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Nebraska Football

Questions at Running Back Create Opportunity for Huskers This Spring

March 6, 2019
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As spring football get rolling for Nebraska, one of the storylines to watch is how the running back position develops. It will be a strange spring in some ways because once the summer hits, Dedrick Mills, Rahmir Johnson and Ronald Thompkins will all join the group. Since none of those guys are at Nebraska now for spring football, it presents a unique opportunity for the players on campus to make an impact.

Another added layer to the equation is that presumed starter Maurice Washington will be a “limited participant” in spring practice according to Coach Scott Frost. 

So, how will all the questions and uncertainty at running back be managed this spring? According to running backs coach Ryan Held, the Huskers will have options.

“Wan’Dale [Robinson] being here, he’s learning the receiver position but he gives us flexibility at running back. Miles Jones too,” Held said on Tuesday. “That’s why you want to recruit some hybrid guys that really double your depth. So those two guys will definitely contribute to my room.

“Then obviously you have Jaylin Bradley and Wyatt {Mazour] that will be there. Brody Belt as a redshirt walk-on that’s put on some weight, he had a really good first day. He’s really smart and knows the offense. Then we have Austin Hemphill and a couple other guys. We will mix and match to get through practice just like you would with injuries or something like that.”

The group is not short on talent overall but lacks a lot of game experience. Mills actually has the most carries (152) in Division I football of anyone on Nebraska’s roster. Quarterback Adrian Martinez is second with 140 carries and Washington is third with 77. That means there will be a lot of new faces who are vying for playing time next season at running back, and that’s good for a team that likes to run the football. 

With all those new faces, does Held believe he will need to change his coaching approach?

“My standard doesn’t change,” he said. “I don’t care if you are true freshman. When Rahmir Johnson gets here, Ronald Thompkins gets here, Dedrick Mills gets here, I’m going to hold them to the same standard. I expect us to have a way better year than we did last year even though Devine had a really good senior year. I expect us to be lights out in the fall. That’s my expectation. 

“The good thing about this offense if you look historically with Coach Frost at Oregon and what we had at UCF, young guys can come into this offense and be able to play early. We can manipulate the system a little bit in terms of some different concepts that we do when a certain guy is in the game, meaning from a pass protection standpoint to getting a guy out in a free release situation so that allows us to play new guys. We can also play as many guys as we can that go in there and create mismatches which is what we are trying to do.”

Nebraska fans have seen what Held can do with talent in his room by how he handled and improved the running backs in 2018. This year will present a different challenge for him, which will be a change from last season.

What doesn’t change? The standard of excellence that’s expected.

 
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