Nebraska Cornhuskers 2020 Spring Practice Positional Preview: Running Backs

Dedrick Mills is looking to build off of a strong finish to last season

It's no secret that Nebraska head coach Scott Frost wants a bevy of weapons available to throw at opposing defenses. Not only is he looking for dynamic quarterbacks to call the shots, but he also demands versatile receivers that can play any role demanded.

 

By the same token, while he isn't afraid to stick with a No. 1 back (See: Devine Ozigbo circa 2018), he enjoys the ability to switch things up with both power and pure athleticism. Even with a talent like Royce Freeman at Oregon, Frost still wanted variety. While young and inexperienced, he may finally have the options he's been seeking come the fall.

 

2019 Summary

 

Last season was one of trial by fire for assistant coach Ryan Held's room. While Dedrick Mills was unable to make the Husker faithful forget about Ozigbo, he did come on strong towards the end of the year and assert himself.

 

His most impressive game came against Wisconsin as he barreled and slashed his way to 188 yards and a touchdown.

 

While some were ready to give up on him following a less-than-inspiring first nine games save his 116-yard performance versus Northern Illinois, his final three proved he is a Big Ten-worthy back.

 

Sadly, we also witnessed the end of Maurice Washington's career in Lincoln. He showed flashes of a player that caused many to think he could be a true difference-maker, but often avoided contact and stretched runs horizontally as a result.

 

To make matters worse, Washington took plenty of damage eventually causing him to miss the final five games of the season.

 

Props have to go to Wan'Dale Robinson for providing the relief that he did as he incurred the wrath of tenacious defenses. In 10 games, he managed 340 yards and three touchdowns when no other real threat emerged to spell quarterback Adrian Martinez and Mills.

 

Key Departures: Maurice Washington

 

Key Returnees for 2019: Dedrick Mills (Sr.), Ronald Thompkins (RFr.), Rahmir Johnson (RFr.)

 

2020 Outlook

 

One can make an argument that Washington isn't a true major loss. While a tremendous athlete, he clearly didn't embrace the culture and vision Frost had for the program.

 

However, he had the makings of a quality Power 5-caliber back with incredible athletic potential. If nothing else, he provided depth.

 

That said, Frost now has a running back room that appears to be fully invested and that in itself would be a net gain. Mills is the clear starter, but the biggest x-factor is how he's supplemented. The Huskers obviously aim to continue using Robinson in a running role.

 

He simply can't be relied upon as much as he was in '19 as his body simply isn't made to handle that much punishment on top of his regular duties.

 

Rahmir Johnson did have moments that suggest he may be a solid second option. We unfortunately know nothing about what Ronald Thompkins can do as he spent the entirety of last season recovering from injury and didn't even get the benefit of a few touches as Johnson did.

 

Ideally, one of the two breaks out, but you can usually only figure out so much with a handful of practices.

 

Position Grade for 2020: B-

 

— Written by Brandon Cavanaugh, FWAA member and part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Be sure to follow him on Twitter (@eightlaces) and enjoy the Big Red Three and Out Podcast. To contact him, click here.

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