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April 9, 2012

Huskers trying to manage Burkhead's workload

There are some players who need spring football as a chance to showcase their skills and make a push toward earning or defending a starting job.

Then there are players like Rex Burkhead.

Nebraska's most productive and reliable returning offensive weapon, the senior running back doesn't exactly need to prove himself or what he can do to anyone, especially after last season's 284 carries.

The coaching staff's goal has been to cut back Burkhead's workload this spring in order to avoid any unnecessary injuries, and he's sat out all three of the team's major scrimmages. The Huskers also want to build more depth behind him by giving sophomores Aaron Green and Ameer Abdullah increased reps.

The only problem, however, is keeping a player like Burkhead away from contact has often been a little easier said than done.

Not only does Burkhead always want to get as much work in practice as possible, the Huskers also don't have as many numbers to work with in the backfield this season.

After having 10 running backs on the roster splitting reps last season, NU has only four backs at the moment in its rotation in Burkhead, Green, Abdullah, and sophomore Zach Taylor.

That's why Burkhead said this spring hasn't exactly been a cake walk.

"We've only had I guess three or four backs going the whole time," Burkhead said. "So I mean really the workload has been even more. Last year I think we had like six or seven backs. Just besides (sitting out) the scrimmages or whenever we go live, which isn't that often, the load really isn't that much different. It's just a little less hits and stuff like that."

The good news for Burkhead and for Nebraska is that he said he finally feels healthy again after last season's brutal grind. While he admitted it took a few weeks after the bowl game before all the bumps and bruises and a lingering ankle injury finally healed up, Burkhead said he's felt as healthy as ever so far this spring.

"I'm feeling good," Burkhead said. "I'm feeling really good. I recovered after the season, and just looking forward to this year."

Head coach Bo Pelini said he hoped Nebraska could reduce the wear and tear on Burkhead this season by getting Green and Abdullah much more involved in the running game. Pelini said having only true freshmen to back up Burkhead last season made it hard to keep him off the field much at all during games.

"We had true freshmen backing him up last year, and those guys have developed and are a lot further along than they were, so I think we're going to be able to take a significant amount off Rex's shoulders, especially if he gets nicked up," Pelini said. "Just keeping him fresh as the season goes on and being smart with where we are, I think that's going to be a lot easier to do this year with the depth that we have at the tailback position now."

With a little more time to watch practice from the sidelines, Burkhead said he's seen some big improvements from Green and Abdullah this spring.

While he'll undoubtedly be one of the focal points for Nebraska's offense once again this season, Burkhead should at least finally have a little help in the backfield this time around.

"They're doing a tremendous job," Burkhead said. "They've learned it very quickly. There's not even that much to say to them as far as whether we're in the film room or out on the field, because they've picked it up so quickly. They're very mature in that area, and just learning through the coaches and doing what they have to do to get the job done."



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