How do the Huskers decide who to redshirt? They start with looking at special teams

Wan'Dale Robinson is one of 10 true freshmen to appear in games so far for the Huskers. 

LINCOLN — If Ryan Held has his way, Rahmir Johnson won’t be redshirting this season.

The running backs coach sees the true freshman improving every day. He’s one of the fastest players on the team. His reads and cuts are improving, and he’s starting to show it consistently in practice.

“I absolutely think in Big Ten play he can help our football team and I think he will help our football team,” Held said. “In a critical moment, he’s going to make a big run or a big play.”

Johnson made his debut Saturday, running three times for 9 yards. He can still appear in three more games and keep his redshirt.

Another freshman back, Ronald Thompkins, is “probably not going to get much (field time)” as he continues to recover from a knee injury, Held said.

When analyzing who might redshirt or play early, Held said the first thing Nebraska looks at is special teams. If a Husker can be a “four-core” guy — contributing on each kickoff and punt unit — and provide occasional relief on offense or defense, then he will likely be on the field sooner. Coaches may even scheme when to play someone based on a specific opponent and matchup.

Ten true freshmen have appeared in games so far. Running back/receiver Wan’Dale Robinson, outside linebacker Garrett Nelson and defensive back Quinton Newsome have each played in three contests, with the latter two primarily on special teams. Safety Noa Pola-Gates and walk-on kicker Dylan Jorgensen have been in two games. Johnson, receiver Darien Chase, linebacker Luke Reimer, offensive lineman Bryce Benhart and safety Myles Farmer have appeared in one game.

“We look at the guys that we really would like to redshirt if possible,” Held said. “Then we strategize it to where we project this guy in this pod of games, this pod of games, this pod of games.”

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