LINCOLN — Already having established himself as Nebraska’s fastest running back, Mikale Wilbon has been working to earn another title before the Sept. 2 opener against Arkansas State.
Husker coaches have been looking for one back to emerge as the guy who can do it all from a group that has grown to four during the first two-plus weeks of fall camp.
Run for the tough yards between the tackles and on the perimeter. Catch screen passes from quarterback Tanner Lee to turn those short tosses into big gains. Protect Lee by chipping a rushing linebacker or slowing a blitzing cornerback with a big block.
Running backs coach Reggie Davis said Wilbon has been making a strong case for significant playing time in his competition with fellow returnees Tre Bryant and Devine Ozigbo and true freshman Jaylin Bradley.
“Mikale has been getting a lot of reps rotating with Tre,” Davis said. “Mikale is having a very good camp. He’s playing hard, both on special teams and running the ball for us, in all aspects of being a running back. He’s really doing a good job for us right now.”
The 5-foot-9, 195-pound junior from Chicago said he’s doing everything he can to earn the trust of Husker coaches to become that go-to guy they hope breaks through. He’s embracing a simple yet effective approach to accomplish that goal.
“Pretty much just be great every day,” Wilbon said. “You can’t be perfect. You still strive to be perfect. You’re going to mess up some days, but still try to be great every day. I’m just here to go to work every day. That’s what goes through my mind.”
Davis, head coach Mike Riley and offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf are hopeful a breakthrough by Wilbon or another back will happen this week. If it doesn’t, Riley has indicated they could use a committee approach.
“There’s somebody that can do it. We just need to see them do it,” Davis said. “They just have to separate and string great practices together. We need consistency. It’s still pretty close. It will all shake out here before too long.”
Wilbon showed signs last season in pinch-hitting for two-year starter Terrell Newby that he would make a strong showing in 2017.
During his redshirt season in 2014, Wilbon impressed teammates and coaches enough to be named offensive MVP of the scout team. He saw action early the next season, totaling 42 rushing and receiving yards against BYU and running for 21 yards in the second game against South Alabama. But he played in just two more games.
His on-field time was more extensive last season. He played in 10 games, and one of his best performances came in his return to metro Chicago.
Against Northwestern, Wilbon carried the ball six times for 55 yards, including a career-long 32-yard run on Ryan Field. Wilbon finished the season with 89 yards on 15 carries and caught four passes for 34 yards.
His skill catching screen passes is helping keep Wilbon in the picture. He knows that will be an even bigger point of emphasis for a young offense hoping to make positive impressions early and often. Davis has made that clear in post-practice interviews.
“We’re light years ahead of where we were when we first got here,” Davis said. “With screens, especially the way we run them, it’s a lot of moving parts. It’s pretty detailed as far as where the sidewalks are for those screens.
“There are a lot of different ones and there are a lot of different nuances to each one. So learning all those nuances is the biggest part.”