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March 2, 2014

Spring preview: Running back

With spring practice beginning next week, HuskerOnline.com continues our in-depth look at each position with our 2014 spring position previews.

Today, we analyze and breakdown the running backs heading into the start of spring practice.

What we know right now: Nebraska's backfield will once again be anchored by arguably the best running back in the Big Ten Conference and a potential Heisman Trophy contender in senior-to-be Ameer Abdullah. On pace to end his career as one of the most productive backs in recent Husker memory, Abdullah turned down jumping to the NFL early after last season to come back this year and lead the way for what should be yet another potent NU offense.

We also know that unlike 2013, Abdullah will have a bit more depth behind him in the running back rotation. Imani Cross returns as the team's second-leading rusher from last season, as do talented underclassmen Terrell Newby and Adam Taylor. Though Abdullah will likely once again get the lion's share of the workload, he should have a lot more dependable help at the position to take some of the weight off.

Biggest question to answer: While Abdullah is obviously a proven entity, the competition for the No. 2 running back spot will be one of the most intense of any position on the team over the course of the offseason. It's highly unlikely that Abdullah will go through much of any contact until fall camp, so that means Cross, Newby and Taylor will get plenty of opportunities to try and win the top backup spot in the next few weeks. Cross boasts the most experience of the three, but that won't keep Newby and Taylor from making a serious push to pass him for not only the No. 2 role, but maybe even the third spot in the rotation. How all three perform this spring will go a long way in how the competition shakes out in the fall.

Spring dark horse: Looking a little deeper at the battle for playing time behind Abdullah, Taylor is the only running back who is still somewhat of a question mark. With Cross having played the past two years and Newby playing right away as a true freshman last season, Taylor remains somewhat of a mystery after redshirting in 2013 and playing primarily on the scout team. He did get some practice reps with the regular offense towards the end of the season, but this spring will be the first time the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Taylor will get a chance to go head-to-head with the rest of the group. One thing we do know is Taylor certainly caught the attention of his coaches and teammates with his work ethic in the weight room and on scout team last season, so he definitely has the motor to make an immediate impact in 2014.

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