Inexperience clouds Nebraska I-back picture as Terrell Newby rises to top

Terrell Newby looks to be the lead running back in Nebraska's backfield. AP Photo/Nati Harnik

Nebraska opened practice Thursday night, 24 hours after it staged the program's annual Fan Day inside Memorial Stadium.

No surprise Wednesday, coach Mike Riley served as the main attraction. He hasn't lost a game with the Huskers, after all, and every year at Fan Day, the head coach generates a huge line of gawkers and autograph seekers.

Nebraska has a few additional attractions, headlined by defensive tackle Maliek Collins, receiver and return specialist De'Mornay Pierson-El and third-year starting quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr.

Notably, though, no I-back rates among the stars in Lincoln. It's more a question mark at this early stage than a major concern, considering the backfield depth.

Senior Imani Cross has rushed for 22 touchdowns, but his skill set does not translate to a featured role in the Huskers' re-tooled offense.

Not since 2006 has Nebraska entered a season with so much uncertainty at the position. The primary back looks like junior Terrell Newby, who has rushed for 595 yards over the past two seasons behind Cross and bonafide star Ameer Abdullah.

Abdullah, who attained renowned status at Nebraska, believed in Newby. For some, that's enough to inspire confidence.

Newby said this week he thinks he's ready for the weighty, new role.

"I know what it means to be a running back at Nebraska," he said. "Ameer has always told me that comes with a lot of sacrifice."

Away from football, he said, "you can't always do everything you want to do." Newby said he plans never to check out for a play, to always work and to stay humble.

"These are a lot of things that some players may struggle with," he said.

Newby received limited work in the April spring game because of a sore ankle, but he entered summer in the top spot because of his versatility. He catches passes and handles assignments in pass protection. Nebraska can use him at times like a receiver and in various roles with other backs on the field.

Still, is he ready for this?

Riley said he likes a system that uses one back for the bulk of the work. But he did it both ways at Oregon State. During his second stint with the Beavers, Riley's teams average 7.7 wins in seven years with a 1,000-yard rusher. In five years without a 1,000-yard rusher, Oregon State averaged 6.2 wins under Riley between 2002 and 2014.

It worked better when he had Steven Jackson, Yvenson Bernard and Jacquizz Rodgers. Likewise, at Nebraska, the I-back has served as a catalyst for success since the 1970s. Names like Rozier, Green and Burkhead are emblematic of the Huskers' heritage.

Abdullah, too. Newby learned from one of the best. And he's playing among a group capable of supporting him. Cross, Adam Taylor, Mikale Wilbon, maybe even true freshman Jordan Stevenson -- who impressed Riley in the first practice Thursday -- look ready to contribute.

"I'm going to be ready for it," Newby said. "If it means being one guy who gets most of the carries, I'm up for it. If it's a committee and that's what the coaching staff wants to do, I'm up for it.

"Whatever the coaching staff wants to do, I feel like we're all in. We can only get better from the competition."

They're all likely as eager as Newby to see if he's ready.