Senior back Terrell Newby determined to deliver better Husker ground game
LINCOLN — Terrell Newby doesn’t have to wait until September to carry a big load. The Nebraska I-back is toting one this summer with 15 hours of classes.
Newby has long been focused on graduating in 3½ years with a degree in sociology and, to do it, he’s had to carry extra hours while balancing offseason workouts.
“Once you have your mind set on it — that one thing — nothing was going to stop me,” Newby said.
In a recent interview inside Memorial Stadium, Newby also outlined his mindset for his senior season at NU and improving the Huskers’ running game, a key to the team bettering its 6-7 record from last year.
“It’s time to get to a graduate level of knowing this offense,” he said. “I’m basically approaching it like a coach would.”
A former top-100 recruit out of Chaminade High School in Los Angeles, Newby wasn’t satisfied being the Huskers’ leading rusher (765 yards) in 2015. He played hurt much of the season, especially after he badly sprained his ankle against Purdue. He had just 18 carries in the final four games while Imani Cross and Devine Ozigbo handled most of the job.
As a result, NU lacked a 1,000-yard rusher for the first time since 2008.
Nebraska’s run game also sputtered — especially on first down — in several losses, including Illinois, Northwestern and Purdue. The Northwestern game stands out as a tough one for Newby. He carried the ball 16 times for 52 yards. The Wildcats’ defensive front hounded him on a few runs outside the tackles that Newby didn’t execute as well as he wanted.
Is it a game he’d like back?
“I’d like to have them all back,” he said. “But you look at Northwestern — that’s a game where, as an offense, I feel we had to be more physical with those guys, because they brought it every single play.”
Newby rewatched every game from last year. He watched every spring practice. And through that process, he said, he’s developed a different mentality. He wants to be more physical. He wants to run tougher and “more violent.” When the 5-foot-10 200-pounder is in a tight spot on the field and it’s just him and a defender, he wants to get “more north and south” and attack that defender — and force the defender to make a decision, and maybe a mistake.
“This spring and summer, I’ve really hit that hard,” Newby said. “After looking at film — at plays that could have turned out differently — that’s when I hit it hard. A lot of it is a mindset. I’ve never been the biggest guy on the field, so to make those type of runs you have to have a certain type of mindset.”
Much like one of Newby’s biggest fans — former Husker I-back Ameer Abdullah.
Now an NFL player with the Lions, Abdullah has long been bullish on Newby’s potential.
“He has NFL talent, I’m telling you,” Abdullah said in a recent interview. “But you gotta make sure you use him right.”
Abdullah was back in the state this summer for his camp. He also worked out in Lincoln, and he and Newby watched Husker game tape together.
“He’s one of the greatest players who ever played here, and it’s great having that type of friendship,” Newby said. “It’s just great to work with him. He knows a lot. All the things he learns — and he’ll say he’s still learning in the NFL — he passes down to me.”
Abdullah said Newby is “electrifying when he gets to the zone game.” A zone running play allows the running back to pick the best hole based on how he reads the linemen. In spring practice, Newby said, he grew to like the inside zone play quite a bit. During scrimmages, he also showed off more burst and confidence on those plays.
“We worked it a lot in the spring,” he said. “I like how it’s looking and how it’s been blocked up front.”
A young offensive line “just progressed every day in the spring,” he said. “You saw it every day on tape. You saw them work more as a unit and how quickly they got their technique down.”
Both units — running backs and offensive line — have to get better if Nebraska is to commit more to a running game that keeps pressure off quarterback Tommy Armstrong, who tossed 16 interceptions in 2015.
First-down rushing average is important because it kick-starts a series and keeps the offense out of third-and-long situations. The Huskers’ 4.7-yard average on first down was 65th nationally. NU was ninth in first-down average in 2014, 14th in 2013, 15th in 2012 and 33rd in 2011.
After the spring game, coach Mike Riley said NU had winnowed down the type of run plays it would use in 2016, which should help the team execute a smaller menu of schemes more effectively.
“We really have a better idea of, ‘These runs are going to work for us,’” Riley said.
Newby also has a better understanding of what position coach Reggie Davis wants. Davis is in his second year as the successor to longtime Husker assistant Ron Brown.
“Coach Brown let us know exactly what was going on right then and there — you didn’t even need to ask any questions,” Newby said. “Coach Davis is more reserved. But he’s open to things like Coach Brown. You just go see him, any time, and he’ll gladly help you. So that’s what I did this summer. If I needed to go over something or needed help, he was there for me.”
In the running backs room, Davis kept a daily tally in the spring of how often NU backs missed assignments in practice. Newby said the improvement from last spring to this spring was major for every back.
Though Newby won the job last year, there’s no current No. 1 for 2016. He’s competing with Ozigbo and Mikale Wilbon, a redshirt sophomore from Chicago who played sparingly in 2015. That trio has been joined by true freshman Tre Bryant from St. Louis, who has impressed Newby with his mindset and purpose.
If all four play up to their capability, Nebraska may not have a 1,000-yard rusher in 2016, either. But it could still have a better running attack.
“We win games, and everything else will come along,” Newby said. “And to win, we need a good run game.”