Nebraska football fans will dearly miss Rex Burkhead. There is no question. His performance on the field and his behavior off of it were as great as any fan could ask for.
Yet his departure from the program may not seem as grim with the electrifying Ameer Abdullah filling in. Abdullah, who proved himself perfectly capable of handling Burkhead’s workload in 2012, must do one thing to ensure Burkhead’s absence is not felt more than necessary: remain healthy.
If Abdullah is sidelined with an injury at any point this fall, the Huskers will be forced to venture into territories rather uncharted during Bo Pelini’s tenure. They will have to face uncertainty at the tailback position.
Since Marlon Lucky was the featured back and Roy Helu Jr. was a young gun rising through the depth chart, the Huskers have mostly enjoyed multi-back systems. After Lucky was gone, Burkhead came on the scene. And when Helu Jr. headed to the pros, it was Abdullah’s turn.
The only season under Pelini in which only a single running back received more than 80 carries was 2011 when Burkhead set record numbers for carries per game prior to his injuries that plagued his senior season.
Fortunately for Nebraska, the focus on Burkhead was not problematic in 2011 thanks to his durability. And once his durability was brought into question, the Huskers already had an answer in Abdullah.
Like 2011, Nebraska will be faced with a similar proposition in the backfield this fall. Abdullah returns with a wealth of experience and ability, but beyond him lie some serious question marks.
Braylon Heard was supposed to provide the depth this fall, but his departure leaves it to a number of young backs to fill the ranks of backups.
Newcomers Terrell Newby and Adam Taylor are full of promise, and Imani Cross was proficient in short-yardage situations a season ago. But none of them have proven they can be effective every-down backs, and if Nebraska must call upon one of them to replace Abdullah, it will not be without concern.
The Huskers are in good shape at the running back position with Abdullah taking most of the carries. But due to the absence of Braylon Heard, the depth chart is much more uncertain. And if Abdullah does not remain healthy, Nebraska fans will not be able to forget about the comfortable two-back system of 2012 with Rex Burkhead.