Rex Burkhead (Starter) – A complete running back that is as effective in the passing game as he was as a rusher. Burkhead did miss time due to a knee injury at two different points last season.
Mike Marrow (fullback contributor) - The would-have-been senior decided to leave the program after discussing with his family.
Braylon Heard (transfer) - The sophomore mostly got his work during Burkhead's injury and as a change of pace back.
LOST TOTAL PRODUCTION:
Burkhead played in just eight games last year, starting seven, and ran for 675 yards on 98 carries. Burkhead averaged just less than seven yards per carry and scored five touchdowns. He also added another 11 receptions for 92 yards and two more scores. Heard added another 348 yards and three scores, running the ball 52 times.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
Nebraska returns both Ameer Abdullah and Imani Cross who both saw time last year. Abdullah showed that he can be that every-down back when he was thrust into action when Burkhead went down with a knee strain. Cross, who played last year as a true freshman, came in and was that short yardage specialist that Nebraska desperately needed to go along with Burkhead and Abdullah. The Huskers also look to involve at least one and possibly two true freshman in the running game this year.
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART:
Ameer Abdullah, JR (Starter) – A second-team all-conference selection last year by Big Ten coaches, Abdullah looks to improve on 1,137 yard and eight touchdowns from a season ago.
Imani Cross, SO – Cross had 55 carries for 324 yards and seven touchdowns last year. Cross dedicated himself this offseason to trimming down and improving his feet to become an every down back.
C.J. Zimmerer, SR (Starter) – Zimmerer showed last year that he is capable of being on the field every down for Nebraska. The fullback in Beck's offense requires a player capable to be a lead blocker, runner and a receiver.
Andy Janovich, SO – Stories started to emerge last year at the Shrine Bowl about Janovich and how physically ready he was to play D-1 football. He saw the field as a true freshman and was used as a runner, receiver and blocker last season.
Terrell Newby, FR – There are some lofty expectations for Newby in Tim Beck's offense and for good reason. Last year Newby, West Hills (Calif.) Chaminade Prep, ran for 2,305 yards and scored 45 touchdowns his senior year, including 360 yards and eight touchdowns coming in one game.
Adam Taylor, FR – Taylor gets labeled as thunder with Newby getting the lightning tag. It's not completely fair, as Taylor is a complete runner leading Katy (Texas) to the 5A state title. Taylor bested Newby's stats by running for 2,754 yards and scored an identical 45 touchdowns.
If there is one thing that can be said about the running back position the past two to three seasons at Nebraska, it's that one man can't do it all. There have been a number of injuries to multiple players that have caused guys to either miss time or limit the reps they had.
No one would have guessed Abdullah would have had Burkhead in carries 2:1, not to mention how transfers have really shaped the landscape at the running back position in Lincoln with both Aaron Green and Heard leaving the past two years.
Needless to say, there were times last year people knew Abdullah was banged up and it was at the same point when Burkhead wasn't really available. Nebraska needs at least three guys ready to go at any time. However, there will always be one that is leading the way.
With Abdullah leading the way, Cross will build on the experience he was able to pick up last season and this spring to get on the field. As mentioned before, Cross wanted to lose the tag of "short yardage back" and be more of a complete player.
The results of the work Cross put in were evident this spring as well as the need to continue to work toward the goal of being a more complete back. Then there are the questions as to what Cross loses as a short yardage runner when it comes to changing his physical make-up.
"He looks good," said Pelini. "I sometimes have flashbacks to when I played and those big Michigan running backs coming through the offensive line, that's what Cross reminds me of."
Nebraska has a number of options to potentially step up into that short yardage role if Cross works his way out of it. Both Zimmerer and Janovich both showed last season that they are capable of running with the football and there is also King Frazier. Frazier, a RFr walk-on from Lee's Summit (Mo.), ran 12 times for 64 yards and a score in the spring game this April.
If Cross is somewhere between being the short-yardage runner he was last year and being a true No. 2 to Abdullah then that is where Newby and Taylor more than make up the delta. And many might ask who Nebraska can keep both of the incoming freshmen satisfied with their roles? Expect to see at least one of them at a number of places on the field.
Newby is a player that defenses are going to have to find. He may be coming off of the sideline and you'd expect to see him in the backfield behind Taylor Martinez only to see him at the slot. The four-star product is also a player Nebraska can get on the field when it comes to special teams. Nebraska already has some scary options in the return game, but Newby adds another dimension to it.
That gives a couple more opportunities to Taylor with Newby not seeing time solely at the running back position. Taylor is a player that people see his size and immediately think that he's not a homerun threat or a big play back. Judgment of this book by its cover completely misses Taylor's game and what is the most impressive about the four-star Texas product is that as a defense seems to be tiring out, he's gaining strength.
Recent rumblings have indicated that maybe there is a desire to keep a redshirt on Taylor this year. That may be the thought going into the season, but situations always dictate. Another solid year by Abdullah and maybe there is chatter about him going pro a year early and that might fuel some desire to give Taylor some carries to be ready for next season.
"Yeah, I think they are capable of playing early," said Pelini when asked about Newby and Taylor during Big Ten Media Days. "If they can help us this year, they are going to play."
The Nebraska offense should be potent and while Nebraska isn't your daddy's option team anymore, there is still a dependency to run the football effectively. It's still an offense based on speed, tempo, and being multiple even if being multiple means disguising the same play five different ways. Speed is something that you have as a team or you are chasing it. The Nebraska staff has upgraded the overall athleticism on the football team and this group of running backs has multiple home run hitters.
*** BRR Publisher Josh Harvey contributed to this report ***