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Redshirt freshman running back Ronald Thompkins will be Nebraska's No. 2 running back Saturday against Ohio State, NU assistant coach Ryan Held said Tuesday.

The declaration marks a big milestone for the 5-foot-11, 195-pound Georgia native, who has battled a rash of knee injuries going back to his junior year of high school.

Thompkins will back up starter Dedrick Mills, and like Mills, Held said, Thompkins will only improve as the season go along.

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"This is going to be his first action in a long time. He's going to get better and better as the year goes on, getting used to where everything hits in our offense, understanding concepts," Held said. "I'm not going to put more on him than need be, but he's going to help our football team."

Thompkins was considered one of the top running back prospects in the nation before he suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first half of the first game of his senior year in high school, and he spent most of his redshirt season at Nebraska working to get healthy.

He played in just six games as a junior while again battling injuries.

Held called Thompkins a "five-tool player" with the versatility to do multiple things in Nebraska's offense.

"He's a slasher. He's got the ability to make cuts," Held said. "He's got tremendous hands, can really catch the ball out of the backfield. He's one of the better guys on our team catching the football."

Behind Thompkins, a number of young players will wait their turn, including redshirt freshman Rahmir Johnson, true freshmen Marvin Scott and Sevion Morrison, and redshirt freshman walk-on Cooper Jewett out of Elkhorn South.

"The most depth we've ever had since we've been here," Held said. "We're preparing as many guys as we can, because you just never know how the season will go. The more guys you have, the better."

Return game candidates: As Nebraska looks for a jump in special teams play, Held said the Huskers are looking at "a hybrid of guys" in the kick return game.

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Rahmir Johnson, defensive back Cam Taylor-Britt, and receivers Brody Belt, Wan'Dale Robinson and Marcus Fleming have all worked at kick returner, Held said.

"The way kickers are, sometimes it's harder to get kick returns now; they're kicking the doggone thing 10 rows deep," Held said. "But you never know with the weather in the Big Ten. You've got to be prepared to have the returns be changing field positions, which we've got to do a better job of."

Roster math: The Big Ten allows teams to take 74 players to road games. With relaxed rules regarding redshirts, and all players getting an extra year of eligibility, NU's coaches have had to crunch the numbers to figure out who will make the trip to Ohio State.

"Sometimes you used to take a few extra guys that you thought were going to help you in the future so they could see what road games were supposed to look like and those types of things," NU defensive coordinator Erik Chinander said. "But now with no redshirts, it's the guys that are going to play in the game. … So everybody that's in the two-deep on any special team or defense or offense has to travel right now, then the others get picked from what's left."

Jackson up for award: Junior outside linebacker Damian Jackson was nominated for the 2020 Armed Forces Merit Award, the Football Writers Association of America announced Tuesday.

Jackson, who served as a Navy SEAL for four years after high school, was one of five finalists for the 2019 version of the award. He is one of 38 nominees this year, and one of eight active college football players.

"He obviously has some different world experiences than all of the rest of us, including me. So for the young guys, he's an awesome guy to have as a guy that takes control of the room when he needs to and has that leadership," NU outside linebackers coach Mike Dawson said. "Maybe not all of the fine-tuned pieces of football, he's still pretty inexperienced that way, but as far as training and learning and carrying out a goal together as a group, there's no one better at it."

— Chris Basnett

Husker football position breakdowns