The door to playing time for Nebraska sophomore running back Imani Cross has been swung wide open. And it’s likely to stay that way throughout spring practice.
As Ameer Abdullah enters his junior season, Braylon Heard’s set to transfer and freshmen Adam Taylor and Terrell Newby have yet to arrive, offensive coordinator Tim Beck plans to put Cross in the spotlight.
“I feel like I know what I’m gonna get out of Ameer,” Beck said. “I want to see what I can get out of Imani.”
Cross rushed for 324 yards and seven touchdowns last year, becoming a staple in NU’s red-zone/goal-line/short-yardage offense. The 6-foot-1, 225-pounder was effective in that limited role, but Beck wants to see him in the flow of Nebraska’s regular, fast-tempo offense. Cross has prepared for that chance, wide receiver Jamal Turner said, by losing weight and leading in the offseason.
“He’s 100 percent dedicated,” said Turner, who counts Cross among his best friends. “He’s the last guy in our group out of the weight room, and he’ll even stay until the next group comes in.”
That’s a continuation of how Cross approached practice last fall. He was often the last Husker to leave the field, working on ball skills for 20-30 minutes after Nebraska’s practice had ended. He especially worked on receiving, something that, in Beck’s spread offense, is important to be proficient in if you want to play major snaps.
As cut as Cross looks, he actually exceeded my expectations for him last year. His high school offense wasn’t particularly diverse – a heavy dose of option and split-back veer football – and so the jump to college was a bigger one than, say, Abdullah had to make. Taylor and Newby will put their own spin on this race in the fall, but Cross has a big head start.