As the Nebraska Cornhuskers enter their first year in the Big 10 conference, confidence is a necessity. Rex Burkhead returns as a proven commodity at running back. It’s the three potential freshman behind him that could have Cornhusker fans jittery.
Burkhead cannot carry the football for the entirety of any game in 2011. While he will likely see the lion’s share of carries, true freshman Aaron Green will likely step in to spell him.
Braylon Heard hasn’t technically entered the conversation just yet. While he allegedly has the proper grades to attend the University of Nebraska, his scores still must be approved by the NCAA Clearinghouse. However, no plausible reason to deny entry stands in his way.
Assuming that Heard, Green and Ameer Abdullah are all Cornhuskers by the fall, Nebraska fans shouldn’t fear the idea of freshmen toting the rock while Burkhead gets a momentary break.
Green had offers from programs that don’t mess around when it comes to recruiting, such as Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Oklahoma, USC and far more. The SEC is allegedly the densest conference in terms of talent. If Green is good enough for multiple programs in the Southeastern Conference, shouldn’t he be adequate at the very least during his freshman year in the Big 10?
Heard didn’t have such an impressive offer list, but with Nebraska’s connections to Youngstown, Ohio’s Cardinal Mooney High School, the likelihood of larger schools offering him was slim and seen as a waste of resources.
Abdullah entered the picture late during the last recruiting cycle, as fear over Heard’s eligibility heightened. Much like Green, he claimed a multitude of offers, including ones from various SEC programs.
The fear that Nebraska fans might have comes because of two factors: the inexperience and sizes of their newest running backs.
Auburn sophomore Michael Dyer did well for the defending National Champion Tigers, rushing for 1,093 yards and five touchdowns last season. South Carolina rode Marcus Lattimore all the way to the SEC Championship Game, as he tallied 1,197 yards and 17 touchdowns. Both were true freshman and had the blocking necessary to help them shine.
At Arkansas’ Little Rock Christian High School, Dyer ran for 1,803 yards and 23 TDs during his senior year. Lattimore chalked up 1,898 yards and 31 TDs for Duncan, South Carolina’s Byrnes High School during his final year.
Dyer currently checks in at 5’9” and 215 pounds, while Lattimore stands 6’0” and weighs 218 pounds.
Heard’s last public measurements had him at 5’8” and 180 pounds, though he’s allegedly been working out regularly in addition to his recent studying for necessary entry exams. He last ran for 1,973 yards and 24 TDs as a senior at Cardinal Mooney. He also accounted for two TD catches.
Green rushed for 1,717 yards and 19 TDs for San Antonio’s James Madison High School. Abdullah gained 1,795 yards and 24 TDs rushing, along with 561 yards and four TDs receiving. He would also add four touchdowns to the scoreboard returning punts.
Aaron and Ameer both need to add weight as soon as they can. Green last measured at 5’9”, 191 pounds, while Abdullah did so at 5’9”, 177 pounds, making him a likely candidate for punt and kick returns should Heard arrive. Assuming Braylon picks up the playbook quickly, Green may find himself used primarily in a punt/kick return role if Braylon comes on strong in the summer and during fall camp.
If this is the case, look for Abdullah to remain redshirted, assuming he isn’t on the level of Devin Hester when it comes to returns.
It’s easy to be concerned with lack of experienced depth, and rightly so. However, in a conference that prides itself on strength, speed may be an edge that Nebraska can use to exploit deficiencies that are large enough to win or lose ball games for the opposition.
Nebraska requires consistent, proper blocking on offense to take advantage of this possibility.
If the Cornhuskers can take to Tim Beck’s new offensive system and learn how to efficiently block, then the newcomers’ speed may be the most significant factor.
As we see every year in college football, the old cliché rings true: Speed still kills.
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