The Petey Post: Assessing the Field in the Backfield
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

The Petey Post: Assessing the Field in the Backfield

August 21, 2017

Hey, guess what? It’s the second week of the Petey Post!
They let me come back and do this thing again. I know, I’m just as surprised as
you are. After contrasting Nebraska with an old rival last week, this week
I thought I’d stick to a similar theme. So, congrats, today is all about the
Iowa Hawkeyes.

Just kidding. Please keep reading.


We’re talking running backs this week. I’m going to break
down what each of the four backs in Nebraska’s stable brings to the table, and look
at the argument for each becoming the featured runner. Let’s get started.

Devine Ozigbo

Of the four, Ozigbo feels, to me, like the most natural
option in Nebraska’s backfield.

At 6-feet, 230 pounds, the Sachse, Texas, native has the
physical frame to be an every-down back at this level. He’s been a two-year
backup to this point in his Husker career but he’s shown flashes of something
special. Last season, Ozigbo popped Fresno State for 103 yards and two scores
on 17 carries in the Huskers’ opener. Two weeks later, he had 95 (important)
yards against Oregon with another score.

The powerful I-back possesses the ability to turn up field
in a hurry. His tape showcases a decisive runner that won’t dance around or try
to get too cute behind the line of scrimmage. I see a one-cut type player that
finds his hole, hits it hard and welcomes contact. That’s the kind of running
back that does better in a featured role, when he can get into the groove of the
game and wear on opponents.

In two seasons, he’s carried the ball 15 times or more in a
game four times. In those four outings, he’s averaged just under five yards a
carry. Throw in a seven-carry, 70-yard performance against Illinois his
freshman season and a seven-carry, 66-yard showing against Tennessee last
season and the intrigue is there. His numbers would have been even more
impressive last season if not for a nagging injury in the back half of the
year.

He can catch it out of the backfield (a must in this
new-look Nebraska offense) and can turn on the jets in a hurry.

via GIPHY

He’s also got the upper body strength to break tackles and
keeps his legs churning even with defenders hanging on him.

via GIPHY

“He’s focused on getting the starting job and he’s been very
determined this whole camp,” running backs coach Reggie Davis said earlier
during camp. “He’s right around where we want him right now, right around 230
[pounds]. That’s what’s good for him and if he stays at 230, that’s when he’s
at his best.”

Ozigbo would be my choice, if I had Mike Riley’s job, but I
don’t (much to the joy of pretty much everyone everywhere) and unfortunately
for the junior, he appears to be looking up at our next guy.

Tre Bryant

Tre Bryant, a sophomore from Christian Brothers College in
St. Louis, Missouri, is the trending name in the Huskers’ backfield this
offseason.

All throughout summer and into fall camp, Bryant has pushed
for the starting job and he’s received a large number of first team reps.
Fellow Hail Varsity stud Greg Smith sees him as the “most complete” back of the
group and his former high school coaches aren’t surprised to see him pushing
for such a large role so soon.

Bryant too has decent hands out of the backfield, and has
shown the ability to both run between the tackles and bounce things outside.
His do-it-all ability figures to afford him every opportunity to take the job
and run with it (haha) once the season actually starts on Sep. 2.

In 2016, his true freshman campaign, Bryant racked up 173
yards on 43 carries. For you math whiz kids at home, that’s exactly four yards
per carry. For the less numerically inclined folks like myself, that means,
theoretically, Bryant can be relied on to keep the offense ahead of the chains
and on schedule (another big thing for the offense).

Granted, 43 carries over the course of an entire season is a
small sample size, but Bryant pairs upside with a “been there, done that” mentality
that can’t really be matched by any other guys in the Nebraska backfield. If
the coaching staff feels like it knows what its going to get from Ozigbo and
prefers to use him in a change-of-pace manner, Bryant would be the guy to turn
loose.

You’ll probably wind up seeing Bryant run over more people.

via GIPHY

And run away from more people.

via GIPHY

There are a few questions with the 5-foot-11 back, though. A
knee injury has cost him some practice time and set him back a bit, and there’s
always the ball-security and pass-protection issues that flare up in young
guys. But, if Bryant can, say, show out against Arkansas State, the job might
be his to lose moving forward.

Mikale Wilbon

If Ozigbo is my guy, and Bryant is the presumed
front-runner, Wilbon has all the intrigue.

The junior from Chicago, Illinois, is like a bowling ball.
But in a good way.

Wilbon is listed at 5-foot-9 (which is either generous on
the part of Nebraska’s staff or I’ve grown since my last physical and my doctor
was wrong) and is a whole two inches shorter than Bryant, yet they’re listed at
the same weight. The difference? Lean muscle, and lots of it. Wilbon’s upper body is impressively
built and he looks to have the leg strength to fight for those extra 2 or 3
yards on any given play.

Also, Wilbon probably has the fastest feet of the bunch and has a
good bit of potential as a receiver in the screen game. He just doesn’t have a
ton of experience and is, yet again, trying to separate himself from a pack.
For his part, Wilbon has tried to work on his route running, coverage reading
and pass protecting this summer – all things that should be music to offensive
coordinator Danny Langsdorf’s ears.

If Wilbon can translate a fall camp in which he’s gotten
legitimate run with the first unit into consistent playing time in 2017, it’ll
probably be due in large part to his versatility as a runner and pass-catcher out of the
backfield. Last season, he had 89 yards on 15 carries, with a career-long
32-yard scamper against Northwestern, as well as 34 yards receiving.

Wilbon has seen such little run in Lincoln, he doesn’t even
have a highlights package on YouTube. Fear not though, there are a few nuggets
to be found in his high school tape. Like this nifty move where he makes a pair
of kids whiff real hard on a tackle.

via GIPHY

Spoiler alert: Wilbon scored that touchdown.

It’s likely Wilbon will get some run in Nebraska’s season opener
against the Red Wolves, if anything because the coaching staff still hasn’t
decided on a starter and I see that first game as more an extension of camp and
preparation for Oregon on Sep. 9. It’s also just good to reward hard work, and
Wilbon has put in a ton of that over the summer.

Jaylin Bradley

We have reached the wild card. The 6-feet, 180-pound,
Bellevue West product has gotten some solid reviews from coaches during fall
camp. The top-rated skill player in the state of Nebraska for 2016 doesn’t
look like a freshman
, not according to the coaching staff. And they’re more
than pleased with his work so far.

“We’re happy with what we’ve got,” Davis said. “He’s what we
thought he was and we’re happy with that.”

And if Bradley is going to see the field often this season,
excelling in the nitty-gritty areas are going to be a must. Davis said the
freshman has done a “very good job” in pass protection situations and isn’t
afraid to stick his nose into the action and mix it up with a few linebackers.

“When he has the ball in his hands, he’s explosive and fun
to see,” Langsdorf said back when camp first opened.

Bradley possesses that unique blend of power and speed that
makes him an interesting look in the offense. Still, his role this season –
should he avoid a redshirt and everyone above him stays healthy – would probably
be confined to special teams with some touches trickling down from there. But,
if Nebraska views him as the future at tailback, and this season truly as a
transition year, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Bradley’s workload ramp up as
the season progresses.

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