Following the conclusion of Nebraska football’s spring practice season, The Daily Nebraskan is breaking down each position group and evaluating which players might make an impact in 2019. This is the second of nine installments.
Going into last season, there were questions about who would contribute at running back as that had been one area of weakness under ex-head coach Mike Riley. Those questions were answered with a 1,000-yard rushing season from then-senior Devine Ozigbo and a promising freshman campaign from Maurice Washington.
With Ozigbo graduating and Washington’s future in question, this position group is clouded with uncertainty, and spring practice did little to provide clarity as a few key pieces were not on campus.
One of these pieces is junior college transfer Dedrick Mills. Mills, the No. 1 JUCO running back recruit, appears to be a front-runner for the starting job as he’s had success at the college level before with Georgia Tech. While there, he ran for 771 yards and 12 touchdowns in only nine games.
He has the build of an every-down back and could be a bellcow for the Huskers this fall, similar to Ozigbo’s role near the end of last season.
Last year, Washington made an instant impact for the Huskers as he came in as a true freshman and contributed immediately. One of his biggest weaknesses was his size, as he was not big enough to take snaps on every down in the Big Ten. An offseason with strength and conditioning coach Zach Duval seemed like the recipe for success for Washington.
Since he has been dealing with a civil case in California, not only has he put his Nebraska future in doubt, but he has lost much of that offseason work. It is hard to talk about Washington at the moment because of the civil case, but if he were to play next season, then he will likely not have solved his biggest weakness.
Because of all of this, Washington, if he plays, will likely not start as the No. 1 running back on the roster, although he could take that role back as the season progresses.
There are a few other players on the depth chart who are intriguing, headlined by sophomore Jaylin Bradley.
In the spring game, Bradley was the leading rusher with 12 carries for 57 yards. Bradley played as a true freshman two seasons ago, but did not see the field in his second season leading to a redshirt. Because of this, Bradley was a breakout candidate in the spring.
His spring was solid if unspectacular. Bradley feels like a player who can add depth, but shouldn’t get many snaps if everyone is healthy. He feels similar to what Mikale Wilbon was last year, a solid player but not good enough to see the field unless needed.
A player in a similar position to Bradley is redshirt freshman Brody Belt. He was a relative unknown coming into the spring, but took the opportunity in front of him and has been one of the breakout stars of the spring.
The walk-on from Millard West had a solid spring game with 13 rushes for 53 yards and two receptions for 19 yards. He will likely be another depth player who won’t see much of the field, but could be a capable back-up player.
Other players who fill this similar depth role are senior Wyatt Mazour and redshirt freshman Miles Jones.
Lastly, two recruits from the 2019 recruiting class, Ronald Thompkins and Rahmir Johnson, could contribute.
Thompkins is coming off an ACL tear in his senior season. Because of this, there is a good chance he will not play much this fall if he is not needed.
Johnson is more of a candidate to play immediately. He comes in as a highly regarded 3-star recruit. The 5-foot-10 back ran for 1,334 yards and 12 touchdowns as a senior at Bergen Catholic in New Jersey. He will not be on campus until the fall, so if he is to contribute early he will need to make a statement in fall practice.
Overall, there is no clear-cut No. 1 running back. Mills fits the bill, but it was only last year the Huskers had a top JUCO recruit in Greg Bell that didn’t pan out. Washington has shown he is capable, but who knows if he even plays next season. The rest are uncertain commodities that will need to be sorted through.
This spring did little to clear up the running back position, and it appears like it may not be decided until the first game of the season.