I don't know the last time it happened, or if it's even happened before in the history of Husker football, but in 2010, Nebraska returns everyone who had a rushing yard in 2009. That wouldn't be so amazing if the carries were limited to two or three players, but a total of 12 players carried the ball in 2009, rushing for a net total of 2,059 yards.
Granted, not all 12 players were running backs, but the running backs accounted for 1,724 yards, or 84% of the total yards gained on the ground.
This is your 2010 Nebraska spring football running back unit preview. Same guys, only better.
Lost: No one
|Roy Helu Jr||14-14||220||1193||46||1147||5.2||10||63||81.9|
The biggest question in 2010 was the same regarding Husker running backs in 2009 - can Roy Helu stay healthy? If he can, he's clearly one of the best backs in the Big 12. If not, well, the Huskers now have a couple guys that can take his place.
Helu was one of only four Big 12 backs to rush for over 1,000 yards last season, and this despite missing a good deal of playing time due to injury. Helu was never so injured that he missed a complete game. Helu started all 14 games in 2009, but had only five carries against Iowa State, seven against Baylor, and three against Arizona when he left the game early. There were conflicting clues as to how serious his injuries were. After the Texas Tech game, Shawn Watson called his shoulder problem "chronic" while Bo Pelini stated Helu was fine but only had a stinger.
When healthy Helu has good vision, good speed, and good hands. He has enough power to run through tackles, but not so much he's going to be used as a "pound the rock" back capable of continually running between the tackles. The best news regarding 2010 is that the experience behind Helu should take some pressure off him - he won't have to endure the constant pounding of between a 15+ carry running back without a break.
By the end of the 2009 season, Rex Burkhead had earned his "Superman" nickname. Burkhead's Husker career began immediately, as he saw nine carries against Florida Atlantic, Nebraska's first opponent last season. He began to show what he could do against Missouri when he provided a much-needed spark to an anemic offense, gaining yardage by running straight ahead. Unfortunately, he would miss the next five games, returning against Kansas State in limited action. In the last three games of 2009, Burkhead blossomed (or should that word be reserved for teenage girls coming of age?), carrying the ball 18, 17, and 18 times. He had his first 100-yard game against Colorado, and was a thrill in the Wildcat formation in the Holiday Bowl against Arizona.
The biggest question about Burkhead is whether or not he'll be the full-time starter when Nebraska takes the field against Western Kentucky.
True freshman Dontrayevous Robinson's redshirt season ended during the Texas Tech game when he played on special teams. The following game against Iowa State Robinson showed he could generate offense by rushing 15 times for 77 yards. Robinson scored Nebraska's lone touchdown in the 9-7 loss, but fumbled inside the Iowa State five-yard line (but, hey, who didn't fumble against Iowa State? It was a game of mental disaster). He had another decent game against Baylor, rushing 13 times for 61 yards and had three receptions, including a 19-yard gain. He played in six games in 2009, gaining valuable experience and showing promise
In 2010, Robinson should resume Quentin Castille's former role as a back who can pound the opponent's defense. He'll be bigger, stronger, and should be ready to make a season's worth of contribution.
Collins Okafor, Lester Ward, Marcus Mendoza and Austin Jones got their chances last season, but collectively gained 75 yards on 22 carries and didn't score a single touchdown. Before dismissing them outright, consider that the rest of the 2009 offense didn't execute well as a whole. Okafor and Ward are sophomores with time to improve.
C.J. Zimmerer was a 2009 recruit that redshirted last season.
How is it that Nebraska can go through a season, half of it using a power running scheme, and the fullbacks didn't merit a single rushing carry? Does that strike anyone else as completely bizarre? To be fair, Tyler Legate had three receptions, including one for a touchdown.
Braylon Heard is a four-star recruit coming out of Bo Pelini's former high school, Cardinal Mooney in Youngstown, Ohio. Everybody loves the new kid in town and Heard is no different. He has speed, vision, can break tackles, yada yada yada. The best thing for Heard would be a redshirt season, giving him a year to grow under James Dobson's strength program and learn Shawn Watson's offense.
2009 vs 2010
The Huskers appeared to be in pretty good shape entering the 2009 season with Roy Helu and Quentin Castille in the backfield. They were a great combination of power and speed, the only quandary for the coaches being finding a third back to provide depth. All was good until Castille was released from the team just before the season started for a "clear violation of team rules".
Entering 2010 spring, the running back corps are in much better shape. A whole lotta backs got experience in 2009 - even some guys down the depth chart got carries. The Helu/Burkhead/Robinson combination looks like the makings of a potent ground attack, but if one of the trio gets injured or does something stupid, the depth looks a whole lot better than it did the previous season.