It didn’t look good for Rahmir Johnson on Nebraska’s depth chart at running back last season, but position coach Ryan Held had a heart to heart with the New Jersey native, and it made a difference.
Johnson, who has 157 rushing yards and has been the main back for the past two games, had his ups and downs and missing spring practice didn’t help matters, Held said. But Johnson didn’t quit, and he’s getting rewarded for his work with playing time.
“I told him that he needs to go out every day and prove he can be consistent and be able to show that he can help this football team,” Held said during appearance on ‘Sports Nightly’ Thursday night ahead of the Northwestern game. “I grade every play that they do in practice, and when you come in every day and I grade it, it was more and more that I saw a lot of consistent play by him, week in and week out at practice. It came to a point where I’m like, this guy’s earned it.”
Held said he wants more explosive plays from his room, too. To help teach and show his running backs how to take advantage of plays when they reach the second level, he’s shown highlights of former Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah against Florida Atlantic.
The Huskers’ red-zone offense is scoring at a 79.17% clip, which ranks 9th in the Big Ten. Held added that the coaching staff is always thinking of ways to be more efficient once the offense gets inside the 20-yard line, but also added it gets to be a chess match when the defense knows it doesn’t have as much field to cover.
“Obviously we have to go down and get those points when we get in the red zone, because when it gets tighter, there’s not as much field to defend,” Held said, “so we gotta be able to have those plays executed and be able to be make and finish drives, whether that’s with a field goal or a touchdown.”
Held, who is also the Huskers’ recruiting coordinator, is excited for the night environment that will also help in the recruiting department. Nebraska is hosting a handful of prospects on Saturday.
“We’re very fired up to be able to showcase what he have to offer if a kid decides to come to Nebraska,” Held said. “There’s no better venue, no better environment and fan base in America than ours.”
Nebraska and Northwestern are set for a 6:30 p.m. kick.
More news and notes:
>> Held said USC transfer RB Markese Stepp, who had 101 yards rushing in the win over Fordham but just 10 total carries combined in two games since, including one at Michigan State, has had some inconsistencies in practice and games, which has impacted his playing time.
>> True freshman running back Gabe Ervin Jr. is doing well and is “fixed” following surgery for a season-ending injury he suffered at Oklahoma, according to Held. “He’s always got a smile on his face and he’s very focused to get back and be ready for spring football.”
>> Zone blocking is good against defensive lines that twist and move a lot, Held said. Pin-and-pull, however, is a scheme that hasn’t been run much—it was last season—and is something the coaching staff feels they didn’t “want to dabble in much” this season. Now that the Huskers are in Big Ten play from here on out, Held said that Nebraska won’t see nearly as much movement the rest of the season as it did at Oklahoma.
>> Held uses the great running back tradition at Nebraska in his recruiting pitches. “Obviously we want to recruit the next great one and we want to keep developing the kids we have in our program.”