LINCOLN — At the start of every week, coach Ron Brown and the running backs use a portion of meeting time to reflect on the most recent game.
Brown will recount the positives, but he wants his players to share the negatives.
Ameer Abdullah never holds back, always providing a detailed list of his own weaknesses. And that's probably what Brown admires most about Nebraska's new workhorse at I-back.
“I have not seen one time where he's tried to make excuses for himself,” Brown said. “He's been his own toughest critic after a game.”
Whether it's ball security, pass protection or route running, Abdullah holds himself to a high standard, which is perhaps the biggest reason the 5-foot-9, 185-pound back is excelling while the Huskers wait for Rex Burkhead to return.
Abdullah, a sophomore from Homewood, Ala., has recorded three straight 100-yard games, averaging 4.8 yards per tote in wins over Northwestern, Michigan and Michigan State. He's carried the football 65 times in three weeks, already totaling 151 rush attempts on the year. He had 42 last season, and just five in November until getting 12 against Iowa.
The increased workload hasn't been an issue, though. Abdullah says he's battling through the “typical bumps and bruises.” Flulike symptoms one week. A turned ankle another.
“I'm holding up pretty well,” he said.
His durability's been key for Nebraska, which has been without Burkhead since the senior reinjured his left knee at Northwestern on Oct. 20.
Burkhead's still working to get healthy. He wasn't suited up for practice to begin this week and is still being evaluated on a day-to-day basis.
But between rehab exercises, Burkhead has been “an extra coach” on the field, Brown said. Burkhead's still watching game film on his own, as if he were playing each week. Unable to set an on-field example, Burkhead's become a more vocal leader, too.
“He's going to benefit from it,” Brown said.
Regaining the starting job won't be easy, though. Abdullah's gained the coaches' trust, so much so that he played almost every snap during the 28-24 win over Michigan State.
Backups Braylon Heard and Imani Cross can be used situationally, but the style of play against the Wolverines and Spartans didn't fit their skill sets, according to Brown.
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Abdullah has shown a mix of patience and decisiveness as he's attacked the edges of defenses lately, and when opponents have started to overcompensate on the outside, Abdullah's alertly been cutting upfield and capitalizing on weak points between the tackles.
“Stretch and puncture,” Brown said.
There's plenty of room for Abdullah to grow, though, Brown said.
And even if Burkhead does return and take over that No. 1 spot, Abdullah won't alter his approach.
Five weeks ago, when Burkhead had returned from injury and was ready to start the Wisconsin game, Brown made a point to check on Abdullah's demeanor during the week of preparation. “It didn't even faze him,” Brown said.
Abdullah's known for a while that he has a ways to go.
“He's been tremendous,” Brown said. “I've appreciated his attitude.”
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