August 1, 2009

RB camp preview: Helu, Castille must shoulder load

With the state of the passing game still up in the air heading into fall camp, there's little question what position is the clear cut strength of Nebraska's offense. Led by the likes of juniors Roy Helu and Quentin Castille, the Huskers are loaded at running back this season. Here's a breakdown and some of the top storylines for NU's running back position as fall camp gets underway.




As junior Zac Lee settles into his role as starting quarterback, Nebraska's offense is going to need to rely heavily on its running game to pick up the slack as Lee and Co. work out the wrinkles early on. So are Helu, Castille and the rest of the Husker I-backs ready to shoulder that responsibility? At the moment, the answer appears to be yes. Helu and Castille both had extremely good offseasons, and both have bulked up to increase their durability. Throw younger backs like Lester Ward, Collins Okafor and Austin Jones into the mix, and NU appears to have plenty of depth to spell Helu and Castille as the season wears on if needed. The demands will likely ease up as Lee eventually gets the passing game going, but until then the running game is going to be the heartbeat of the Huskers' offense.















Biggest question: Can Helu and Castille carry the load?
What we know right now: Helu is ready

On the heels of a breakout end to last season, Helu looks more ready than ever to step up and be the man in Nebraska's offense. He's bigger, stronger and reportedly just as fast - if not faster - than he was a year ago. Maybe even more importantly, he's steadily taking on the role of one of the Huskers' team leaders. Head coach Bo Pelini selected Helu to represent the team at Big 12 Media Days this week for a reason, and Helu echoed Pelini's team-first approach perfectly. So long as he can stay healthy (he missed the latter part of spring practice with a leg injury) Helu could be poised for a huge season.


Fresh fall camp faces

The most anticipated arrival this fall will be four-star running back recruit Rex Burkhead from Plano, Texas. Burkhead, who has been working with his new NU teammates this summer in offseason conditioning, has already made quite the impression, as Helu said he's been thoroughly impressed with his natural talent and work ethic. Pelini generally prefers redshirting true freshmen, but Burkhead could definitely be an exception this season. Another player to watch is fellow incoming freshman and Texas native Dontrayevous Robinson. At 215 pounds, Robinson provides another big body in the backfield with the speed and quickness to make an impact in the open field. Pair them with the rest of NU's already deep running back corps, and the future of the Huskers' backfield looks brighter by the day.

Early camp prediction

This will not only be one of Nebraska's strongest offensive positions, but probably one of the best on the entire team. Helu and Castille will obviously get the bulk of the workload early on, but it will be interesting to see who emerges as the third or even fourth guy that can step in and contribute if either of them goes down with an injury. Ward and Jones were neck and neck during the spring for the third spot, but the addition of Burkhead and Robinson just might change the landscape of the depth chart a bit depending on how they perform in fall camp. Okafor also showed some promise in the spring game, but right now I wouldn't be surprised if one of the freshmen - more than likely Burkhead - makes a run at some serious playing time by the season opener.



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