Nebraska head coach Scott Frost announced Monday that sophomore running back Maurice Washington will not play against Indiana and isn’t currently with the team. That move raised concerns about the depth of Nebraska’s running back group.
However, the Husker coaching staff isn’t concerned.
“I’ve always had the philosophy [that] I don’t worry who I don’t have, I’m going to work with the guys that are in my room,” running backs coach Ryan Held said.
In Nebraska’s first seven games, Washington formed a backfield trio with junior Dedrick Mills and freshman Wan’Dale Robinson. Those two running backs will be expected to step up in the coming weeks. Held drew a parallel between Mills and Devine Ozigbo, who struggled to start the 2018 season but finished the year strong.
Meanwhile, Robinson has been recovering from an ankle injury he sustained against Minnesota. Offensive coordinator Troy Walters said Robinson practiced today and he will feature more as a running back moving forward. Along with Robinson, freshmen Rahmir Johnson and Brody Belt, along with senior Wyatt Mazour may receive additional playing time.
“It’s all hands on deck,” Walters said. “All those running backs have had a good week of practice and they know when their number is called, they need to step up.”
Among those three, Mazour has seen the field the most in 2019, picking up eight carries for 31 yards. Held said he has no qualms putting Mazour in the game because he can trust the senior to know what he’s doing and said “he’s going to run through a wall for Nebraska football.”
On Tuesday, Mazour said he will be ready to feature prominently against Indiana because he has approached every game expecting to get a lot of reps. On the other hand, freshman Rahmir Johnson has only played in two games as the Nebraska coaching staff has been attempting to preserve his redshirt.
Despite the current lack of depth, Held said the coaching staff would still like to redshirt Johnson, but his next two games may serve as an audition of sorts.
“The redshirt thing is really nice because it gives us some options to see what he can do over the last two games and after that, the decision will be made,” Held said.
Meanwhile, Johnson is ready to hit the field after receiving just three carries so far this year, and isn’t bothered by the idea of burning his redshirt.
"If the time comes where they need me to burn a redshirt, I'll be ready for it," he said on Tuesday. "I'm not complaining."
While Mazour may have the experience of multiple seasons under the current coaching staff, Held said it takes time for running backs to gain knowledge of the system. As a true freshman, Johnson has been learning the system in practice, and it’s time for him to display his level of understanding.
“I really like him a lot, I think he can be a guy that can help us,” Held said. “I think I’ve said that before but now in our situation, he’ll be given a chance to get out there and do some things.”