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Huskers Spring Football: Previewing The Running Backs

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None of the returning RB's are Ameer Abdullah. In 2015, some fans may find that to be an unforgivable sin at times.

A Miami Hurricane prepares to eat a shoulder pad
A Miami Hurricane prepares to eat a shoulder pad
Eric Francis/Getty Images

The running back position in 2015 will combine the arrival of a new staff and philosophy with the graduation of an All-American who rewrote a chunk of the Nebraska Cornhuskers record books at running back for the Huskers. It's probably fair to say that this is as close to a clean slate as we will see at any position this season.

At the very least, the competition is wide open at this point. While we won't know for sure until the Spring Game, Mike Riley's history suggests that the Huskers will be going to more of a pro-style look. And the returning group of backs definitely has some potential, even if none of it can be considered Abdullah-level. Of course, Abdullah didn't have Abdullah-level potential when he got here either, so anything's possible, right?

Let's see what we've got:

Leaving: Just one. Ameer Abdullah. Shit. Okay, I'm fine now, let's move on.

Returning: Four RB's and one occasionally blocking but mostly ignored FB

Imani Cross - Sr - 215 career carries in three seasons, 5.4 YPC despite mostly being used in short yardage, had NU's longest carry from scrimmage in 2014
Terrell Newby - Jr - 121 carries, only 4.4 YPC in 2014
Adam Taylor - Soph - returning from a knee injury, ran for 2753 yards and 44 TD's as a Texas HS senior in 2012
Mikale Wilbon - RFr - 4-star RB from Chicago, Rivals250, turned heads on scout team in 2014
Andy Janovich - Sr - FB. Basically obsolete. Really wish we'd tried this kid at LB.

Incoming: One

Devine Ozigbo - Fr - 5'11 220, impressive offer list, good hands, 4.73 reported 40 time, needs to learn to lie better about 40 times, almost sure to redshirt.

No matter who gets the majority of the carries, there appears to be some nice depth at the position as well as mix of skills and body types.

Cross: One has to believe that Cross could benefit from a coaching change more than anyone. After being used as a short yardage back his freshman year, he made noticeable efforts to go to a sleeker frame and increase his speed & mobility. For those efforts, he was basically left in the role of short yardage hammer, but still managed to average over 5 YPC each season due to a knack for being able to break long runs when given a seam. Have to believe that he's seeing these circumstances as the biggest opportunity since Mox watched Lance Harbor's knee fold back.

(Vanderbeek, you are not forgotten, you beautiful son of a bitch.)

Newby: There was much talk about Newby looking impressive in practices leading up to 2014, but thanks to Abdullah 2.0, he was mostly limited to rest break and garbage carries. Has looked quick and solid but has yet to show anything eye-popping. This is definitely his big shot as well.

Taylor: X-factor RB #1. Redshirted his freshman year while Newby got the backup carries, then missed RFr year due to injury. Despite this, some writers say they wouldn't be surprised to see him come in and take over this season. Hmmm. If you were the guy picked to sit your first year and you followed that up with an injury and rehab, then I'm going to be very surprised to see you walk in and take over in your 3rd season. I know stranger things have happened. For example, Chase Daniel's still in the NFL and, unless they're keeping it quiet, his stupid face isn't punched by teammates on a regular basis. So, yeah, anything's possible.

Wilbon: X-Factor RB #2. When people talk RB's and Mike Riley, they inevitably bring up Jacquizz Rodgers. At times, it probably felt like he was the Buster Rhymes of Beaver country and started for seven or eight years. (On an unrelated note, since we've basically employed their entire former staff, do Nebraska fans have a greenlight to make Beaver jokes for a set period of time? Can we incorporate the funny hats? Anyone?) Anyway, Jacquizz was 5'6" 195 and good for 260-270 carries per year. Wilbon is 5'8" 195, and according to his HS coach carried the ball 30+ times per game when needed. Just saying.

Janovich: I'm going to go watch the Cory Schlesinger runs on YouTube again. And again.

Ozigbo: Seeing a guy who's 5'11" 220, "merely" a 3-star & listed with 4.73 40 time left many fans slightly less than impressed with this signing. However, looking at his HS coach's remarks (and yes, I know coaches tend to be more than a little biased), there might be something more there. As well as playing the bulldozer role, he also has excellent hands and allegedly has clocked a 10.9 100. His impressive offer list suggests that other college coaches might feel the same way.

Redshirt City - Harrison Jordan, Bo Kittrell, Murat Kuzu, Mitch McCann, Graham Nabity, Jordan Nelson, Austin Rose: One of these guys is going run for 117 yards in the spring game prompting the message boards to speculate that he will be on scholarship by fall and push for playing time. He won't.

Outlook:

There's a sentiment that Riley will seek a Jacquizz clone that will run it 20-25 times per game while his QB launches it 550 times. A look at the Beavers history suggests that he tends to shape the offense around his personnel rather than pounding square pegs into round holes. From 2006-2010- call those the Jacquizz years-, they tended to go slightly run heavy and from 2011-2014 - the Mannion Era-, they tended to pass more; considerably more at times.

It should also be considered that if camp breaks with no one unable to unseat, or at least challenge Armstrong, this offense will have to come down on more of a run-heavy split. If you've watched Armstrong throw for the last year and a half, checked his stats and watched Holiday Bowl passes repeatedly bounce off of Trojan defenders doing their impression of Featherstone from the Texas St. Armadillos, and disagree with that assessment? Well, I would be interested to see if there are any arguments out there that rely on more than pure hope.

It's also notable that the last three years - without a talent of Rodger's caliber - Riley basically went with a RB platoon of Storm Woods (6'0" 212)  and Terron Ward (5'7" 201). Both were also heavily involved in the passing game catching 25-45 each per season. As no one currently has a body of work suggesting that he is ready to grab all the carries, Riley has multiple options to fill both halves of a similar platoon. However, Cross has caught only 4 passes total and Newby was minimally involved as well. Does a demonstrated ability to catch it out of the backfield in high school get Ozigbo on the field sooner?

Post-Spring Depth Chart Predictions:

(BTW, this could flip completely and I wouldn't be shocked. I'm serious. There could be a platoon with any combination of Cross/Taylor and Newby/Wilbon. Or anyone could grab the top spot. Or Ozigbo could enter the mix with the best hands in the group. You've figured out by now that I'm totally guessing, right? Okay, then.)

Co-#1: Cross/Wilbon  
#3: Newby
#4: Taylor

FB: Gone the way of the T-formation perhaps.

Redshirt: Ozigbo

Thoughts?