Special teams and Rahmir Johnson.
Those were two of the bigger topics of Thursday’s post-practice availability. In some ways, the two went hand in hand in the discussions because of the role the running backs are playing on special teams so far through fall camp.
According to special teams coordinator Bill Busch, it’s the Nebraska running backs that are working the hardest. Johnson has even been moved to the front line on kickoff return because of the work he’s put in so far. It’s one of the toughest parts of special teams, per Busch, with the coach adding that those he picks to be up there “are your real dudes.”
“Some wouldn’t think this but when he got moved from returner to front line, that’s a promotion,” Busch told reporters on Thursday. “That’s what you think of somebody, when you move them up there.”
Busch said that Johnson is part of the “core four” in everything special teams does, adding that he has “so much respect” for the running back. Johnson—who is heading into his fourth season with the Huskers—played in the first 10 games of the 2021 season before an injury sidelined him for the final two. In those 10 games, he ranked second on the roster with 112 carries, 495 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns. He was second with two receiving touchdowns and sixth with 16 catches and 197 receiving yards.
Applewhite praised Johnson too, but that doesn’t mean the running backs coach is ready to name his RB1. He’d like to, of course, but he doesn’t want to make “an easy decision.” Applewhite added that the “competition has been unbelievable” and that Nebraska “is going to have a real good running back” as a result.
Back to special teams for a moment because it doesn’t sound like Nebraska will only have a good running back if Busch has any say. He also seems confident those players are going to turn into great special teams players too.
“You keep hearing running back names,” Busch said. “They’re covering kicks, they’re blocking for people, they’re also running, they’re doing all phases.”
More news and notes:
>> Speaking of special teams, linebacker Luke Reimer added that Busch has “definitely put a great edge on the special teams.”
“He comes into meetings every morning firing guys up,” Reimer added. “Coach Busch has definitely put a new spin on special teams. The collective group has worked extremely hard in drills.”
>> As for Reimer’s health, he said he is 100% healthy after two surgeries for his hip and sports hernia this past spring.
To keep players healthy, inside linebackers coach Barrett Ruud intends to rotate the linebackers more in 2022.
“To keep those guys fresh throughout the year, you’ve got to take some hits off them,” Ruud said.
>> Freshmen running backs Emmett Johnson and Ajay Allen have been progressing well with Nebraska through fall camp so far. Applewhite noted that both have “very high football IQs.”
>> As for Gabe Ervin Jr.—who tore is ACL last year—he said he is now 100%. Ervin is in the running for that top back spot. Applewhite called it a “horse race.”
>> Ruud has been sporting a mustache through fall camp. He said it came from a bit of summer boredom, but now players are following his lead. Reimer, for example, also has a mustache. He said his decision was either to grow a mustache or to shave his head. He went with the mustache.
>> We have more from post-practice availability on YouTube.
Erin is the Deputy Editor and Digital Marketing Strategist for Hail Varsity. She has covered Nebraska athletics since 2012, which has included stops at Bleacher Report, Cox Media Group’s Land of 10, and even Hail Varsity (previously from 2012-2017). She has also been featured on the Big Ten Network, NET’s Big Red Wrap-Up, and a varsity of radio shows nationwide. When not covering the Huskers, Erin is probably at Chipotle.