Nebraska spring football consisted of just two practices before it was halted due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. Even so, conversations with head coach Scott Frost, several players and almost every assistant coach provided at least some information about every position on the field.
Over the next two weeks, the Journal Star is taking a position-by-position look at the Huskers, what was learned early in March and what to look for whenever NU returns to the field.
Scholarship players (5): Senior Dedrick Mills (six starts), redshirt freshmen Rahmir Johnson and Ronald Thompkins, freshmen Sevion Morrison and Marvin Scott III.
On the first day of spring football, every assistant coach spoke with reporters along with head coach Scott Frost and eight players.
Every coach except for running backs coach Ryan Held, that is. He and his wife, Kate, were busy welcoming their second child together.
At some point, when Held gets back to his running backs room on the other side of the coronavirus pandemic, he’ll be welcoming some new faces to his football family, too.
Those are freshmen Sevion Morrison and Marvin Scott III, summer arrivals who join a group that’s light on numbers but maybe not so hamstrung in terms of options.
In fact, it’s worth wondering if perhaps 2020 is shaping up to be as stable as the room has been so far in the Scott Frost era.
Remember, in 2018 NU thought Greg Bell would be its top option before, eventually, Devine Ozigbo surged to prominence a month into the season. Dedrick Mills pulled past Maurice Washington in similar fashion as 2019 proceeded.
But Mills, unlike Ozigbo, has another year of eligibility. Behind him, yes, there are many question marks. Redshirt freshman Rahmir Johnson impressed Frost on Day 1 of spring ball when he was the first player named among a group of young players looking to take steps forward.
"I thought several of them looked different than they did last fall,” Frost said, adding Johnson, “ran harder than I've seen him.” Ronald Thompkins is a wild card but it’s probably best not to assume he’ll jump right back in after multiple years of injury issues.
The two freshmen will be counted on to some degree, too. Maybe heavily. But Mills sure is a good starting point. He looked more and more comfortable in Nebraska’s zone-based scheme as the season went on. He rushed for 347 yards over NU’s final three games and averaged 5.2 yards per carry overall. Mills carried the ball 143 times last season a year after Ozigbo led the team with 155.
How much could that number jump for Mills, the Waycross, Georgia, native, with a healthy senior year?
OK, we’re a little short on (relatively) fresh running back-specific quotes, but one thing to keep in mind is that, in addition to the running backs themselves, NU has a trio of versatile options in sophomore Wan’Dale Robinson and freshmen Alante Brown and Will Nixon, all of whom have been running backs at times in their careers. Here’s Frost on Brown, a mid-year enrollee, after Day 1 of spring ball:
“He caught a slant (in practice) and took it to the house. It was a pretty sight. I think Alante's the type of guy we want in this offense — a guy who can play inside receiver, slot, play in the backfield if you need him. He's going to give us some versatility. He's got a lot to learn and a long way to go, just like a lot of us, but I think the early signs are positive."
Another potential benefit for a running backs room that will be short on experience behind Mills: a veteran offensive line. Frost talked about position groups having to complement each other, and this is a good example.
“I think we are really young in some positions we are going to be this fall,” he said. “And there are some other places that we have a ton of experience and a ton of leadership, so one of the keys for us is going to have to have our leadership from some of the veteran guys we have at some positions carry over and help other positions too.”