There was a sort of strange silence after Rahmir Johnson first said the words “wideback.” That’s the position he described himself as to media after last Thursday’s practice.
He handled each follow-up that was peppered at him. Are there other widebacks? Who does he look to as inspiration for that role? Is Brian Westbrook, a player offensive coordinator Mark Whipple likened Johnson to, an example of a wide back?
Yes, Zach Weinmaster. He looked up to Tavon Austin, De’Anthony Thomas and Christian McCaffrey. Absolutely, he could see himself doing something like the Eagles’ great did.
Johnson’s taken more reps at receiver recently, a move prompted by the first scrimmage. Coaches asked Johnson if he’d mind taking some reps as slot receiver. Johnson, keep in mind, took two of his 16 catches last year to pay dirt. He jumped at the opportunity.
“I’ll do anything to help this team win,” he said. “That’s what I’m doing.”
Secretly, he said, this is the kind of position he’s wanted to be in ever since he got to Lincoln. While adjusting to some of the more receiver-specific aspects in practice have been difficult, he’s credited the receiver group and coaches for helping him along.
“They’re teaching me,” he said. “I’m a fast learner though so there’s stuff I’m picking up on.”
Of course, that movement in practice doesn’t diminish the possibility of him lining up behind or beside the quarterback. Offensive coordinator Mark Whipple said last Thursday that no definitive No. 1 guy has emerged out of the running backs and that there’s a group of five, including Johnson, that could see major minutes.
Johnson also said a consistent spread of talent among the backs makes this possibly the most competitive running back group he’s seen in Lincoln.
As a redshirt freshman last year, he finished second on the team in carries and yards despite missing the final two games due to injury. He now finds himself as the veteran of a young, hungry stable of running backs. That status has helped him embrace a leadership role.
“I’ve been here the longest, I’ve seen it all,” he said. “We’ve got a great room, everybody can play.”
A willingness to blur position lines doesn’t stop on offense. Early last week, special teams coach Bill Busch praised Johnson’s willingness to step up — “He does everything for us,” Busch said.
The wideback took the compliment in stride.
“It just shows how highly coach thinks of me and I look forward to playing on special teams and giving it my all,” he said.
One way or another, Johnson will likely get his chance on the field. Whipple and Busch both praised his willingness to jump in wherever needed and head coach Scott Frost said Johnson’s done a lot of good things in camp.
And Johnson’s ready to play a new season just like everyone else. He spent the last two games of 2021 on the sidelines with his eyes to the future. Now the future’s here and he aims to make the most of it at whatever position.