Time for the position group that I have one of the most difficult times figuring out the past few years under Frost and Held’s leadership. For those of you that followed my writing, I probably over-defended Coach Held compared to what the results have been on the field these last three seasons. And maybe that’s due to the fact that he is arguably our best recruiter that gives us our in to JUCO recruiting, which is a facet that we have not taken enough advantage of this century with such good football being played in Kansas as well as at Iowa Western.
What’s so odd is I think we’ve gotten really good players with him recruiting the position. He brought in Greg Bell, the #1 JUCO RB in the nation back in 2018. Bell ends up starting the first few games, then gets overtaken by a Riley recruit (Ozigbo) for the remainder of the season. He ends up transferring and is All-Conference out at San Diego State and on the preseason watch list for the Maxwell Award, which goes to the best player in college football. Feel like it would have been nice to keep him around. He brings in Mo Washington in the same recruiting class, a kid that had known issues which is why he was still there for us to take, but with his skillset i’m not sure anyone should be mad we took that dude. He ends up leaving the team as well. For 2019 we pull in another #1 ranked JUCO RB in Dedrick Mills according to 247. I’m actually a bigger fan of Mills than most, but he just never got to fully get going whether that was due to injuries or RPOs where we pulled the ball and threw it. That same year in 2019 we grabbed 4 star RB Rahmir Johnson out of New Jersey, and Held was very much a key piece to bringing Wandale Robinson to Lincoln who ended up being our #2 RB when Mills would be out with an injury.
I don’t want to belabor the point, you get where i’m going. And that is we’ve had talent here every single year in the RB room, but for whatever reason it just didn’t jive. Robinson transferred, Bell transferred, Washington quit, Johnson is struggling to get on the field, etc. And in a year like 2020 where we needed any of our freshmen RBs we brought in to step up so we didn’t have to move our slot WR to RB, guys like Scott III, Morrison, Yant, and Johnson just couldn’t get to where we needed them to to get on the field. To be fair, Covid and injuries played into that a bit, but we have been begging for someone…. anyone…. to take hold of this position.
2021 brings us Scott III, Morrison, Yant, and Johnson looking for playing time, along with new recruit Gabe Ervin and USC transfer Markese Stepp. Who will step up?
Let’s first take a look at Stepp, my friend that works for USC football said they were sorry to see him go, he just didn’t fit what they were doing and never got a chance to show that he fit because he was often injured. “If he can stay healthy the dudes real good, probably Mills 2.0 for you guys just slightly faster” (Mills runs in the high 4.5s/low 4.6s for a 40). So I take that to mean we have a legit 4.5 guy that’s big and can get downhill for us. If healthy, he has a real good shot.
Sevion Morrison is the guy i’d probably lean on to start RIGHT NOW due to being here a year longer than the other guys vying for time. Morrison was hurt basically all last year, then when he got healthy tested positive for Covid…
But he probably knows the offense best as Stepp and Ervin weren’t here until the spring. Can that knowledge and possible rapport with Martinez pay dividends for him?
Lastly you have Gabe Ervin, who is the freshmen phenom everyone seems to be drooling over (like we were with the other freshmen I mentioned earlier but I won’t go there). I do think that 2021 has a bit of a 2018 feel for me with the RB room. I think there will be a guy they are comfortable with right away (like Bell was) and then through the first few games and practices, a light switch goes on for one of the other guys and we have a changing of the guard a bit. If I had to call it right now, i’d say it’s Stepp and Morrison with Ervin making up ground everyday. But this will be a fun one to watch.
I also just want to bring up that last year, we gave Wandale a lot of carries out of the slot (before we moved him to RB a few times while Mills was hurt). I don’t know if Toure is that guy for us, but a dude like Nixon or Brown very well could be. You also have Betts who was running tons of jet sweeps this year. What i’m getting at is don’t be shocked to see some 2 RB sets this year (even though we’ve done that every other year as well). People seem to forget Washington being alongside Bell/Ozigbo swinging out to catch passes and what not. Further, don’t be surprised to see a return of the under center 2 RB look with a guy like Yant as a fullback (he could be H-back as well out of shotgun).
Held and recruiting
I made mention of this earlier, but one of the main reasons I defend Held so profoundly is he gives us an in with JUCO recruiting that we desperately need. There’s a few reasons this is important. First, with kids fleeing Nebraska after less than a year in some cases, you can see how the players are adjusting to life away from their high school support system (many times family). You won’t be caught off guard getting them to Lincoln and having it be their first time away from family. Second, you get to evaluate them against competition you understand. You always hear how difficult it is to watch film of recruits when you have no idea what their competition is, because you don’t know how impressive it is. Lastly, taking a late flyer on a JUCO kid for 2 years is much different than taking a late flyer on a high school kid for 4-5 years.
Remember back in 2019, Held saved our fucking ass in the recruiting class. We had 13 recruits heading into December, not a ton of high school recruits were giving us play except for some four stars that were having commitment issues (Fleming, Greene, Francois). I remember the smart people saying we might be in trouble, but Held ends up grabbing us 5 JUCO guys in December. Now, some of those are busts, but there’s some really good players in that group. And we added one more in Nadab Joseph in the following summer. Keep in mind none of them were playing the RB position.
While I get our RB results may have been underwhelming in certain areas so far, Held being able to plug holes where we may be a bit light on the recruiting trail pays massive dividends. Further, it’s tough for me to be too mad when i’m not sure if it’s the RBs faults, QBs fault for pulling it when he should have gave, the OLs fault for not getting a push, or even the playcalling? More than likely it’s a combination of all of that, but i’ll dive deeper into that tomorrow as I do the OL breakdown!