Talented Nebraska I-Backs have plenty to prove for Huskers ground game


The history of Nebraska I-Backs have had more than its share of talented ball carriers over the years. Some have gone onto have successful NFL careers. We all know names like Kinney, Craig, Rozier, Dubose, Green and Abdullah, but what should we make of the I-Back position heading into this first contest of the season with BYU?

The hole left by the 2nd all-time leading rusher in school history, Ameer Abdullah is a large one. Earlier this week, Head Coach Mike Riley released his depth chart and as you most likely noticed, there were a lot of  “-OR’s-” listed at I-Back. Do the Huskers have another potential great running back listed somewhere on its current depth chart?

Terrell Newby looks to be the first one to get a crack at it. Newby is a versatile running back that has shown flashes over the past couple seasons, but has also had problems with his ball security. Some of that may be attributed to the fact that he was used sparingly because of who was in front of him. Newby appears to be the type of back that might be best off getting into a rhythm in the backfield, where he can get consistent touches. Slated for double duty at I-Back and Kick Return, he should get more than a fair shake to prove that he could be the proverbial “next man up”.

As for the rest of the I-Backs, they are listed by class rank. Senior, Imani Cross has had a career that seems like he might be caught in an identity crisis. In his freshman and sophomore years, he was more of a power back that often entered the game during goal line and short yardage situations. Last season, during his junior year, Cross appeared to change his body a bit to fit the zone read game under the previous staff. Being that he’s a senior now and entering his final season in the Husker backfield, the time to leave it all on the field is now. Cross will likely not be an every down back this year, but a nice change of pace back in short yardage situations like his first couple years, would be a welcome sight.

Based strictly off of his recruiting videos, it looked as if Adam Taylor was the second coming of Adrian Peterson. A good mix of power and speed and having displayed that at a 5A level high school in Katy, Texas where he helped his team win a state title, the 2013 MVP of the Nebraska scout team, Taylor could be a sleeping giant among the Nebraska I-backs. After suffering a broken ankle in fall camp last year, Adam is now physically healthy and ready to get out there and contribute this season. but, whether or not he is ready mentally is still an unknown at this point. I think he needs to get into a game and carry the ball before he can fully put the injury behind him.

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Another former Nebraska offensive scout team MVP, Mikale Wilbon has recently been compared to Ameer Abdullah partially because of his size and stature and partially because he is able to put his foot in the ground and get up field in a hurry. Wilbon has made some flashy plays this fall when running with the 1’s and in front of the local media which garnered him some headlines. Mikale will likely get some playing time in the backfield this season and could see himself lined up outside to run the fly sweep as well. Without anyone having separated themselves at I-Back in fall camp, Wilbon has a great opportunity to shine early in Nebraska’s offense.

The fact  that Devine Ozigbo has thrown his name into the fray as a true freshman can be taken one of two ways. On one hand you can look at him and say that Nebraska is lacking in talent at I-Back. On the other hand, you can say that he must be a talented back to be thrown into the mix for early playing time. As I mentioned earlier about Wilbon grabbing the attention of the media at practice, the same can also be said about Ozigbo. Devine has most recently been the headline grabber, showing the ability to run the ball as well as displaying his soft hands as a receiver out of the backfield.

Without truly getting a defined answer from the coaches, it sounds like every I-Back on the depth chart made a case to earn carries against BYU. Clearly, the talent appears to be spread out in the Husker backfield. Whether or not it’s by the coaching staff’s design, opposing defenses must prepare for the diverse styles of each running back.

While they would like to have a clear, concise lead back, history has shown us the position is evolving into a “by committee” approach. For Nebraska, this certainly could be the case this year.  As the season progresses, it’s likely the Huskers will see one of the talented Nebraska I-Backs emerge from the group to take the reins. However, for the time being it sounds like Nebraska will throw five different styles at the Cougars’ defense.

Next: Can Nebraska replace Ameer Abdullah?