LINCOLN, Neb. - Nebraska 2011 All-Big Ten running back Rex Burkhead returned to the practice field on a limited basis Monday, after not playing in the Huskers' last three contests.
A senior, Burkhead has been nagged all season by a MCL sprain he suffered in the Huskers' first game against Southern Miss. The Texas native has missed a total of five games and was extremely limited in two more.
“Right now I’m just going to get on the field a little bit and run a little more. Still trying to test it out and see how the strength is and hopefully I’m good to go by Saturday,” said Burkhead, who is trying to make an appearance in the Huskers' last home game of the season – his last chance to play in Memorial Stadium.
“It’d mean the world to be able to get out there on the field, but at the same time I have to be smart. I have a bunch of family coming up and it’d be nice to get out there and play in front of them.”
Burkhead ran for 1,357 yards in 2011, finding the end zone 15 times. His injury has limited him to just 405 yards on 47 carries in 2012.
“I’m pretty close to getting there. I can’t really give you a percentage, but I’m getting close,” said Burkhead. “I try to play every week, but at the same time I have to be smart. I can’t rush it. If I keep doing it over and over again then it’s not going to be good in the long term. I want to be healthy for important games like the Big Ten Championship game and hopefully the Rose Bowl as well.”
A candidate to likely play on Sundays when his college career is over, Burkhead's biggest hurdle is trusting his knee when he does come back. The injury is not career threatening, but needs time to heal according to Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini.
“I felt good going into the game (Northwestern), but it’s tough to tell until you get into the game and get hit,” said Burkhead. “During the week you’re not getting hit and not getting tackled, so once you’re on the field it’s a whole different game.
“You have to get comfortable with it and be confident in it...You don’t want to go out there and be hesitant because that’s when you get hurt.”
In his most recent absence, the Huskers have recorded three-straight second-half comebacks without his services.
“It definitely makes you appreciate the game, no question about it. You always have love and passion for the game, but when you’re not out there getting a taste of it then it definitely makes you have a new outlook,” said Burkhead. “When you get back out there, you just want to hit it full stride.”
Sophomore Ameer Abdullah has taken the majority of Burkhead's load over the last three games and during the season, recording 942 yards on 182 attempts – a 5.2 yards per carry average. He's also scored eight times.
“He’s done a tremendous job all around, not just running the ball, but pass blocking, catching passes out of the backfield, and everything,” said Burkhead. :The ability he has shown has been very impressive.”
Nebraska is 8-2 on the year 5-1 in Big Ten play. The Huskers remaining regular season opponents are Minnesota and Iowa. Nebraska currently controls their own destiny in the Big Ten Legends Division.