Don’t worry, Nebraska fans, Rex Burkhead is just fine. But given what a huge factor he was in Nebraska’s offense as 2011 ended, and how important he is likely to be in NU’s plans for the coming season, the question needs to be asked about what happens if Burkhead goes down. Or, to be slightly less morbid, what are Nebraska’s options if offensive coordinator Tim Beck makes good on his promise to reduce the load on Burkhead in 2012?
So yes, there are running backs behind Burkhead in Lincoln. Let’s take a look down the depth chart and get to know them.
With Aaron Green’s transfer to TCU this offseason, the primary backup role is now firmly held by Ameer Abdullah. A sophomore from Homewood, AL, Abdullah stands 5'9" and weighs 195 pounds. He had 42 carries for 150 yards and three touchdowns in 2012, and lit the Memorial Stadium crowd up as a kick returner with 26 returns for a 29.35 yard average and one touchdown. Of all the players looking for a step up in 2012, Abdullah is the likeliest to be Nebraska’s newest star.
After 2011, Braylon Heard and the coaches looked at the depth chart and decided that Heard’s talents would be better served by him moving to defensive back. But then Aaron Green transferred, and Heard is now splitting time between defensive back and running back. Heard’s opportunities were limited in his freshman campaign of 2011, with 25 carries for 114 yards and a touchdown. But Heard’s ironman duties could be the biggest wildcard for Nebraska’s offense in 2012.
Technically, Mike Marrow isn’t a Rex Burkhead backup, being listed as a fullback and battling C.J. Zimmerer for the starting role. As a former Alabama recruit who arrived at Nebraska via transfer from Eastern Michigan, the 6'2", 250-pound junior has clear talent and brings the option for Tim Beck to call a massive (literally and figuratively) change of pace off the bench to spell Rex Burkhead. Don’t be shocked to see Marrow finding his way onto the field in short-yardage situations to start and then throughout the game.
Given the playing time Aaron Green, Ameer Abdullah and Braylon Heard saw in 2011, it’s clear that Bo Pelini isn’t afraid to give true freshman running backs playing time. That’s good news for Imani Cross, a 6'1", 220-pound recruit from Gainesville, GA. The conventional wisdom would be that Cross will redshirt in 2012 and see where he settles into the depth chart after Rex Burkhead graduates.
But the conventional wisdom last year would have been for one of the three freshmen running backs to redshirt, and that didn’t happen. So it’s not unreasonable to expect Cross to play in 2012 and to find a way to make an impact spelling Burkhead.
Zach Taylor (pictured here), a 6'0", 200-pound sophomore lit up Memorial Stadium during the 2011 spring game. At this point, Taylor is squad depth, but injuries could put Taylor on the field.
Murat Kuzu is a redshirt freshman, who comes from the same high school as Rex Burkhead. The 5'11", 195-pound running back will be eligible to see the field for the first time in 2012.
Graham Nabity is one of two walk-on freshman running backs on Nebraska’s roster in 2012. The Elkhorn High graduate stands 6'1" and weighs 195 pounds and chose to walk on over a scholarship offer from South Dakota State.
Jordan Nelson is the other walk-on freshman running back on Nebraska’s 2012. A Burke High graduate, Nelson is 5'8" and 175 pounds and set Burke’s school record for rushing yardage in his senior season.
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