Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Husker Football: I-Back Expectations At An All-Time High

It’s all about expectations for Husker football. Fans and coaches expect certain things, but what do players expect?

How does the coaching staff, which masterfully filled its I-back cabinet with so much talent, keep everyone happy with their roles?

The number one guy’s obviously senior Ameer Abdullah. He’s coming off a season where he rushed for over 100 yards in 11 of 13 games (1,690 total rushing yards), was a first-team All-Big Ten selection, a third-team AP All-American and a semi-finalist for the Doak Walker Award.

He’s also the nation’s leading rusher out of all returning players.

If the Nebraska I-backs were the Four Horsemen from the old NWA/WCW days, Abdullah would be Ric Flair.

During a season where he’s going to be the target of opposing defenses, he’ll need his fellow I-backs to step up and earn their keep.

That’s where the coaching staff comes in. How can they appease Imani Cross, Terrell Newby and Adam Taylor in a way that keeps everyone involved?

The answer for Tim Beck, Ron Brown and Bo Pelini is to manage the players’ expectations.

Going into the season knowing that Abdullah is “the guy” is simple enough. My suggestion to Beck would be to have defined roles for the backs and keep your word on when you will use them.

Let’s start with Cross. The big bruiser needs to be just that. If the coaching staff can keep him focused on being their ‘big back’ or ‘change of pace’ back then they’ll be just fine with the big fella.

The junior from Georgia rushed for 447 yards on 85 carries last season (5.3 yards per carry), scored a team-high 10 touchdowns and was a clear No. 2 behind Abdullah.

He was featured more often in short-yardage situations. I look for that to continue in 2014 as Cross establishes himself even more as the banger inside the tackles that the Huskers will need to complement their other backs.

Newby, a sophomore, played in all 13 games last season rushing for 298 yards and two scores, but was the third back in the mix more often than not.

Beck faces a dilemma, as he absolutely has to find a way to get an explosive player like Newby on the field.

Unfortunately, that comes at the cost of taking some carries from a Heisman-caliber back in Abdullah.

If I’m coach Beck, I’d be looking for ways to get both backs on the field at the same time as much as possible. That kind of speed and agility out of the backfield will be hard to match and allows both backs to get playing time.

The answer for Tim Beck, Ron Brown and Bo Pelini is to manage the players’ expectations.

That said, it’s likely that Newby can add the most sizzle by pulling return duty along with his time at I-back. It’s a simple way to get a talented young man on the field and keep him focused on the game.

Finally, there’s the redshirt freshman Taylor. The young Texan earned scout team MVP honors and showed what he could do during the spring. Perhaps his expectations and plans will be slightly tweaked as the season goes on.

As a redshirt freshman behind three other backs who have so many carries under their belts, it would be natural for him to be not as highly regarded.

I don’t believe that he’s a No. 4 back.

Based strictly on potential and the eye-ball test, one has to wonder if Taylor isn’t the second best all-around back Nebraska has. He’s big at 6’2″, 210 pounds, but also shows agility and vision.

If Taylor and coaches Beck and Brown can formulate a plan that sees him get a certain amount of carries in each game, any worry of unhappiness can be nixed.

Again, it is important for a plan and expectations to be laid out ahead of time.

Mitch Sherman of ESPN said in his post-spring game write up: “As suspected, this stable of I-backs might rate as Nebraska’s best in many years… Each of the top four offer skills to help this offense.”

It’s exciting to know that the backs Nebraska has are so highly thought of and can offer much-needed stability to an offense that will likely feature a quarterback that’ll likely be shaky at times.

In the end, for this crew of Husker football ball-carriers to stay content with their roles, it’ll be about managing their expectations.

Good luck, coaches.

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Tags: Ameer Abdullah Imani Cross Nebraska Cornhuskers

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