Gabe Ervin already making his case in NU's backfield battle
Nebraska's running back position was one of the biggest question marks heading into the start of spring practice, and after just one week, that room looks cloudier than ever.
Head coach Scott Frost announced Wednesday that USC transfer Markese Stepp, who many expected to be the No. 1 back this season, would miss the rest of spring ball with a foot injury he suffered before arriving in Lincoln.
As a result, the window of opportunity for the rest of the Husker backfield few wide open. So far, true freshman Gabe Ervin Jr. has taken advantage as much as anyone.
It's still far too early to tell where the former three-star recruit out of Buford, Ga., will end up on the Week 1 depth chart. But based on his initial showings this spring, Ervin has the full attention of NU's coaching staff.
"He just has an approach like a pro," Frost said. "He acts like a grownup. He gets in the huddle and encourages and competes."
Running backs coach Ryan Held added to that early praise, saying Ervin had already added eight pounds of muscle since arriving on campus in January as an early enrollee.
Ervin, who ranked as the nation's No. 23 running back in the 2021 class, is still going through a standard freshman learning curve. But Held said the good has far outweighed the bad through Ervin's first few practices as a Husker.
"He's a guy that has really good feet," Held said. "He's got really good vision. He's really smooth in what he does. He's slippery; he can get through there on different things. He catches the ball well, and it means something to him.
"He wants to be really, really good. He gets mad when he doesn't execute a play right, and that's what I want. I want guys where it bothers the heck out of you if you don't do it right."
As good as Ervin's debut has been, a long road still awaits for him to solidify a place in the running back rotation this fall.
Frost expects Stepp to fully recover by this summer, and four other scholarship backs are battling for playing time this offseason in Ronald Thompkins, Rahmir Johnson, Marvin Scott, and Sevion Morrison.
Ervin will have some catching up to do in that race, but it sounds like he's made up quite a bit of ground already.
"Gabe Ervin has done some good things as a freshman, but he is a freshman, so it might be three good things and one thing we got to fix," Held said.
"It just takes time," Held added. "It just takes time to be able to learn what's happening pre-snap, what's happening post-snap, where the ball might hit, where our pass protections are, the timing of screens. You've got to be able to do a lot as a running back here, so it just takes time.
"You can't speed up time, so it's good that the guys are getting plenty of reps and will continue to watch the film. They need to watch film on their own because I can't get through every single play due to the hour rules.
"So what does it mean to you? Are you going to take more time to be a student of the game? Because those are the guys that are going to have the best chance of putting themselves in a position to be successful."