Countdown to Spring: Running Back

You lose someone like Cory Ross, forget about replacing the guy, because what he did on the field was just a small portion of everything this Colorado native brought to Nebraska. But someone does have to take his spot as the starting running back and with the move of Leon Jackson back to the position, that means there's going to be quite a battle at the position. And that battle starts this spring.

There's going to be a fight in the backfield at Nebraska and it's going to start this spring. The most interesting thing, though, and the most fortunate for Nebraska, is that the triplets so hyped coming in from last year's recruiting class, are once again reunited to battle it out for the top spot on the depth chart.

With the movement back to the running back position by Leon Jackson, this group becomes even more versatile, even faster and potentially better, if they can figure out this offense, blocking and everything else that Cory Ross did so well.

If you don't already know one of the main criteria to be a well-used running back in this offense, you haven't been paying attention. They need to be as good catching the ball as they are running it. Twice this last season Ross set the Nebraska record book on its ear in regard to yards in a game receiving for a running back, along with total number of receptions.

To be honest, he probably would have added to those records even more if he wasn't so busy doing something else a running back in this offense, but especially with this time, has to do.

Blocking

It's no secret that the Nebraska offensive line had problems blocking last year. Yeah, that's an understatement. They couldn't run block, they couldn't protect the quarterback and many of the yards Ross got was simply from his own effort more than it was having huge holes or opportunities to take advantage of.

But one of the biggest reasons that Marlon Lucky and Cody Glenn, for all their potential, weren't seen that much was simply because each had problems with blocking. Whether it was the actual process of blocking or knowing how to pick up a blitz, the lack of adeptness in that area kept both from being even close to the kind of impact they might have been otherwise.

It's kind of funny when you think back to the option-days of Nebraska, where a running back was asked to block, but most of the time it was for a running quarterback, not one standing in the pocket.

You could even say with a lot of confidence that if you want to be a running back in this offense or at least, one that is considered ideal, there's nothing you can't do.

Which brings us to the candidates for the spring and each will have to show that they are the full package. Each will have to show that they not only understand the offense, but can improvise within it and, oh yes, they better be able to do something after they get the ball in their hands, whether it's a pass or a run.

As always, we'll list them in the order we think they will finish after the spring, top being the first man in the rotation.

Marlon Lucky – There have been more than a few people who have said they weren't all that impressed with Lucky this last season. I actually beg to differ. Lucky showed a little of everything I saw from him in high school.

He has that incredible vision, where even in a crowd he's got his head up looking for an escape. He's got good open-field moves, cuts well and I really like his acceleration. Plus, I think he's very physical when he wants to be and I like his change of direction in being able to turn up field once he gets the ball from either a screen or out in the flats.

What's holding him back is some continuing unfamiliarity with the offense, Lucky trying to grasp not just the concept, but the nuances of what this system demands. And yes, he had plenty of trouble in figuring out who to block in the backfield and then actually executing the block as well.

For the last part, we can only hope that the short time since the bowl game has still be a productive time for Lucky in figuring out what he couldn't figure out during the season. And I do think that most running backs are rhythm backs in that many of these players are at their best once they have gotten a few reps underneath their belt.

And let's not forget that not even Ross had much success running behind this line last year and Lucky did manage to do something against Colorado that hadn't been done in the previous five games and that was put together a run of 10 yards or more.

He did that twice in the same drive.

I think he's got everything as far as ability. It's just a matter of him mentally catching up to where he needs to be. If he at least knows what he's supposed to do, I think it's only a matter of time before you see just what this young man can do.

Cody Glenn – One of the funny but accurate jokes over last year was whenever Glenn came in and it was a short yardage situation, everyone knew what the play was going to be. That didn't stop Glenn from still converting many of those situations. He's a punishing runner to say the least, he has great leg drive in a pile and for someone his size, he's not bad laterally.

Some have speculated about the possibility of him eventually moving to fullback. Before he arrived, I said as much myself. But like the trend in the NFL, the position has become relatively extinct and I don't know that you want to waste Glenn at a position that is little more than a blocker and is sparsely used in catching balls out of the backfield.

I think he's a valuable running back as it is, though, giving you a physical back, who once he gets everything about this offense down, he might not have all the intangibles you want out of a big back, but he's the best north/south runner on the team and if the offensive line can ever catch up, that could be a huge future weapon for the big red.

Like Lucky, he'll have to exhibit this spring that he has a grasp of everything he has to do, starting with blocking and being able to read the blitz and if he's productive in the running game in addition to that, Nebraska will be able to go to him in more situations this year, giving them that much more versatility in the backfield.

Leon Jackson – I was probably like you in that I couldn't wait to see what this speedster could do from the running back position. On paper he had everything, including the body of a slot receiver, but the instincts of pure running back. In the open-field, his high school film was sick.

We all knew he would get moved to safety, but it's nice to see he's moved back to the position he's always wanted to play and now he has to catch up with the rest.

Just based on ability I would put Leon higher than this, but this spring is going to be about ability, but reliability as well, and that only comes from familiarity with what he has to do. I expect he will have the same troubles as both Lucky and Glenn, which means there's an adjustment period for him, one that will probably last the entire spring and even into the fall.

What we will be able to get from Jackson in the spring is his versatility in the backfield and again, his on-paper potential is staggering. He's one of those that when you see him running flat out, you'd swear he's not moving very fast, that long loping stride disguising his velocity until you see him escaping defenders with ease.

What I like about the fact that he's played special teams, it's given him a real feel for the speed of the game and the physicality, so there's no transition there. It's just that darn playbook he's going to have to figure out now, something only Zac Taylor was able to do in what I consider an amazingly short amount of time.

How fast he picks that up will determine where he ends up on the depth chart, but I don't expect we'll see any dramatic accomplishments in spring from that respect.

Brandon Jackson – To be honest, if Jackson was healthy, I would have listed him number one.

Seriously

People might think I am crazy, but this kid is Correll Buchalter, but with better feet. I don't know why he didn't get more time this last year. I know that it's not hard getting into the dog house if you don't practice full bore all the time, so maybe that was it. I honestly don't have a clue, because what little you saw from him in the bowl game, the kid was as smooth as silk and for someone as physically stout as he is, I absolutely love his feet.

It seems this young man has had all the battles that nobody really expects when they think about what they have to overcome in their division 1-a careers. And now he has yet another shoulder surgery to rehab from, setting him back as far as fall and maybe even more.

Healthy, I love the kid and again, I would have put him number one if he was 100%. The fact that we don't know when he'll even suit up again, though, well, it's just a matter of hoping that he comes back quickly, safely and is ready to put that impressive ability to work.

So, that's the early depth chart at the position, Lucky first, Glenn second, Leon Jackson third and Brandon Jackson trying to get healthy so that he can get back into the mix.

What happens when Kenny Wilson shows up?

The fact that Nebraska relied so much on Ross even with so much potential ability on the bench, it would seem there was a little panic about the running back position, because Ross was no longer there to be not just the physical presence, but the mental one as well.

You can't replace the mental part of it. Nobody can do that, at least not right now. And Kenny Wilson can't be seen as one that will be able to do that even a little. What Wilson is expected to bring to the table is someone that is used to this kind of offense, has experience taking on physical competition, but more than anything, he's someone that does seemingly have everything they need right now, especially when it comes to the little things in the backfield, like blocking.

Wilson is a physical runner, good laterally, but great between the tackles. He's got good vision and while he's not going to kill you with acceleration, he's very good at maintaining his speed even while changing direction.

Now, he just has to be in shape once he arrives in the fall.

With so much youth in the backfield, one has to wonder just what Nebraska needs to do in recruiting this position next year and if it's really a need. Well, the safest philosophy is always getting one, but the season will dictate just how urgent a need this position is.

If Nebraska runs into the same kind of problems in year two with the running backs as they did in year one, there's obviously going to have to be some adjustments made.

Of course, if the offensive line doesn't get any better, this group could end up being a lot better and not many would be able to tell. No matter how good these guys are, they are going to need some help.

That's it for the offense and yes, we didn't touch on fullback, but let's just say that we think Dane Todd has it all but wrapped up and we are still wondering after his third year, where Grant Miller has gone. I expect that it will be Todd and Will Otto as your one-two punch this year.

Ok, so that's officially it for the offense and next week we will touch on the defense and let me tell you, there are some interesting things that will be going on with this group this spring. A lot of bodies at some positions, almost none in regard to experience at others, so it is going to be a really stiff competition. It's one that will make this spring all that much more interesting, because most of these guys can flat out play.

Stay tuned.

Big Red Report Top Stories