Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini and offensive coordinator Tim Beck recently finished spring preparations and soon will begin the 2011 football season looking to find a replacement for graduated senior running back Roy Helu Jr.
Though Helu Jr. shared carries through much of his career, when given the ball he produced enough to end his career among the top five career rushing list at the University of Nebraska. Considering the history that Nebraska has of producing outstanding running backs that is a noteworthy accomplishment.
Thankfully though, for Pelini and Beck they will not have to look far to find that running back to shoulder the majority of carries in 2011 as Nebraska looks forward to its inaugural season in the Big 10.
The man that will lead the way for the Cornhusker ground attack is without doubt junior running back Rex Burkhead.
Burkhead just wrapped up a stellar spring practice with an outstanding performance in the spring game that saw him nearly break the 100 yard mark on limited carries. This comes on the heels of a 2010 campaign of being the changeup to the lightening bolt of Helu Jr., a season that saw Rex gain 990 yards as a sophomore.
That Burkhead is now a Cornhusker, may be the perfect elixir for the move to the rugged Big 10.
An examination of the skill set that Rex Burkhead shows on the field on Saturdays shows that he may feel right at home running against the likes of the Ohio State Silver Bullets, Wolverines, Spartan's, Badgers, and Hawkeyes of the Big 10.
From his first carries as a true freshman in 2009 Burkhead demonstrated outstanding instincts to find holes, follow the blocking, yet remain patient at the same time, waiting for his lineman to open those holes. When that hole or lane opens, Rex hits it quickly with great body lean, nearly always getting positive yardage and getting up-field. Those are qualities in a running back that are hard to teach. It is like speed, in that it's there or it isn't.
At 5' 11" and 210 pounds Burkhead possesses enough strength and balance, especially in the legs to deflect many of the first defenders that make contact with him. Not very often has the first player to make contact with Burkhead in an open hole stopped his forward progress or tackled him one-on-one. Burkhead has the ability to burrow and push forward through the pile for extra yardage.
In the open field he has enough shiftiness, looseness in the hips and fluidity to very often make the first defender miss in the open field and continue up the field. Though Rex doesn't have elite game-breaking speed, he can and does bust off numerous 20, and 30 yard runs. In the Big 10, those runs are field position changers.
Not to be overlooked is Burkhead's outstanding blocking in pass protection, his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and ball security.
These attributes as a whole will serve Burkhead and Nebraska very well in the coming season as the Cornhuskers enter a new era in the Big 10. Under the tutelage and mentoring of running back's coach Ron Brown, the leadership of Burkhead, incoming freshman Aaron Green, Ameer Abdullah and Braylon Heard have two great examples to follow for future success in Lincoln as new members of the Big 10 Conference.