Newby pulling away from the pack at running back
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[rl]Each time Nebraska has graduated a top running back in the past five seasons, another waited in the wings. Rex Burkhead filled in just fine for Roy Helu, then Ameer Abdullah capably filled Burkhead's shoes.
But there was no obvious successor for Abdullah, one of the most statistically productive players in school history, when he graduated. The crowd of Terrell Newby, Adam Taylor, Imani Cross and Mikale Wilbon was expected to duke it out during spring and fall practices with the competition potentially bleeding into the season.
That thinking has changed since the middle of spring ball. Though he won't be relied on as heavily as Abdullah was last year (he received 62.7 percent of NU's running back carries), Newby has pulled away from the rest of the pack.
"Coming out of the spring I felt Terrell Newby had separated himself from the group," running backs coach Reggie Davis said. "Terrell's doing a great job for us. He's a very good all-around back. He uses his abilities well - his speed, his acceleration and his understanding of the offense. He can catch the ball as well as run it. We need him to be able to run to make our offense go."
Though he's gotten off to a strong start in fall practices, Newby is still facing stiff competition from his the other backs. Cross is the most experienced and has received many of the first-team reps behind Newby, while Wilbon has clearly gotten better since spring ball and has looked like the second-best back to this point in the fall. The Huskers also added freshman Jordan Stevenson, who could also factor into the position if he's able to quickly grasp the offense.
"If we had just a bell cow that did all of it really well you'd probably settle in there," offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said. "But like I said, each of them have their strengths, so we're not there yet to decide. As we get a little bit further into camp, that will play out a little more."
It will be interesting to see if Taylor gets more reps with the first team as camp progresses - to this point, he's received the fewest snaps with the top unit among the veterans. Cross has the experience edge but hasn't done much to stand out to this point. At worst, he should reprise his role as a short-yardage specialist. Wilbon continues to shine and is clearly comfortable catching passes out of the backfield, something that will be important in Langsdorf's offense.
But at this point it would be a major surprise if Newby didn't start the opener. It always seemed that one of his biggest issues is that he tried to rely on his speed and take everything to the edge - a tactic that succeeded in high school but doesn't work against college athletes. He seems to trust himself between the tackles more now, and if that continues he should find himself getting the lion's share of the playing time in the backfield.
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