Monday, July 18, 2011

Matt Chandik's Nebraska Player to Watch

2011 marks Nebraska’s first season as a Big 10 member, though some would argue that the Huskers have been more symbolic of a Big 10 university than a Big 12 school for quite some time. Bo Pelini’s squad prides itself on a fierce defense before anything else. Former Husker defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is now lighting up the NFL, capturing the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award a year ago, and cornerback Prince Amukamara was drafted in the first round by the New York Giants. It’s expected that the Huskers will continue their dominance on the defensive side of the ball and will have more players drafted there.

On the other hand, though, someone needs to do the dirty work on offense. While freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez was an early-season revelation for the Huskers, senior running back Roy Helu was a major part of the offense throughout the season. Helu finished with 1,245 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. However, he’s now gone, and someone needs to fill his shoes. That brings me to my 2011 Nebraska Breakout Player, running back Rex Burkhead.

Burkhead enjoyed a strong season as Helu’s understudy a year ago. He nearly reached 1,000 rushing yards with 951 yards at 5.53 yards per carry and also scored seven touchdowns on the ground. Burkhead’s nicest asset, though, is his versatility. He proved to be a capable receiver out of the backfield with 15 receptions for 148 yards, returned five punts and was 3-for-4 with three touchdowns throwing the ball. The 5-11, 210-pound back is a perfect fit for what Nebraska wants to do offensively and he should thrive in a starting role.

If super stud recruit Aaron Green is as good as advertised (The five-star back had offers from everyone in the country), he could chip away at Burkhead’s carries. However, Burkhead can still provide an element of power and is too versatile to keep off the field. Expect 1,100 yards on the ground from him and another 300 or so receiving. He’ll also still be a threat to throw the ball out of the Wildcat.

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