Nebraska Huskers quarterback Taylor Martinez has been the guy in the headlines this offseason.
That said, you are sorely mistaken if you believe anyone was more vital to the 2011 offense than running back Rex Burkhead.
Even when the Huskers had nothing else going for them last year, they had Burkhead, plugging away at four yards a clip, shouldering the weight of his team on his 210-pound frame.
Looking at the Big Ten leaders in total carries in 2011, not only was Burkhead No. 2 behind Wisconsin's Montee Ball, but there wasn't another Husker running back in the top 35. Nebraska, Michigan and Iowa were the only teams in the conference without two running backs in the top 35.
If Nebraska is going to be successful this season, especially down the stretch, that cannot be the case again.
Even if the passing game is able to improve, the Huskers are going to need to close out games on the ground.
Ideally, you'd want a running-back situation similar to 2010, when Burkhead and Roy Helu Jr. split duties. That season, Helu had 188 carries and Burkhead had 172.
This is where Ameer Abdullah comes in.
Abdullah, as the No. 2 running back last season, logged 42 carries vs. Burkhead's 283. That is an astounding, if not alarming, difference.
Abdullah exhibited game-breaking speed last year as a returner. In order to preserve Burkhead's health, Abdullah will need to increase his workload at running back and be extremely effective in doing do.
It won't do anyone any good for him to spell Burkhead only to put up pedestrian numbers and lose the respect of opposing defenses once he enters the huddle.
Given that, Abdullah will need to show the nation early and often just how explosive he can be out of the backfield. The first four games on the schedule give Bo Pelini ample opportunity to feature Abdullah as a legitimate running threat and someone that Big Ten teams will need to plan on stopping as opposed to simply playing the pass when he comes in.
Even if it's just a couple of 50-yard scampers against Idaho State and UCLA, he will have established himself as a threat, helping to keep opposing defenses honest throughout the season and Burkhead healthy at the end.
Another year of riding Burkhead until his legs fall off could lead to an ugly second half of the season for Nebraska and take them out of any kind of contention before November.
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