The Nebraska Cornhuskers’ deepest offensive position in 2012 will become one of its most transformed in 2013.
Taylor Martinez is back at quarterback. Quincy Enunwa, Kenny Bell and others will return at wide receiver. But after the graduation of Rex Burkhead and the apparent departure of Braylon Heard, the running back position will undergo the largest makeover this offseason, save for the tight end corps.
And as the skill sets change and experience levels diminish surrounding Martinez in the backfield, his play will be forced to adapt during his senior season.
The most obvious change for Taylor Martinez in 2013 due to Rex Burkhead’s absence will be the more commonplace playbook used by the Husker offense.
Utilizing the many talents of Burkhead, the Big Red would sporadically put Burkhead under center with Ameer Abdullah in the backfield. Thanks to the overwhelming confidence the coaching staff held in Burkhead’s decision-making as well as his throwing ability, he was often given a run-pass option.
Without another versatile dual-threat to put in the backfield, Martinez will now exclusively run the show for Nebraska. Gone are the days of taking plays off and relying on other stars to momentarily take the helm. The offense will now belong to Martinez, and only Martinez.
As the quarterback of the Nebraska Cornhuskers, Taylor Martinez and his predecessors accepted a position subjected to more scrutiny than any other in the state. Every move, on and off the field, is weighed, measured and judged.
Lucky for Martinez, he enjoyed the stardom of players like Rex Burkhead, which deflected some of the public’s focus.
But now Taylor Martinez is no longer the inexperienced quarterback whose sometimes incomprehensible mistakes could be blamed on his youth. He is the senior leadership. He is the one who has been there and now must step up and let his experience show for the younger players to follow.
Searching for any way to get the ball in Burkhead’s hands, the Husker offense frequently set up screen passes for him or even sent him wide to run routes with the wide receivers.
While Martinez will still be able to find Abdullah out of the backfield, he will be minus one downfield target.
Coupled with the crucial departures of key tight ends, Martinez will now need to rely more heavily on his receivers. Then again, with almost all of them returning, that may not be such a bad thing.
Although it was Rex Burkhead’s magical combination of speed, agility and power that gained him such an esteemed place in the hearts of Husker fans, he will be equally missed for his abilities when the ball was not in his hands.
The most important of these was his pass-blocking.
Ameer Abdullah has certainly made great strides in his blitz recognition and pickup. But he still must develop to reach Burkhead’s level. And he will be supplemented by the relatively untested Imani Cross and other incoming freshmen.
Taylor Martinez will have to alter his play to adapt to a less dependable supplemental pass protection. He will need to improve his decision-making in the pocket and passing accuracy on the run.