Since the departure of Ahman Green,the injury and subsequent exit of DeAngelo Evans Neb has lacked the true "take it to the house" I-back. Dan Alexander had amazing speed and was an athletic freak. He could not turn the corner though. Corell Buckhalter was a very good back but the Neb scheme really did not fit his game. I also think CB did not get a fair shot at times, but that is another story. In 1999 against KSU a back named Dahrran Diedrick burst on the scene with a big game. The rest of 1999 and in 2000 fans clamored to see more of DD.
Along comes the 2001 season and lo and behold Dahrran Diedrick is finally going to get his chance to satisfy the fans that have been screaming for more of him. He is named the #1 I-back. DD has a very solid year, 233 carries for 1299 yards best in the Big XII. He scored 15 TDs. All this while playing the entire year on a very gimpy ankle. Pretty good year by most standards, yes? Guess not as fans have decided he does not have enough speed for our viewing pleasure. Neb fans demand their I-Back to be a home run threat everytime he touches the ball. (I have to admit it was painful watching DD get tackled by the ten yard line stripe against OU.)
The yearning now is for Solich to give one of the youngsters a shot. Some say Josh Davis is ready to shine, "give him the ball" they shout. Davis is the answer. Others are enamored with the young speedster Marques Simmons. He was impressive in the spring. The word on the street is he has to speed and the ability to put the ball in the end zone from anywhere on the field.
Okay let's take a look at the three mentioned above plus a few more. Afterall Neb has quite a stable of I-backs. Is there a thoroughbred in the bunch? You get to be the judge.
Let's start with Dahrran Diedrick a senior from Scarborough, Ontario. Mr Diedrick was used very sparingly in 2000 much to the dismay of most Bid Red fans. He only carried the ball 33 times the entire 2000 season. He had half that many carries in one game in 1999. DD is now the returning starter. 2001 was suppose to be his breakout year. As mentioned above he led the Big XII in rushing last season. This despite missing the first game of the season while serving a one game suspension for stupidity. He played most the season at less than 100% with a nagging ankle injury. One of his strengths is his inside power running ability, good balance and reads his blocks well at the line of scrimmage. One of the knocks we hear is he does not have breakaway speed. Maybe that will change with a healthy ankle this season. One area he does need work is catching the ball. He had one reception last season for -5 yards. The reason for the low number is the knowledge DD was not a pass catching phenom. DD is the co-number one I-back on the preseason depth chart. He is rated by the "draft guru Kiper" as one of the top running backs to be entering next year's draft. Time is now for this young man to shine.
Dahrran is the proto-type Iback for NU in more ways then just physical. He paid his dues and bided his time until he matured. When the opportunity was his he had a successful junior season. Now he is a senior and like many of the I-backs of the storied NU past he is ready to have that All-American type season. Does he have it in him? He has the durability the way it seems to carry the ball 25 times a game. One date is in his mind now, August 24th. To him that is the first chance the team has to get the terrible taste the final two games of last season out of his system.
Next we have another senior, Thunder Collins. Thunder came to Lincoln two seasons ago out of JUCO. He originally was due to arrive in Lincoln in Jan of 2000, but a administrative misunderstanding caused the arrival to be pushed back. Once on campus Thunder almost immediately took ill. He lost over 20 pounds and the setback hurt him his first season in Red. The 2000 season was one of learning and adjustment for Thunder. In one of his first appearances in Memorial Stadium late in the game against Baylor, Thunder carried the ball for a nifty 12 yard gain and a first down. He got up and reacted with enthusiasm, making a first down motion with his arm and playing to the crowd. He was immediately pulled out of the game and reprimanded for his actions. NU does not upstage their opponents like that he was told. Thunder, already having trouble adjusting became more confused. To him he was just enjoying the game he loved. He had no intention of showing anyone up. At this time he was not sure Lincoln was such a fun place to be.
Fast forward to the season of 2001. Thunder started to gel a bit more and it was becoming apparent that Thunder could do more than just run the ball. He possesses good hands and the ability to run routes. The thought was to get him the ball on the edge one-on-one and let him do his thing. Using this ability Thunder caught 19 passes, third on the team. He also rushed the ball 94 times for 647 yards, also third on the team. His yards per carry led the team for all runners with more than ten carries. He was used very well as a decoy. This has led to much speculation of possibly moving Thunder to Wingback for his final season. That thought was explored by the staff but do not look for it to happen much. Let me explain what I mean. Thunder will be used in the slot, split out wide, etc but it will be in three receiver sets etc. He will rarely be lined up at Wing in Neb's traditional I-formation.The staff does hope to utilize many of this young man's talents in various ways. However Thunder is and still wants to be an I-back. He has finally gained back that 20 pounds he lost when he first arrived in Lincoln. Yes for those who want to know, it is good weight and not just McDonalds being worn around his wasteline. He had off-season shoulder surgery, and is recovering very nicely. The ankle he limped on last season is healed. Coming out of a spring he missed due to surgery he is listed on the preseason depth chart as Co-number one at I-back. That should tell you what the staff thinks of his ability. Look for Thunder to do whatever the coaches ask and whatever it takes to win. He proved to many last year that he is a warrior. He now is ready for the "Games to begin".
Josh Davis and Marques Simmons share the next spot behind the seniors on the depth chart. Josh is a junior in eligibility. He has been moved around to different positions on several occasions but seems to have settled back at I-back once again. Josh was very successful as the number one kick-off returner a year ago. Forget the fumble vs Miami, everyone gets one strike you know. Josh had a very strong spring this year. But as seems to be the norm for Josh he once again was hobbled by injury, this time his hamstring. Would have been nice to see him perform in the Spring game as he did in earlier scrimmages. Davis is the second fastest at this position. He has a strong straight ahead running style and speed to burn. He does a very good job of spacing on the option and has very soft hands. Look for him to get some playing time when Neb comes out in its double-wing set. Hope here is Josh gets and stays healthy for the season. He is once again the top kick-off returner. Josh will get touches at I-back but not as many as some fans will want.
Marques Simmons is a red-shirt freshman. Fastest player on the team now with Amos on the injured list. Simmons was thought so highly of coming out of high school that when the staff learned he was going to be a Husker they stopped recruiting other I-backs. Marques redshirted last season and drove the blackshirts nuts in practice with his speed and elusiveness. He was named scout squad player of the week several times.
Simmons was also impressive in the spring highlighted by his performance in the Spring game. Fans all over are already saying he should be the starter. Marques runs hard and his size does not limit him at all. He is as effective between the tackles as he is when he turns the corner. The one area Simmons needs work is his pass catching. He has been spending quite a bit of time doing just that this summer. Look for Marques to get some playing time this year but also not as much as some would be comfortable with. Looking for big things from him in another year.
The other four scholarship backs are Robin Miller, Deante Grixby, Cory Ross, and the newcomer David Horne. One could write quite a bit about each of these young men. At this time though the choice is to just hit the bios of each. Robin Miller is a junior out of Kent, Washington. Miller was looked at for big things after a huge spring game a couple of years ago. The potential shown then has never materialized for several reasons. (Another story to be told later.)
Deante Grixby arrived in Lincoln as another I-Back from the long line of runners out of Omaha Central. He postponed enrollment a semester when first arriving to heal from shoulder injury. Deante is also a Junior in eligibility now. Was once thought he would be contending for lots of playing time by now. There are several reasons Deante has been relegated to a spot low on the depth chart, injuries playing a very big part in that. Deante will be a mop up duty back this season. There is a possibility he gets more time when and if Neb uses the one-back double wing set. The coaches really like his ability out of that set.
Cory Ross out of Denver, Colorado is a redshirt freshman. He had a shoulder injury just weeks into the season last year and was unable to practice. Cory had arrived in Lincoln a tad overweight and out of shape. The injury added to those problems. Cory worked hard in the spring and the hard work has continued this summer and he has lost most of the extra weight and in another year could be a big-time contributor. A former Husker running back has said this young man has more upside than any other I-Back on the roster. Good luck Cory.
David Horne is an incoming freshman, the latest Omaha Central back to join the Huskers. Horne will most likely redshirt. If for some reason Horne is not a redshirt that does not bode well for the outlook of the Huskers. Horne is a speedy slashing type runner that with a year of maturity could contend for playing time in 2003.
In conclusion of this long and rambling mess the I-back position this year is one of strength. While lacking possibly the "SUPERSTAR", it is very deep and very talented. The I-back should once again become the focus of the Neb offense. With the personnel this season the option game once again should return to the Neb option of old. The first few games could be a bit of a struggle for our I-backs as the O-line matures but this should be a short term problem. The ability to "Take it to the House" is available in several of these young men. Time to strap'em up and put a helmet on someone.