Ameer Abdullah and Taylor Martinez are the undisputed cornerstones of the Nebraska offense heading into 2013.
Taylor Martinez’s three years of starting experience and explosive athleticism will make him a terror for opposing defenses. And Ameer Abdullah proved in the wake of Rex Burkhead’s injury troubles last year that he is completely capable of undertaking the responsibilities of the Huskers’ starting back.
Although both players have the talent to lead Nebraska in rushing in 2013, it is Nebraska’s offensive scheme and depth chart that will make Abdullah the Huskers’ leading rusher this fall.
The offensive scheme over the past few seasons has evolved as Martinez has developed as a quarterback.
Upon arriving in Lincoln, his throwing motion was appalling. He did not have the strength to effectively throw to the sidelines. He did not have the accuracy to hit receivers on crossing routes. And he did not have the touch to drop long balls over the top. For all intents and purposes, Martinez was a sprinter playing quarterback.
However, after a few seasons of working with Bo Pelini and his staff and more than a couple tweaks to his technique, Martinez has developed into a sufficient passer. Even though he will still not draw any comparisons to Peyton Manning, his improvement in the passing game has been reflected in the Huskers’ play-calling.
During Martinez’s freshman year, he attempted 196 passes. In 2011, that number jumped to 288. And last season, it was 368.
Nebraska will always lean on Martinez to provide another threat in the run game; with his speed, it would be stupid not to. But with the huge strides he has made in his delivery, he will be increasingly called upon to air it out rather than accumulate carries on the ground.
In addition to Martinez’s decreased touches, the larger role Abdullah will assume on this fall’s depth chart will see him rise as Nebraska’s leading rusher.
A year ago, particularly when Burkhead was healthy, the Huskers enjoyed arguably the deepest stable of running backs in the nation. Burkhead was an NFL-caliber back. Abdullah was electrifying. Imani Cross was a wrecking ball in short-yardage situations. And Braylon Heard was likely the most talented third-string tailback in the country.
But now Burkhead has graduated. And Heard, who was supposed to help form the Huskers’ latest two-headed monster in the backfield, left the program.
The workload is now down to Abdullah, who proved last fall he could perform as the featured back, and Cross, who is relatively untested as an every-down player.
Last season, Abdullah received just over 50 percent of Nebraska's running back carries. Given the lack of experience remaining around him, expect that number to rise this fall.
This increase in his rushing attempts and the trend of greater emphasis on the passing game from Martinez will make Abdullah Nebraska’s leading rusher in 2013.