Going in: There was little doubt that Rex Burkhead, going into his junior year, was the man. He's one of those types of backs that gives you everything in regard to work ethic, sheer force of will running the ball as well as incomparable leadership ability. With Roy Helu Jr. having graduated, Dontrayevous Robinson transferring and Braylon Heard still not having qualified so he could make it for the Spring, Burkhead wasn't just the man, but perhaps one of the most valuable players on the entire offensive side of the ball.
The questions would be about who would back him up, at least for the Spring, as there is a lot of confidence that freshman running backs Aaron Green, Ameer Abdullah as well as Heard, who is in Lincoln, but apparently still working toward getting academically cleared to compete - not only would this trio compete for time, but in the case of players like Green and Abdullah, they would be almost expected to hit the field their first year.
Up to this point backups such as Austin Jones, a senior and the most experienced back on the team outside of Burkhead, as well as Lester Ward and Collins Okafor, were seen as potentially promising. But we just didn't have a solid body of work from them, which was mostly due to spot duty up to this point.
What's Happened: Lester Ward moves to tight end to try and help the increasingly serious depth issues at that position. But the staff moves a trio of athletes to the running back position - Yusef Wade a redshirt freshman - Ty Kildow a sophomore and Curenski Gilleylen a senior.
Wade was injured almost day one after the switch to running back. Kildow was dinged up for part of the Spring, but appears to be fine now. And Gilleylen was sidelined with an injury after just a couple of days of reps at the position.
Despite all that, the staff has limited Burkhead's reps, because it would seem while there is more time to recover from injuries which happen during the Spring, nobody seems to be all that thrilled with the notion of Burkhead rehabbing as he heads into the Summer rather than getting in shape for the season.
What we've learned: Precious little, sadly enough. It would seem that Nebraska is in probably no worse shape, but certainly no better, than they were heading into this early-year session of practices. While Running Back Coach Ron Brown said he was going to really push junior Collins Okafor to take that next step, we don't seem to have any indication that he's done that as of yet. Nebraska could really use a bigger back with athleticism, which he could easily be. But that's up in the air as for right now.
Also, in the issue of Mike Marrow, the apparent transfer to Nebraska from Eastern Michigan - the whole situation in regard to his academics still would appear to be unresolved. After a conversation about a month ago with his dad, Vince, who is a G.A. with the team now and helping with the tight ends, it seemed inevitable that his son, at one point a scholarship fullback with the Alabama Crimson Tide, would be heading to Nebraska from Eastern Michigan where he transferred to after he left Alabama. But it doesn't appear that he's going to be able to play this Fall, because of some potential hang ups in getting a waiver from the NCAA which would allow him to bypass the current transfer rules which say that he'll have to sit a year before he can compete.
If that's the case, and he's still wanting to walk onto the team, Nebraska could get a very solid and big back as Marrow goes at around 6-1 and 250 lbs.. Husker fans might just have to wait a year on that. When Bo Pelini was asked about Marrow just this last week, and his status with the team, Pelini seemed genuinely surprised, saying that he wasn't even sure who the reporter was talking about, and if Marrow had transferred, it was "news to me," he said.
Where it stands: The reality is a bit rough, but it is the reality. Rex Burkhead is it, and everyone else is going for second place. Among the group behind him, Austin Jones seems to be the guy at number two right now. But he's a scat back in size without the scat back burst or lateral movement. Jones is a thicker kid who runs hard and seems responsible with the ball, but he can't make holes where there aren't any and he doesn't have the speed to run by anyone in the second level. We have heard and seen some good things from Kildow, who is honestly just very hard for defensive players to find. He's listed at 5-7, but I don't know that he even hits that. However, in the few opportunities I have had to see him run, he's got a nice little burst, he definitely isn't afraid of contact and again, try finding him behind Brent Qvale. It's not easy. That still probably makes him a situational guy. In regard to Gilleylen, he certainly seems to have the tools, but he has had precious little time and getting dinged up won't help his cause.
Going forward: This group is a mess. That's it. That's all you can say. If they aren't depleted by graduation, it's injury. If it's not injury, it's something else. There are bodies, but this Spring has been one where everyone seemed to desperately want to find some answers there, but have came out with exactly none other than the obvious when it comes to Burkhead. Out of all the positions on the field, I figure this is the one where it will be drastically different come the first game in the Fall versus where it's at right now. And they need it, because Rex may be able to do everything, but he has to be upright to do it and not going into his 30th carry of the game even before the Huskers hit the fourth quarter.