LINCOLN — It's not just the Nebraska depth chart that would suggest Terrell Newby and Adam Taylor have a chance to contribute this season.
It's also the recent history of Husker freshman I-backs.
Ľ Rex Burkhead was NU's second-leading rusher in 2009 with 346 yards, despite missing five games with a foot injury.
Ľ Ameer Abdullah, Aaron Green and Braylon Heard combined for nearly 100 carries behind Burkhead in 2011, when Burkhead was All-Big Ten with a career-high 1,357 yards.
Ľ Imani Cross got his chances last season and produced 324 yards and seven touchdowns, despite starting the year No. 4 on the depth chart.
“Sometimes at the running back position, it's a little more instinctive,” coach Bo Pelini said Saturday. “There's maybe not quite as much to learn.”
Newby and Taylor joined the Huskers with impressive credentials — and an opportunity. NU returns only Abdullah and Cross as scholarship players at I-back, a position thinned by the transfers of Green and Heard. Walk-ons King Frazier and Graham Nabity got some work during spring practice, but it's likely inevitable that one or both newcomers will play this year.
“I like both of those guys, and both of them have a chance to help us,” offensive coordinator Tim Beck said of Newby and Taylor. “Two different style of runners, but they're both good at what they do ... and they aren't bad at the other things.”
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Taylor, 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, is the bigger back. He ran for 2,754 yards and 45 touchdowns as a senior in Katy, Texas, when his team won the Class 5A Division II state championship.
Newby is more of a blazer, listed at 5-10 and 180. He posted 2,000-yard seasons as a junior and senior at Chaminade High in West Hills, Calif., rushing for a combined 79 touchdowns those years.
While both freshmen have a long way to go, they “had a real good summer,” running backs coach Ron Brown said.
“Those older guys did a great job of schooling them up on some things,” Brown said. “It's going to be a competitive group of guys, no doubt.”
Pelini said the biggest challenge for freshman I-backs is to handle pass protection that is far more complicated than in high school. He also shrugged at the notion that it's easier to use a freshman at I-back than at other positions.
“I'm comfortable with playing anybody who shows me that we can trust them and that they're ready to go,” Pelini said.
As past seasons demonstrate, the freshman I-backs should be ready to go at any time.
“I didn't know Rex Burkhead was going to get hurt last year,” Brown said. “I didn't know Aaron Green was going to transfer or Braylon Heard was going to transfer or Mike Marrow was going to leave. But I know one thing: The guys who are extremely committed guys, who are extremely hard workers, who have added not only to the running back position but the special teams, are still here.”
World-Herald staff writer Nick Rubek contributed to this report.