LINCOLN — Ryan Held is feeling rejuvenated fresh off a welcome vacation. But that’s not why the Nebraska running backs coach is so high on his position group entering fall camp.
Opportunities aplenty await the backs, with 195 carries last year coming from players who have exhausted their eligibility. And these Huskers can do a little bit of everything.
“We will be a point of strength,” Held said during an appearance on the Husker Sports Network on Thursday night. “We’re inexperienced, but we’re going to work hard to get this thing right.”
As Held articulated the possibilities, a common thread emerged — versatility. If a back isn’t getting a carry or making a catch, he can still contribute in another phase of the game. He said sophomore Maurice Washington, who is the team’s most experienced rusher, should be able to make an impact as a returner or even punt-team gunner or gunner blocker.
“As a group, on offense, we have to do a better job on special teams and not relying on the defense,” Held said. “Everybody in my room is going to be in special teams some way, shape or form to help our team. Because we just can’t rely on the defense to play all those snaps.”
Other notes from Held’s radio interview:
True freshman backs Rahmir Johnson and Ronald Thompkins drew praise from their coach for how quickly they might see playing time this year. While Thompkins continues to rehab a knee injury and won’t begin on the 110-man roster, he’s already added 5-7 pounds.
Held said Johnson weighs around 180 pounds and will “definitely” have a shot to show off his elite speed.
“Those are two as talented of freshman backs I would say (are) in our league for sure,” Held said. “And I’m excited to coach them.”
Washington has made marked conditioning improvements, Held said. But the sophomore, whose legal situation remains unresolved, still needs to add to his listed 190-pound frame and improve his knowledge of the offense.
“He’s gonna have to bring his ‘A’ game just like everybody else will in order to play at the level that we want this room to play in,” Held said.
Junior college transfer Dedrick Mills has been on campus for a couple of months, Held said, and trimmed down to 215 pounds. The strength staff is “very high” on the running back, who has often worked out with linebackers such as Mohamed Barry.True freshman Wan’Dale Robinson and redshirt freshman Miles Jones will have chances to contribute in the run game, Held said.Held said senior Wyatt Mazour and walk-on Brody Belt (up to 180-plus pounds) will be in the mix for early roles in some form.Sophomore Jaylin Bradley continues to need to improve his strength, physicality and familiarity with the offense, Held said.
“I saw him the other day, and just challenging him that when you get your opportunities in fall camp, you better get after it,” Held said. “I think he’s ready for that challenge.”