photo and article by Patrick Runge
Nebraska football fans know who the stars on offense are for next season—Ameer Abdullah, Kenny Bell, Tommy Armstrong, and other players who are household names in Big Red Country. The question becomes who will be the player to step up and make a name for himself in 2014.
A leading candidate for that role should be Terrell Newby, a sophomore I-back. Here’s why.
You can’t coach speed. Yeah, it’s a cliché, but clichés become clichés for a reason. Newby has the kind of breakaway, game-changing speed that can terrify an opposing defense. When you have a player, particularly in the backfield, who can score from anywhere on the field if given a seam, it can change the entire structure of an opposing defense.
When he was healthy, Taylor Martinez had that kind of speed, and we saw how it could affect Nebraska’s offense. While he does not have the overall talent of Ameer Abdullah, Newby’s white-hot speed has the potential to transform Nebraska’s offense.
He Can Play Special Teams
If turnovers were Problem 1 for Nebraska, a lack of production in punt returns was problem 1A. Nebraska averaged 3.04 yards per punt return in 2013, ranking no. 123 nationally. That means if on every punt, Nebraska simply caught the ball and immediately fell forward, its average punt return yardage would be only slightly less than what it achieved in 2013. That’s 5.01 yards per return less than the “average” team’s punt return output last year, no. 62 Northern Illinois.
Nebraska had 23 punt returns in 2013, which averaged out to 1.77 punt returns per game (fair catches and punts out of bounds don’t count as returns). So even if Nebraska could just get to “average” in its punt return game, that would yield an additional 8.87 yards of field position in a game in punt returns.
That may not sound like a lot, but if you look at drive statistics from last year (courtesy of FBS Drive Stats), the difference in average starting field position between the worst team and the best team in FBS football last year was 13.1 yards. Now, it’s not exactly a like-for-like comparison, but the underlying takeaway is those 8.87 yards per game of field position Nebraska gave up compared to the “average” punt returning team makes a big difference.
Enter Newby, who looks absolutely primed to make a huge difference in special teams. He has the elusiveness to make a gunner miss, and the electric speed to take a small crease and turn it into a big gain. Combine that with the fact that he is not likely to be the primary ball-carrier, meaning he will be fresh and ready to contribute on special teams, and Newby could be a big difference-maker.
The only glimpse of that we have gotten publicly was in kick return drills at the Spring Game, where Newby (along with Jamal Turner) looked amazing. It may not be the first thing you think of, but if Newby can jump-start Nebraska’s punt return game, that could pay massive dividends to NU’s overall performance.
He’s Got The Coaches’ Trust
Last year, Newby had 54 carries as a true freshman. In the Bo Pelini era, only one true freshman I-back has gotten more carries—Rex Burkhead in 2009, with 81. That means the coaches like what they see in Newby, and want to get him on to the field.
With another year in the program and in the weight room, that workload should only increase. Combine that with an offense that should be less quarterback-centered with the departure of Taylor Martinez, and that suggests a significantly bigger role for Newby in 2014.