Eight Huskers will return to Nebraska's offense next fall, but that may not be the case for the team's annual Red-White spring game on Saturday. In fact, NU might be without its most celebrated star.
"I know Rex (Burkhead) probably won't play," said sophomore running back Aaron Green. "He probably won't play at all."
No Superman? No problem.
It wouldn't be a surprise to see him not play. During scrimmages this spring, Burkhead has been held out to save his body.
Sure, a Saturday without Burkhead will be weird. No question. But what positives, if any, can come from such a scenario?
For starters, it could act as an opportunity for fans to get a glimpse into the "post-Burkhead" future of NU's offense. More importantly, a Burkhead-less spring game will allow for two young running backs to open some eyes.
Last year, the Huskers relied on three talented rookie running backs to help take some of the load off Burkhead, an All Big-Ten First Teamer who put together one of the top rushing seasons in Nebraska history in 2011.
In 2012, things are going to be different. Braylon Heard moved to cornerback at the beginning of spring practices, which put even more pressure on sophomores Green and Ameer Abdullah — two players who will play a crucial role in Nebraska's 2012 offense.
"It's our job to put the ball in their hands more often than we did a year ago," said head coach Bo Pelini earlier this spring. "They stopped being freshman a long time ago, and I think they can be a force for our football team. They're both tremendously talented players."
The spring game will only be the first step into getting the two speedy running backs game-ready, and they both recognize their importance to future NU success.
"Hopefully it's just something that can help relieve Rex," said Abdullah. "I don't really want to see him taking so many poundings out there."
And by poundings, he's referring to the record breaking 38 carries he amassed against rival Iowa. And who could forget the 35 crucial carries that kept the ball away from Michigan State's offense for much of the game?
Abdullah served as a top backup to Burkhead for much of last fall, and he proved to be one of the most explosive return threats in the nation. So what exactly does one of the nation's elite kick-returners need to work on in a game situation?
"Just trusting my speed," he said. "I feel like a lot of times I cut back instead of just letting it all lose. Trusting my speed and trusting myself to make that play."
As for Green, one of the nation's most highly touted running back recruits (2011 recruiting class), it more falls along the lines of how everything "feels more comfortable now."
"I feel like I've gotten a whole lot better in the last year," he said. "I've got more confidence in myself—running outside, running inside, pass protection, running routes. Everything."
Which is a great sign for an offense that will, without a doubt, need a healthy Burkhead to win a Big-Ten title.
And Saturday's spring game only marks one of many steps for two young competitors vying for Burkheads job in 2013—an opportunity that neither is taking for granted.
"It's pretty exciting, I know how exciting the spring game is for Nebraska," said Green. "I came up here as a sophomore and the stadium was dang-near filled. I'm just ready to get out there and compete."
Abdullah added that "you definitely want to win, you never want to walk off the field with a loss," he said.
According to Pelini, "Those guys are two talented young men, two guys that can do a lot of things." An expected 70,000 plus fans will get to see for themselves on Saturday.
- Josh Harvey -