As camp ramps up, Huskers suddenly sport crowded backfield

August 6, 2018

The complexion of a position group can change quickly.

Just ask Ryan Held.

The Nebraska running backs coach still has some question marks in his meeting room, but he also is suddenly flush with not only the group he finished spring ball tutoring, but also a pair of intriguing additions.

Well, not exactly additions. Tre Bryant’s entering his third season as a Husker and Maurice Washington has been signed since February. NU, though, wasn’t exactly sure it would have either at its disposal this fall. Bryant because of a longstanding knee injury and subsequent surgery, and Washington because he spent the summer in academic limbo.

Now it’s the first week of preseason camp and both are participating in practice. Each of NU’s three sessions to date have been closed to media — they all will be except for two short open periods — but photos published by the school show that Washington and Bryant have both been involved at least to some degree early on in camp.

Their potential availability for the Sept. 1 season opener against Akron only makes the competition for playing time steeper for Husker running backs like Greg Bell, Jaylin Bradley, Devine Ozigbo, Mikale Wilbon and Wyatt Mazour.

“As many reps as we get in practice, the guys that run a lot — defensive backs, receivers, running backs — if you don’t have a lot of guys taking the reps, you end up with some minor injuries, so I’m glad we have the depth we have, and it’ll sort that stuff out,” head coach Scott Frost said in his Thursday pre-camp news conference.”

That depth presently includes six scholarship backs plus Mazour and former walk-on fullbacks like Austin Rose.

Frost also said he thought freshman Miles Jones would work practice repetitions both as a receiver and as a running back. In this offensive system, ‘Duck-R’ playmakers like Jones, Tyjon Lindsey, JD Spielman and several others will motion in and out of the backfield.

Even with a smorgasbord of options, though, reliability is still critical.

“I’ve got to have a guy that can go six or seven or eight plays in a row and not substitute him out just because of our tempo,” Held said late last week on the “Sports Nightly” radio program. ”… At the end of the day, I need a guy that’s consistent, that I can put out there on first down or third down, doesn’t matter, and be able to execute the offense. When you’re trying to go fast, you don’t substitute and it’s hard to get a guy in there because (if you substitute), now the defense can substitute.”

So the question that now may be cloudier than it’s been at any other point this offseason: Who will emerge as the top option out of the backfield? For the first time, though, the question comes because of a plethora of options.

It’s likely, even certain, that many different numbers will get called. Perhaps Bell will build on his solid spring and grab hold as a three-down option. Reporters didn’t see much action in the spring, but Bradley, the sophomore from Bellevue West, seems a natural fit for the system, as does Mazour. Don’t count out the senior pair, who each know this is their last shot.

Then Bryant, who Frost said jumped off the tape as a “special player” before his season was halted in Week 2 last fall, will try to stay healthy and Washington will try to play catch-up.

Only time will tell, of course, but NU must feel better about its backfield than it did even two weeks ago.

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