Despite the graduation of Rex Burkhead and the transfer of Braylon Heard, Nebraska will again possess the best backfield in the conference. Because of injuries to Burkhead, Ameer Abdullah started seven games for Nebraska as a sophomore and responded by rushing for 1,137 yards and 8 touchdowns while being named second-team All-Big Ten by the conference coaches. Don't let his diminutive size fool you, Abdullah (5-9, 190) was named the team's co-lifter of the year after squatting 540 pounds, putting up a bench press of 345 and power cleans of 310. Along with his abnormal strength. he’s very fast and explosive. Abdullah is very shifty in the open field and has very good lower body strength and balance. He is also the Huskers best kick and punt returner. Now that Abdullah is the clear No. 1 back, it will be interesting to see if his special teams work is reduced as a result.
It is going to be interesting to see how Ron Brown divvies up the carries behind Abdullah. One back who has his sights set on those backup carries is sophomore Imani Cross. Cross (6-1, 225) played in all 14 games last year as a true freshman, rushing for seven touchdowns and averaging 5.9 yards per carry. After being used primarily in short-yardage situations as the teams designated power back, Cross shed about 10-pounds in the offseason to improve his overall quickness in anticipation of competing for the No. 2 job this fall. Physically, Imani Cross is one of the most impressive players on the Husker roster and has a reputation for being one of the hardest workers on the team. Cross is regularly one of the last players to come off of the practice field.
Cross will have stiff competition for the backup job from two incoming freshman. Terrell Newby (5-10, 180) was a consensus four-star recruit and widely considered the #1 prep running back in the state of California. As a senior, he rushed for 2,305 yards and 45 touchdowns. Newby's quickness and sudden change of direction have gotten him favorable comparisons to Ameer Abdullah. Like Abdullah, Newby is at his best out of the shotgun spread, running the zone read or the jet sweep. Newby will also get a long look at kick and punt returner this season.
Nebraska also recruited Adam Taylor (6-2, 200) of Katy, Texas. Like Newby, Adam Taylor was a consensus four-star recruit who many considered to be the best running back in the state of Texas for the 2013 class. Taylor is a workhorse back who accounted for 2,754 yards and 45 touchdowns as a senior. Taylor has a good combination of size, strength and speed and displays patience staying behind his blockers. Taylor is a very good inside runner and is at his best when he can put his foot in the ground and head north. Taylor's specialty is running stretch plays. How much Taylor and Newby play as freshman and whether either of them can wrestle the No. 2 job from Imani Cross largely depends on how well they pick up Beck's offense this fall.
Another name to keep an eye on is redshirt freshman King Frazier. Frazier (6-0, 220) is one of the more decorated walk-ons to come to Lincoln in quite a while. There were those who considered Frazier to be the best running back in the state of Missouri for the 2012 class. By all accounts, Frazier had a strong spring and has put himself in line for playing time this fall.
There is a tight race for the fullback position between senior C.J. Zimmerer (6-0, 230) and sophomore walk-on Andy Janovich (6-1, 225). Both are strong lead-blockers who contribute on special teams. Zimmerer knows Beck's offense as well as anyone on the team, while Janovich is the better athlete and probably has a little more long-term potential. With both players capable of starting and also Tim Beck's affinity for using tight ends in place of a fullback in many formations, it might be a good idea to consider redshirting Janovich.
Possible 2013 Depth Chart:
1. Ameer Abdullah (Jr.)
2. Terrell Newby (Fr.)
3. Imani Cross (So.)
4. Adam Taylor (Fr.)
5. King Frazier (RFr.)
1. C.J. Zimmerer (Sr.)
2. Andy Janovich (So.)
Prior to contributing to HuskerMax, Jeremy Pernell co-founded the all football website N2FL.com. He served as the editor in chief of the college football portion of the website which focused heavily on recruitment and talent analysis, including the NFL Draft. You can email him at N2FL@hotmail.com.