Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A New Helu?

He looks the same - a big smile as he trades a quick laugh with teammates. And, to a series of questions, Nebraska senior running back Roy Helu said he’s “about the same” as the 2009 version. Weight? Same. Goals? Same? Leadership? Same.

Competition? “They’re all good,” Helu said. “It’s always like that.”

But Helu’s position coach, Tim Beck, doesn’t quite agree.

“Roy’s been different this offseason,” Beck said. “And I like the way he’s working.”

The spurs: Sophomores Rex Burkhead and Dontrayevous Robinson are charging hard for playing time. Both are faster and carrying more weight. Both are downhill runners who attack the line of scrimmage with a single cut. Both are versatile enough to stay on the field in any situation.

Six months ago, Burkhead and Robinson were true freshmen in fall camp, staring up at the incumbent Helu, who sat alone atop the depth chart after head coach Bo Pelini booted Quentin Castille from the team.

“Even when I thought I wasn’t complacent, I guess I was complacent,” Helu said. “That’s human nature when you’re the older person in the group and there’s no one there to push you.”

Out of the 2009 gate, Helu didn’t seem satisfied. He was dazzling in games vs. Florida Atlantic (152 yards) and Virginia Tech (169). Suffering from the swine flu, he helped NU ice Missouri on the road with a 41-yard run. Through five games, Helu led the Big 12 with 552 rushing yards.

“When he’s healthy, he’s one of the best backs in the nation,” Burkhead said

But on that long run at Mizzou, Helu badly sprained his shoulder. The rest of the season was marked by strong performances - 138 yards vs. Oklahoma and 156 at Kansas - and disappointing ones - two fumbles vs. Iowa State and just 24 yards at Baylor.

Helu finished with 1,147 yards and nine touchdowns - both career highs. But over NU’s last four games, Helu rushed for just 46 yards per contest, averaging 3.5 yards per carry. He didn’t catch a pass, either.

Burkhead, recovering from a broken foot in near-record time, seized the spotlight in wins over Colorado and Arizona in the Holiday Bowl.

Helu hardly played in San Diego - three carries, eight yards.

“It was one of those things where it happens,” Helu said of the Holiday Bowl. “That was the way it was supposed to be. Couldn’t control it.”

The last impression of 2009, of course, lingers into 2010. Which is OK, Beck said. Helu needed that “competitive drive” of knowing Burkhead and Robinson could eat into his playing time.

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