Spring 2023 Position Previews: Runningback

On Monday we went over the quarterback room and what is returning and what was brought in. As we discussed there, it’s so tough to tell who will be a starter and who will transfer out based on what little we know in regards to what this staff will want. Let’s get into it.

Returning Scholarship: Starter Anthony Grant, Rahmir Johnson, Gabe Ervin Jr, Emmett Johnson, Ajay Allen

Incoming Scholarshp: Kwinten Ives

Things are interesting here in this runningback room. We just learned of Anthony Grant being suspended on Monday, and while the door is open to get back to the team, it’s not a good look the first couple months of a new regime to not be able to practice. Remember, Rhule and his staff have 15 practices to evaluate where guys are at and what position groups look like before needing to cut roughly a dozen players from scholarship. If you don’t practice all spring due to being suspended, it’s pretty tough for Coach Barthel to go to bat for you during a numbers game. This isn’t like when Pelini was here and we have 79 guys on scholarship heading to fall camp and looking to hand a scholarship over to some walk-ons and keep people around. We are at roughly 100 scholarship guys right now and needing to get to 85.

Grant was the leading rusher last year with 218 carries for 915 yards behind one of the worst offensive lines i’ve seen while being a Nebraska fan. Losing that kind of production can definitely hurt. But as i’ve said many times, RB and WR are probably the 2 easiest position groups to come in and make an immediate impact. So what else do we have if we never see Grant in a Husker uniform again?

Last year Ajay Allen was showing flashes of just how good he could be. Unfortunately, he broke his collarbone against Oklahoma, and had to sit out the remainder of the year. He didn’t look out of place against the Sooners, in fact once Frost was let go there were talks about how we could keep Coach Applewhite so that Allen didn’t transfer out. While Nebraska fans get a little excited at times for guys, you could definitely see why that was the sentiment.

After Allen, you have Gabe Ervin Jr who has already received praise from Coach Rhule on his offseason:

Remember, Ervin was the first true freshman RB to start for Nebraska in the history of the program. There’s something there. He ended up hurting his knee in 2021, and with injuries like that it’s tough to be yourself the following season. It makes sense to me why Grant and Allen had the upper hand. But with a year of testing the knee going well, could he be back to the old form that had him starting for us in 2021?

Many people also forget about Rahmir Johnson, Husker fans have been enamored with this kid ever since he was committed and people saw his track times in high school. When Ervin went down, it was Johnson in 2021 who stepped up and made 7 starts for the Huskers. He has bounced around a bit from RB to WR, but it at minimum shows his versatility. Also something sneaky to remember is Johnson is from the northeast where this staff has deep connections. May seem ridiculous to bring up, but with Grant out for the foreseeable future that’s a great leg up to have on everyone else.

Emmett Johnson is the last scholarship hold over from the previous staff. I have to be honest, i’m not super high on Johnson and I feel we offered him because we struck out everywhere else. We were his only Power 5 offer and he was down to us or Central or Eastern Michigan. He nearly committed on the spot when we offered. However, could I be wrong and he be like our Devine Ozigbo who was committed to Iowa State and flipped immediately when he got the Nebraska offer?

Kwinton Ives is the recruit that Barthel brought in and was like Johnson as a lower end recruit. I don’t know a ton about him but it may be tough to crack some playing time with the guys i’ve mentioned previously.


The bottom line is, we are in a great spot here. I don’t think Nebraska (or any school for that matter) will ever be in a rough spot for a runningback. While there are elite RBs, for the most part your OL needs to make them look good. You can find 2 and 3 star RBs all day long. So talent will never be an issue here. But who comes out on top?

Gun to my head right now i’m going Ervin starting with Allen giving him his breaks. I think Grant has a big hill to overcome starting spring ball out this way when we need to cut players.

Join us tomorrow when we go over the TEs!

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10 thoughts on “Spring 2023 Position Previews: Runningback

  1. I agree not having a stud running back isn’t a make or break deal. But man it would be nice to be a place again where some of the elite guys wanted to come.

    With the apparent emphasis on physical football and running game, I’d like to think we can get there under Rhule. But getting a good offensive line will go a long way towards that as well.

  2. I’m a big Gabe Ervin fan. I remember when he was a freshman, the poor guy rarely had any open holes to run through. Last year he showed flashes but you could tell he wasn’t back to 100% yet. The dude is huge now. Hoping he stays healthy because I think he can be a difference maker.

  3. I agree that both Grant and Tommi Hill have big hills to climb to be back on the team with them still needing to cut so many guys still. In hindsight it was really smart for Rhule to stack the roster like he did. That really allowed him to come in and fully instill his culture without having to worry about leaving big holes in the roster if he ran guys off. No pussy footing around so to speak. I wonder if he’s at all surprised that he still has as many guys left as he does. I really like Allen and Ervin as a 1-2 punch. Allan seems to have a lot of upside and big play capability. Ervin just seems solid all around and he ran with major chip on his shoulder in limited opportunities last year. Rahmir kind of is what he is in my opinion. He’s reliable and a good 3rd down back but I feel like we’ve seen his ceiling and it’s average. Agree that Johnson may have been a reach but he seems to be a high character kid that is very dedicated so you never know what a guy like that can do for you down the road.

    1. When there’s new coaches everywhere, there’s going to be kids that just don’t jive with the new staff. Eventually they will leave because they can’t do what’s asked of them or coaching style just doesn’t mix. It’s weird to say but cutting a dozen people for Rhule may end up being easy?

  4. A recent media practice video of RB drills seemed to show Coach Barthel getting on AJ a bit for what seemed to be an effort issue, but it was a limited sample. Any rumblings about AJ’s practice habits to worry about or does Barthel coach everyone hard?

    1. I think he just coaches hard. I wouldn’t read too much into that. But to that question, sometimes if players weren’t getting coached hard and now they are, that can lead to portal entries.

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