LINCOLN — Asked to pick his most memorable game from 2012, Nebraska fullback C.J. Zimmerer opts for the 32-23 win against Penn State. He didn't have a carry and the Huskers ran for 267 yards.
What's memorable are the kinds of plays offensive coordinator Tim Beck called to gain those yards. Toss plays. Iso plays. Power plays. The kind that needed Zimmerer, just as the senior from Omaha Gross was emerging as Nebraska's top backfield blocker.
“In the film room, it looked pretty decent,” Zimmerer said.
After the season, running backs coach Ron Brown communicated the same praise to the fullbacks. Pretty decent, Zimmerer remembers.
Zimmerer and walk-on Andy Janovich are locked in a position battle to help get the fullback blocking beyond that. Janovich, a sophomore from Gretna who played as a true freshman and looks to be in line for an open scholarship, said the competition so far is strong.
“Me and C.J. are going at it,” Janovich said. “It's been fun to get back into it — get a little hitting in. Collisions.”
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Through six spring practices, Zimmerer holds the edge. He's working with the No. 1 unit, and he may get more work since junior I-back Ameer Abdullah tweaked his knee and will likely sit out the rest of spring. Janovich works with the No. 2 unit while Mike Marrow, who started two games at fullback last year, works with the running backs. Walk-on Carson Collins, a redshirt freshman from Omaha Burke, is another fullback in the mix.
Beck's offense uses fullbacks in a variety of ways, from the lead back in an I-formation, to one of the split backs flanking quarterback Taylor Martinez in the shotgun, to an H-back sliding in motion across a formation. With the departure of tight end Ben Cotton, the Huskers' best edge pass blocker last year on play-action, a fullback could perhaps flare out and pick up extra blitzers, as well.
The 6-foot, 230-pound Zimmerer — who played sparingly until last season, when he appeared in all 14 games and started one — said knowing all the intricacies of the position helps, for now, to hold off the 6-1, 225-pound Janovich.
“That's really my edge,” said Zimmerer, who finished with 18 yards rushing and 6 yards receiving last year. “Andy's probably a little bit better athlete than I am, but I got that mental part of the game down. I try to push that part as much as I can.”
And when Janovich hits a snag, Zimmerer assists him.
“C.J. works just as hard as anyone,” said Janovich, who last year ran for 6 yards and caught two passes for 13 yards. “He still helps me with plays and everything every day. Any certain play, really. He knows the entire scheme. Not just what the fullback's doing, but what the running back's doing and what the line's doing and why they're doing it. He knows the importance of plays and everyone's job. Where the guard's going. Footwork.”
Still 19, Janovich is going through his first spring camp. At this time last year, he was finishing a second straight perfect season as a Gretna wrestler. He misses that sport a little — “I say I don't, but I kind of do a little bit” — but embraces the year-round grind of college football.
“It's definitely a full-time job now,” Janovich said. “Lifting. Running. Spring practice. Still lifting on the off days. Even the weekends, we're going at it in scrimmages.”
Said Zimmerer: “If I'm not on my game, Andy's going to go right past me.”
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