Burkhead Monday presser:
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LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Foolish as it might seem, Nebraska coaches plan to cut down on the number of times Rex Burkhead carries the ball.
Seems as if they are going with the less-is-more theory for the senior, who is positioned to finish his career as the Cornhuskers' No. 2 all-time rusher.
"As a competitor, you want the ball in your hands as much as possible, but at the same time you have to understand what's best for you and best for the team," Burkhead said Monday.
The belief is that Burkhead can be just as productive, maybe more, if he is fresher. A year ago a lack of proven depth required Burkhead to run 26 times or more in four games, including 38 against Iowa. By November, he had nagging injuries that limited his explosiveness.
This year, the No. 17 Cornhuskers have potential playmakers in backups Ameer Abdullah, Braylon Heard and freshman Imani Cross.
"Rex wants to play every snap. It's up to us to manage that," coach Bo Pelini said. "At the same time, get the ball in his hands, get him some carries. We have a lot of talent at the running back position, so it'll be in Rex's long-term interest to offset that load some."
Burkhead averaged 22 carries a game while running for 1,357 yards last season. His career total stands at 2,654. He'll join the school's top-10 rushing list with 90 yards in Saturday's opener against Southern Mississippi.
He needs 1,227 to take over the No. 2 spot from Ahman Green, who left after the 1997 season and became the Green Bay Packers' all-time leader. On his way up the chart, Burkhead would pass his old teammate Roy Helu Jr., who's now with the Washington Redskins, and 2001 Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch.
He won't catch all-time leader Mike Rozier, the 1983 Heisman winner who amassed 4,780 yards in three seasons.
Burkhead has proved to be one of the most dependable and durable running backs to come through Nebraska. No one can remember him ever asking to come out of a game for a breather.
"You never see a chink in his armor," offensive coordinator Tim Beck said. "You never know what's too hard for the kid or too much because he never comes out. He comes out Monday (for practice) bouncing around like a 3-year-old who just came out of candy shop."
The 5-foot-11, 210-pound Burkhead isn't the flashiest runner, and he doesn't have incredible breakaway speed like some of the great Nebraska backs of yesteryear.
His football smarts are well known among teammates and coaches. He spent a lot of time this summer breaking down film of Wisconsin's Montee Ball, just to see if there was something Ball does that he could add to his own game.
Burkhead also prides himself on his accomplishments in the weight room. He's hard to bring down whether he's running up the middle or operating in open field after catching a pass.
"What is it like to tackle Burkhead? First, you have to tackle him before I can tell you how it is to tackle him," Nebraska linebacker Alonzo Whaley said with a smile. "He's a power horse. Rex Burkhead is not the type of guy who will completely run you over. But if you don't bring your feet and keep driving after you hit him, nine times out of 10 he'll get plus yards after contact rather than you taking him back."
Though Burkhead has put up outstanding numbers, his name is not on many short lists of Heisman candidates.
Ball is the Big Ten's top candidate, and rightly so after he ran for 1,923 yards and 33 touchdowns last season. Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson also gets mentioned.
Burkhead, not so much.
"I really don't really care much about that stuff," Burkhead said. "Really what I want is a Big Ten title game. All the individual accolades will take care of itself throughout the year. Those things — I guess the nominations are for the fans and media to decide. My main mission is to win a Big Ten title game this year."