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July 19, 2011

Key Huskers: No. 4 Rex Burkhead

As the dog days of summer continue, HuskerOnline.com is introducing a new series breaking down Nebraska's top-15 players on the roster heading into 2011.

In today's installment of Key Huskers, we take a look at running back Rex Burkhead and where he stands entering the start of fall camp.

Burkhead's strengths

Junior running back Rex Burkhead has shown he can do just about anything over the course of his first two seasons at Nebraska. Whether its being the Huskers' workhorse in the backfield, making big plays as a receiver or even running the entire offense as the Wildcat quarterback, Burkhead has established himself as the heartbeat of NU's offensive unit.

With a cast of talented but inexperienced freshmen backs behind him, Burkhead will be counted on to shoulder the bulk of the workload early on this year. The good news is that kind of responsibility isn't really new for the guy they call "Superman", as he ran, caught or threw the ball on nearly 21 percent of Nebraska's plays last season.

What he still needs to prove

There's nothing that stands out as a clear weakness for Burkhead either on or off the field, as he's established himself as far and away Nebraska's most dependable offensive player. The only thing that could be looked at as an area of concern could be whether he'll be able to handle the physical toll he's surely going to endure being the Huskers' workhorse all season long.

Burkhead has dealt with injury issues in the past, as he missed five games with a broken foot as a freshman. He's been able to play through some other minor bumps and bruises, but whether he can hold up for a full season as Nebraska's clear feature back will be something to keep an eye on all year long.

Most memorable play or moment

Nebraska was looking directly at its worst-case scenario entering its game at Iowa State last season, as starting quarterback Taylor Martinez was forced to sit out with an ankle injury and leaving Cody Green and Latravis Washington as the only healthy quarterbacks on the travel roster. Luckily, the Huskers had a Plan B at quarterback in Burkhead.

With Green struggling to get much done with the offense, Burkhead took countless snaps out of the Wildcat formation and racked up a game- and career-high 129 rushing yards and two touchdowns, including a 19-yard scoring run for the eventual winning touchdown in overtime, as the Huskers snuck out a 31-30 victory. With Martinez struggling with the injury for the rest of the year, that game marked the start of Burkhead's regular role as the Wildcat quarterback.

2011 outlook

The outlook for Burkhead is for him to be as important of a piece to Nebraska's offense as one running back has been in some time. Hopefully one or more of the Huskers' heralded cast of freshman backs can help take some of the pressure off him in the running game, but until one of them steps up it's going to be almost entirely on Burkhead's shoulders.

It certainly won't be easy, but it's hard to image a player more prepared for that type of responsibility than Burkhead. He's proven he's not scared to take on whatever role his coaches ask of him, and there's little doubt that he'll be ready to help lead the way for the Huskers' offense as long as he has to. They call him "Superman" for a reason, you know.


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