Castille gone, running back situation unclear

There was a lot of anticipation behind the Helu/Castille tandem this year, especially coming off the Gator Bowl, where junior running back Quentin Castille, posted a career-high 125 yards against Clemson as the Huskers edged the Tigers, 26-21. It would appear the anticipation, at least for the tandem, now comes to a halt.

Following this morning's practice as the Huskers continue Fall Camp, Head Coach Bo Pelini announced that junior running back Quentin Castille was dismissed from the team. "Quentin Castille has been dismissed from the football team. He's no longer with the football team," he said. "We have guidelines. We have a culture we hae set up here (and), it's pretty black and white of my expectations of what we lay out as a staff. If someone doesn't follow those policies and guidelines, they are no longer going to be with the program."

The loss of Castille has to come as a major blow to the Husker offense, as he was considered almost even with fellow junior Roy Helu Jr. when it comes to projected time on the field this year. Castille finished last season with 505 yards rushing, 125 of that coming in his best performance as a Husker, as he filled in for an injured Helu and also injured Marlon Lucky, against Clemson in the 2009 Gator Bowl.

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Lester Ward the new No. 2?

While Helu was still the projected started by most, Castille had found himself back in the conversation as at least a solid number two. But with the added improvement of not dealing with a lot of turnover issues this Fall Camp and dating back to the latter parts of last season, the athletically gifted bruiser in some ways was considered every bit the weapon as his counterpart.

His loss is potentially someone else's gain, as the valuable position as the number-two back has to be filled, and by someone who can be looked at to carry the ball double-digit times during the course of a game.

From during the course of Fall Camp, the most likely names we figure will arise as the top candidates to replace Castille are as follows:

Austin Jones – So – 5-10, 210 lbs.

Jones isn't long on size, but he's reputed to be heavy on versatility, the kind of back who can be expected to do a little of everything. We just haven't seen much of him, but early reports from Spring and now Fall, is that he's a game competitor, who has no problems putting his head down and making a hole where there isn't one. As a byproduct of his size, his running style is good. He's not prone to running high, from everything we have heard. Kind of in the mold of a Brandon Jackson, but probably not with that kind of athleticism, he's just a solid all-around player. But is he a playmaker? We'll have to wait to find out, but he's one of the leading candidates for that second spot. Jones averaged almost six yards per carry as a senior at Smoky Hill High School (Centennial, CO).

Lester Ward – RsFR – 6-3, 215 lbs.

Going to the opposite spectrum is Ward. A lanky running back, Ward, from Spring to now, has garnered a lot of praise for his versatility as well. At his height, and at a weight that you would still have to say is a bit on the light side, he's still managed to show some things inside as well as outside. As a pass-receiving threat coming out of the backfield Ward has obvious physical advantages over someone like Jones. The question is about how physical he can be between the tackles. Running high is often a problem for backs this size, but it would seem Ward has been rounding out nicely thus far, and he might have worked his way up to the number two spot. Ward had 200 yards receiving his senior year at Brenham High School (Brenham, TX) despite missing four games.

Collins Okafor – RsFr – 6-1, 225 lbs.

It's been curiously quiet when it comes to the former Omaha Westside standout, from Spring up to now. But Okafor seems to have the size and speed to be an all-purpose threat for the Big Red. Going back to his prep days, as a junior he had 386 yards receiving and seven touchdowns. As a senior he had solid help in the passing-game from tight ends Tim Biere and Damon Bechtold, Biere now a starting tight end with Kansas and Bechtold a redshirt freshman for the Huskers. So, he wasn't needed in regard to the passing game, and was just required to be that running threat, which he did quite well, rushing for 1,525 yards as a senior, preceded by over 1,800 yards rushing as a junior. Because it's been kind of quiet in regard to him, we'll look at him as a viable option, but not one who we put, at least right now, as a leading candidate for that number-two spot.

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Burkhead could surprise people
and grab that number-two spot
before the first game arrives

Rex Burkhead – Fr – 5-11, 200 lbs.

Under normal circumstances I probably wouldn't even include Burkhead in the conversation here. After all, it's well known the issues freshman running backs have at not just getting this system figured out, but learning how to do everything within it, which includes blocking. But his name has kept coming up over and over again, to the point we have to give him his due. From what we have seen he's a very physical runner, has great pad level when taking on tacklers and he's certainly tenacious. The thing that seems to have sold everyone on him, though, is his work ethic. Sometimes you don't have to be great to get on the field for Nebraska, just so long as you have the work ethic. Well, Burkhead seems to have that and then some, and the biggest endorsement for the true freshman came today from the Head Coach himself. "I'd say that Rex is clearly the number two running back right now, but that can change," he said. "He's smart, he's very talented, tough (and) he learns well." Combine that with his stats from his senior year which saw him run for over 1,700 yards, notch almost 600 yards receiving, scoring a total of 33 offensive touchdowns, you don't have to wonder about his versatility. It's hard to believe, but he might very well be close to or at the top of the list for that number-two spot.

Marcus Mendoza – So – 5-10, 190 lbs.

Mendoza back at running back is obviously news, but we don't expect that this means he's vying for that number two spot. Between not having heard a ton about him over the course of Fall at the wide receiver spot, along with the new hole at running back, we think Mendoza could serve as a capable fill-in, but probably only on a situational basis. While Mendoza is very physical for his size, and he has legit speed, running him between the tackles or at least projecting that, probably isn't realistic. He could definitely be a weapon, though, no doubt about that. Whether it's on pitch outs, toss sweeps, misdirection plays or just coming out of the backfield as a pass catcher, there is a lot you can do with him. We just don't see him as one of the logical guys who can be looked to, to carry the ball double-digit times every game.

There's no question that the loss of Castille is a big one. He had finally came into his own, proved himself in the Gator Bowl, and the turnover issues which plagued him as a first-year player and even into his second season, seem to be a thing of the past. There just isn't another back on the team who can provide the ability he had to be both a physically powerful runner, but have the kind of athleticism to improve and make yards if the play broke down. There are some viable options, who may become playmakers in their own right down the road. But this loss is going to sting for awhile.

Added Practice Notes:

Head Coach Bo Pelini announced that six players, all from within the state, have now been placed on scholarship:

Sr OL - Derek Meyer
Sr LB - Colton Koehler
Sr WR - Wes Cammack
Jr K - Alex Henery
Jr TE - Dreu Young
So OL - Mike Caputo

Pelini said that he was happy to give those out, but regretted that he couldn't hand out more. "There are a few other deserving guys that we are working through. There is a lot that goes into issuing those scholarships, and unfortunately, there are some more deserving guys," he said. "Over time, I am sure there will be more."

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