Top spring position battles: No. 3

Snow is in the forecast. Single-digit temperatures have returned. Can’t you tell it’s almost time for spring football at Nebraska?

Our countdown of the top spring position battles has reached the midway point. The next battle will rage largely in the shadows, but it’s equally as important as many of the fights to win a starting position. At No. 3 on the list:

Backup I-back

The contenders: Junior Imani Cross; sophomore Terrell Newby; redshirt freshman Adam Taylor

The storylines: OK, barring an injury to Ameer Abdullah, the nation’s top returning rusher, the race to win Nebraska’s No. 2 spot in the backfield matters little, right? Wrong. For starters, the guy who gets the bulk of carries behind Abdullah in 2014 earns the inside track to start in 2015.

Moreover, maybe Nebraska could get even more efficient play from its returning All-Big Ten back if he carries the football fewer than the 281 times he toted it in 2013.

The bodies and the talent are there to give Abdullah an occasional rest. Cross, who rushed for 447 yards and a team-high 10 touchdowns last season, enters spring with the most experience of the contenders for the No. 2 spot, a position he has filled for much of the past two seasons.

But the young guys are coming. Newby gained nearly 300 yards as a true freshman, and Taylor, at 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, starred on the scout team.

Newby and Taylor offer the same kind of lightning-and-thunder combo as Abdullah and Cross. And in the category of interesting facts, the two young backs represent California and Texas, respectively, mirroring the geographic identity of former backfield mates Taylor Martinez and Rex Burkhead and current quarterback contenders Johnny Stanton and Tommy Armstrong Jr.

The outlook: Last week, we rated Newby as the No. 5 player to watch in spring practice. He brings the most versatility of the candidates for backup I-back. And Newby’s continued growth might rank as most important among the three expected reserves to the Nebraska offense.

But the Huskers figure to look for a complement to Abdullah. More than likely, that’s the 225-pound Cross, a proven force at the goal line. Taylor, too, provides an intriguing option. Of the three backs, we know the least about him.

Spring practice should produce a few answers.

Countdown of Nebraska position battles to watch in spring practice:

No. 5: Outside linebacker

No. 4: Quarterback