In 2008, the Nebraska football team was in the enviable position of having numerous young and talented running backs who all produced some big plays at important times during the year.
Considering the running backs coming back who played major roles in 2008, it will make the graduation loss of Marlon Lucky much easier to absorb.
Following is a breakdown of the major players at I-back and fullback for Nebraska in 2009. Classes listed will be for the 2009 season.
Jr. - Roy Helu Jr. - 6'0" 222pounds
Helu comes off a 2008 season that saw him lead the team in total rushing yards (839), and a yard per carry average of 6.4. Of Helu's best attributes, I think the ones that serve him best are his field vision and the burst he possesses to find the hole and get through it.
He also has the innate ability to make people miss in the hole and make positive yardage almost every carry. Roy also demonstrated that he is a dependable pass receiver and blocker in pass protection.
In a pre-spring press conference yesterday, Helu stated that he has gained 15 pounds of muscle during winter conditioning while maintaining his speed and quickness.
Jr. - Quentin Castille - 6'1" 225 pounds
Castille comes off the Gator Bowl, his biggest game as a Husker, with a bunch of confidence bolstered by the 125 yards on 18 carries that he put on a good Clemson defense.
Though a big-bodied running back, Quentin showed some flashes during the regular season, most notably on a fourth-down run against Kansas State and in the Gator Bowl, of having big-play potential with runs of 40 and 58 yards, respectively.
It appears that he has cut down on the fumble problems that plagued him early in his Husker career. Has pretty decent hands for a big man.
Quentin came into the Nebraska program at almost 260 pounds three years ago and after winter conditioning he is now down to a trim 225, but he is still a very strong and powerful runner.
Soph. - Marcus Mendoza - 5'10" 185 pounds
Marcus will probably benefit most from the graduation of Marlon Lucky, as more plays will be available to him in 2009. Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson has described Mendoza as someone with very serious speed.
Look for Mendoza to get some snaps at the running back position, but also have some plays for him at the slot receiver position to try and get match up problems on safeties and linebackers.
As of yesterday, Mendoza has now made the permanent switch to wide receiver. I think this is good for him and the team. His body and abilities are more suited to that of playing wide receiver than running back.
He will have a much better opportunity of playing more and making an impact on games as a wide receiver than as a running back.
R-Fr. - Collins Okafor - 6'1" 225 pounds
Okafor, out of Omaha's Westside High School, might begin to see the field some this coming year. A very athletic big running back with 4.4 - 4.5 speed.
Fr. - Rex Burkhead - 5'11" 200 pounds
Burkhead, the four-star recruit out of Texas and the Dallas area player of the year, is probably looking at a redshirt year. A very exciting, talented and fast player with all the tools to be a serious contributor down the road.
Is a redshirt year written in stone? I don't think so. But, we'll just have to see.
It appears that Nebraska has enough talent in front of him to save a year of his eligibility for the future and give him a year to get bigger and stronger in the weight room.
Jr. - Justin Mackovicka - 6'1" 235 pounds
Yes, another Mackovicka brother playing fullback at Nebraska, and I actually think that especially early in the season that Nebraska will rely on a stable of experienced running backs, a strong offensive line and will be utilizing a fullback more than in past years.
Justin is the younger brother of former NU fullbacks Jeff and Joel, and he is bigger and probably more athletic than either of them. And Jeff and Joel were pretty good by their own right.
Fr. - C.J. Zimmerer - 6'1" 220 pounds
Because Nebraska may be utilizing a fullback more in 2009, CJ may get a shot there early in his career, or he might be moved to linebacker.
Other players to watch in 2009
Fr. - Dontrayevous Washington 6'1" 225 pounds
R-Fr. - Lester Ward - 6'3" 215 pounds
R-Fr. - Jeremy Wallace - 6'1" 235 pounds
Soph. - Austin Jones - 5'10" 210 pounds
Soph. - Mike Hays - 6'1" 240 pounds
Soph. - Tyler Legate - 5'10" 225 pounds