Nebraska looks to get Abdullah, Green more carries

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LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) -- Nebraska will go into spring practice this week looking to lighten running back Rex Burkhead's workload.

"Rex took a beating," offensive coordinator Tim Beck said Tuesday.

Burkhead averaged about 23 carries a game while running for 1,357 yards and 15 touchdowns. He ran 35 times against Michigan State and 38 times against Iowa and had 75 percent of all carries by running backs.

Burkhead played through ankle problems and other injuries all season while Ameer Abdullah and Aaron Green combined for just 66 carries for 255 yards as freshmen.

"Those guys are talented young men and can do a lot of things," coach Bo Pelini said. "They were thrown in as true freshmen into a role, and a lot of it was learning what to do and playing off instinct. It's our job to put the ball in their hands more than a year ago. They stopped being freshmen a long time ago. They can be a force for our team."

The Cornhuskers lost three of their last five games to finish 9-4, and they ended up third in the Legends Division in their first year in the Big Ten.

Pelini enters his fifth year at Nebraska having won 28 of 37 games, but he's 10-7 since losing at Texas A&M late in 2010. The Huskers were 2-5 against Top 25 opponents over those 17 games, including 1-3 against the top 10.

"My theme of the offseason is raising accountability to a level it hasn't been to," Pelini said. "Does that mean it has been bad? No. I'm looking to take it to another level. Eventually it comes back to looking at accountability, mental toughness, attention to detail, which leads to becoming a better football team."

Two-year starting quarterback Taylor Martinez wasn't as effective in 2011 and could get pushed by Brion Carnes.

The offensive line must find a new center and replace two tackles.

Kenny Bell returns after a breakout sophomore season in which he was the top receiver. Questions linger about the role of Jamal Turner, who all but disappeared after being the team's leading pass-catcher through midseason.

Defensively, the Huskers will be without lineman Jared Crick, linebacker Lavonte David and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard -- all of whom are on track to be drafted next month.

The defensive line will be missing Chase Rome, Thad Randle and Todd Peat Jr. for all or part of the spring because of injuries.

Cameron Meredith and Jason Ankrah figure to be starters at the end spots, but Eric Martin is poised to play a more significant role after moving from linebacker to end in 2011.

Pelini is looking to build depth at linebacker, where Will Compton and Sean Fisher will be fifth-year seniors.

The secondary has players with starting experience in Daimion Stafford, Andrew Green and Ciante Evans. Braylon Heard, a backup running back last season, is moving to cornerback.

Another position change involves Graham Stoddard, who will move from linebacker to fullback for his senior season.

"I like the attitude of the guys," Pelini said. "I think our guys are hungry. They understand that this spring practice is important, and every day leading up to the season is going to be important, if we want to get where we want to go."