Sophomore Braylon Heard is going back on offense, at least on a part-time basis, in response to Aaron Green's transfer to TCU. Brian Christopherson of the Lincoln Journal-Star reports that Heard is going to practice as both an I-back and nickel defensive back. Bo Pelini told Christopherson that they would play him at both spots and "we're going to let it play out." It sounds like it's going to be an extended trial to see where Heard fits in best:
"He thought he made good strides and put a lot of work in at nickel and didn't want to waste it. And I think he's confident (at running back). Obviously, he played a whole year at the running back position. We think he can really help us there. … We're going to see how it goes for a while, and then make a decision, obviously sit down with him and see how it goes."
A lot of fans and media members thought Heard should switch back to I-back full-time. I leaned toward leaving him on defense if the transition was working out. I thought about it this way: Nebraska needs playmakers on defense more than the Huskers need a third-string I-back. If Heard is one of Nebraska's better defenders in the secondary, play him there. If Rex Burkhead or Ameer Abdullah were to suffer a significant injury, Heard always could move back at that time - especially if incoming freshman Imari Cross or transfer Mike Marrow aren't ready to contribute. He's an insurance policy.So Nebraska is hedging their bets here. The upside is that playing Heard at both positions gives the Huskers added roster flexibility (especially on road trips); the downside is that it'll be tough for Heard to report to two assistants in two completely different roles. That being said, it's possible to customize his reps into specific situations. Perhaps this is an indication that Nebraska wants to make sure they have the personnel to run the "diamond" formation with three I-backs. Last year, it was usually with Burkhead, Abdullah, and Green, but Heard most certainly practiced the scheme. While Nebraska probably could utilize someone like Jamal Turner in this formation, I'm sure Nebraska would prefer Turner to focus on mastering his base receiver position first. That alone kept Turner off the field a lot last season.
Maybe it's also a thought that Nebraska feels confident in their personnel in the secondary. Certainly the secondary was a position of great concern last season, and since the spring game was cancelled, we have no way to prove that or not.
How long will Nebraska hedge their bets here? It'll depend on how both positions progress this fall. If Cross or Marrow justify playing time, the need to keep Heard on offense lessens dramatically. Likewise, if the secondary solidifies, the need to keep Heard in the secondary also lessens. Ideally, this decision will give Heard two ways to earn playing time and contribute to the team...but only if he's sufficiently prepared for both roles. That will be the biggest concern, and the worst case scenario is that Heard spends more time on the bench because he's not ready to play in either role.