football Edit

Nebraska's backfield versatility has the potential to create mismatches

When Scott Frost was at Oregon and Central Florida, he had teams stocked full of versatile backs and receivers that had the ability to line up at multiple positions and create mismatches.

As Frost works his way through his second season at Nebraska, he finally is starting to have that type of versatility on his roster.

This August the Huskers have been able to utilize both wide receivers Wan’Dale Robinson and Miles Jones at running back, while running back Maurice Washington has already shown the ability to line up and play wide receiver.

Last year at Iowa when J.D. Spielman was out with injury, Washington stepped into the slot receiver role and had over 100 yards receiving against the Hawkeyes in his place.

Wan'Dale Robinson's versatility has the potential to cause problems for opposing defenses.
Wan'Dale Robinson's versatility has the potential to cause problems for opposing defenses. (Nate Clouse)

"Some of the versatility of those guys is going to help us,” Frost said. “It’s going to help us scheme-wise, and it’s also going to help us with any potential nicks that happen to guys. If we get short in the backfield there’s a couple of receivers like Miles (Jones) and Wan’Dale (Robinson) that can take carries. Those guys have looked really good in the backfield too. The inverse of that is if we get a couple of receivers hurt, (Maurice) Washington and some guys can go out and they know the routes.

“Just the depth at all those positions is going to help us from a scheme standpoint, also it’s going to help us to protect ourselves against any potential injuries.”

When running backs coach Ryan Held looks at Robinson, he has big plans for him this upcoming season. Held said at UCF they had a lot of success with players similar to Robinson.

“He’s definitely going to play running back, he’s really, really talented at running back,” Held said. “The good thing is we have guys that can do that now. They can be receivers and running backs and that’s what we’ve wanted to do when we got here is to recruit those types of hybrid-type players that Coach Frost had at Oregon and what we had at UCF and now here at Nebraska.”

The question is what is the right mix for a guy like Robinson? He splits time with both Held and offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach Troy Walters in practice.

The key is repping him enough at both, so NU has options depending on the game or the situation.

“I don’t know yet, that’s a good question,” Held said when asked how much running back Robinson might play. “I think that will kind of evolve as we go. He’s going to have to be able to know both so he’s a mixed bag with Coach (Troy) Walters and me, I get him caught up on stuff.

"During practice, sometimes he’ll be with me in individual stuff, and then he’s with Coach Walters for the other stuff, but he’s got to know both. We’ll see. He definitely can do both, he’s done a really good job up to this point.”

And after losing a veteran like Devine Ozigbo, Held knows there's a lot of questions with his position group heading into the 2019 season.

However, with the addition of players like Robinson, Rhamir Johnson, Ronald Thompkins and Dedrick Mills, you get the sense he's very excited to show people what his position group is going to look like in 2019.

“There are a lot of questions out there, we lost a lot of guys, we got a lot of new guys so that’s motivation for us,” Held said. “And people are out there [saying] ‘you’re not going to be very good at running back’ or ‘we don’t know,’ okay great. Now we’ve got to go out and prove it.

“We can talk about it all day but we’ve got to go out and earn it. We’ve got to earn it on the practice field, we’ve got to earn it in the meeting room, taking care of our bodies and then when we get our chance, it’s time to rock and roll."