Hardly ever does a running back bring pass-protection into the conversation unless asked. It’s the least sexy part of the job, staying in the backfield to protect the quarterback, but it’s hugely important.
Do it poorly and your QB lies crumpled on the field after getting wrecked by a pass rusher. Do it well and that same QB has time to hit receivers downfield for big plays.
New Huskers tailback Brandon O’Connor understands that.
“If you’re a running back that doesn’t pass block, your QB is going to get hit every play,” O’Connor said. “He can’t go through his reads. He can’t make passes. He can’t do anything he’s supposed to do and he’ll probably get injured.”
For the 2021 Huskers, that takes on added importance with two first-year pivots, Josh Janssen and Josh Charison, behind centre.
“Those guys aren’t used to the big hits, so I’ve got to make sure they’re OK.”
If all the Manitoba product could do was pass block, there’d be value in that. But there’s so much more with the graduate of Winnipeg’s Grant Park High School.
First off, he’s big. Standing six-foot-three and tipping the scales around 210 pounds, he’s an imposing guy. Definitely not someone you’d be eager to tackle. Second, he’s fast. When O’Connor gets into the open field, you’re probably not catching him.
The Huskers are hoping for a BC Football Conference version of Derrick Henry, the Tennessee Titans bulldozer who routinely runs over and around National Football League defenders.
O’Connor likes the comparison.
“I’m very confident in my ability and my instincts about where to run,” he said. “I feel like Derrick Henry is a guy who can lower his shoulder when he needs to, but he also makes the right cuts and explodes out of contact. If he needs to, he’s also got that stiff-arm that he once used on three guys on a 99 yard touchdown run. I think I’ve got a pretty good stiff-arm too.”
Running behind a young and inexperienced offensive line, the holes might not always be there for O’Connor, but he seems the type who will be able to make something out of nothing.
He also promises to be punishing for BCFC defenders who would try to bring him down.
“I like trucking people,” he said with a grin. “I like contact. It’s been two years without football and I’ve been waiting to run over someone.”
O’Connor comes to the Huskers from the Manitoba Bisons, where he experienced a roster squeeze that left him on the sidelines more than he’d like. Huskers coach Blair Atkinson told O’Connor he’d get an opportunity in Chilliwack.
“I wasn’t getting as many reps at Manitoba as I wanted to, and I want to show everyone what I’m able to do,” he said. “That’s just how it is in collegiate football where some guys get more reps than others, but that’s why I’m here, for the opportunity.
“When Coach BA (Atkinson) talked to me about how much potential he sees in me. He believes in me and I believe in myself for sure, so I’m going off that.”