m not going to throw him in the deep end but I’m going to definitely build him up to see what he can do to have a chance to potentially play this fall. We’ll see.
“I’m telling you, I really like the opportunity that he will have in the room.”
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.