Subscribe for 33¢ / day

Tre Bryant hadn't talked to a group of media in months, so this was no time for small talk.

Reporter: How healthy do you feel?

"One-hundred percent. Back to normal — even better," the Nebraska running back said following Wednesday's practice.

"Excited," he added.

Of course he's excited. He rushed for 299 yards on 51 carries (5.9 yards per attempt) last season before going down with a right knee injury late in Nebraska's second game, a 42-35 loss at Oregon. He underwent surgery in October — a week following the 56-14 loss to Ohio State, he said — and now has progressed to a point where he doesn't even wear a brace in practice.

"I don't like that," he said with a smile. "It's just telling the defense where to hit at it. I definitely don't need one."

Bryant back to full strength? Or even close to it? Talk about a victory for Scott Frost's program in its early stages. When one ponders Nebraska's up-tempo spread offense, the prevailing wisdom is the receivers are the strength. But the conversation is shifting. The Huskers in the offseason added Greg Bell, the top-ranked junior-college running back in the nation last season, according to Rivals.com, and also have added four-star speedster Maurice Washington to the fold.

Now comes news that Bryant is essentially full-go — with no major restrictions in preseason camp.

Think back to last year at this time. Bryant says he was in "survival mode," just seeing how far he could ride things out in the 2017 season. He wasn't shocked when the knee gave out against Oregon, he said.

Former Nebraska head coach Mike Riley characterized Bryant's knee problems as being chronic, something an aging man might experience. Bryant on Wednesday declined to get into the nature of the injury or the surgery.

As for how he approaches practice, "It's just the cliché saying of working smarter instead of harder — quality over quantity," Bryant said of his repetitions.

If his return weren't enough to get Nebraska fans' blood pumping, Husker running backs coach Ryan Held said paperwork has been filed with the Big Ten that would effectively make Bryant a third-year sophomore this season instead of a junior. The NCAA still must sign off, but Held said a medical redshirt year is indeed likely. That would definitely seem fair to Bryant.

Let's be clear about this: Plenty of people wondered whether Bryant would ever return to action. Did he hear those doubters?

"Every time I log on to Twitter," he said with a smile.

He noticed a lot of people using the word "if" in the discussion.

"That's not in my vocabulary," he said.

A 5-foot-11, 200-pound St. Louis native, Bryant said he started feeling like he was back to normal earlier in the summer "when I was going out there and doing the cuts with everybody else.

"I was like, 'We can get it rocking,'" he said. "It's kind of like being a kid in a candy shop again, just going out there and having fun. I don't have any personal goals because I know what it's like to be down and not be able to play. It's like having the best of both worlds — being down with the injury and then coming back. I'm really just having fun with it."

Held obviously is pleased to have Bryant healthy and in the fold, saying he regards it as a bonus.

"I always felt like he was going to work hard to put himself in position to do it, but now that I see what he can do — he can hit it downhill hard, he can run," the coach said. "In camp, when he runs it downhill, the pile goes backward — toward the touchdown. He can get low. He's very powerful. He's a good kid, and he's smart. He's kept up with the mental piece of it. He's a guy who really adds to the room.

"Now, there's cautious optimism," the coach added. "We have to keep working to get his pitch count to where he can give us some really good reps, but being smart on the recovery."

That said, Bryant's workload isn't much different from what the other backs are getting, Held said.

"When you have seven, eight guys and there's 15 plays, there are only so many plays that go around," the coach said.

Bottom line, there isn't a running back in Held's meeting room who has proved himself in two games at the level Bryant did last year. He ran with a ferocity that Husker fans expect from that position. He roared into contact. It's easy to envision him being one of the team's better players if his knee is as sound as it seems.

Yeah, that's what you might call a victory in August.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraSip.

20
3
1
1
2

Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

Load comments