LINCOLN — Ryan Held isn’t ready to name a starter. Not even close.
But the Nebraska running backs coach said Wednesday that his position group is getting closer every day to being a team strength.
The assistant said he understands the air of uncertainty surrounding the unit, even if he doesn’t necessarily agree with it. After all, this is a unit that lost 1,000-yard rusher Devine Ozigbo and is breaking in a bevy of newcomers. Nobody in his room has proved himself consistently at the Division I level.
The closest is Dedrick Mills, the junior college transfer who was Georgia Tech’s leading rusher in 2016 with 771 yards (5.1 per carry). Held said the 5-foot-11, 220-pound Mills is a “big, strong, physical back” and “an animal in the weight room.” While the junior still has plenty of nuances to learn in the offense, he’s blended in well.
Mills is also earning a reputation as a no-nonsense runner who pounds any open hole like a hammer.
“He hits that thing downhill, which we have to have in this offense,” Held said. “I love that aspect. You’ve got to have two or three guys to tackle that guy.”
Maurice Washington, meanwhile, has continued to flash elite speed and receiving ability even as his legal situation plays out off it. A pair of true freshmen, Wan’Dale Robinson and Rahmir Johnson, also are establishing themselves through the first fall practices.
Robinson in particular will have a usage that “will kind of evolve as we go” between receiver and rusher.
Johnson busted a long run on a screen play during the portion of practice open to the media Wednesday and reminded why he is a renowned sprinter back in New Jersey.
“I told everybody, keep an eye on Rahmir Johnson,” Held said. “He’s got a chance. He’s a good player. I just gotta get him to cut it loose every time. But he’s got really good speed. He’s got sweet feet.”
Held said the main emphasis during fall evaluations is knowledge of the offense. After that is vision — who can make the cuts for big plays?
Offensive coordinator Troy Walters said there will be plenty of rushing opportunities to go around this season.
“Now, if a back gets hot, he’s gonna be playing,” Walters said. “But our offense, we’re gonna scheme, we’re gonna try and get as many guys on the field in different roles. ... We plan on playing a bunch of running backs, keep them fresh, keep them healthy and by the fourth quarter wear opposing defenses down.”
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