March 13, 2012

Turner growing into role in Nebraska's offense

Jamal Turner can only shake his head when he watches game and practice film of himself from a year ago.

He sees a talented and confident yet lost and confused true freshman just trying not to sink in a deep and complicated playbook while relying almost entirely on his pure athletic ability to get by.

It's hard for him to imagine just how far he's come since last spring, when he first arrived at Nebraska and moved from quarterback to wide receiver. After a season of arguably wasted potential, Turner has a fresh and revitalized outlook on his role in the Huskers' offense.

He knows what he has to do in order to get on the field next season, and he's hit the ground running in getting there this spring.

"I watched film from when I first started playing the position and now, it's ridiculous," Turner said. "It's crazy how much I've gotten better. I'm light years from when I started. It's always better to focus on one position and get better and learn how to run routes and how deep to run routes and stuff like that. It's a lot better."

For a moment last season, it looked like Turner just might live up to the huge amount of hype he built for himself within the NU fan base following his breakout performance in the Red-White Spring Game.

After seven games, Turner led Nebraska in receptions and receiving yards. Following the Huskers' win over Minnesota, though, the Arlington, Texas, native essentially vanished from the offense the rest of the year.

In retrospect, Turner said he basically got to the point where his physical skills could only take him so far in Nebraska's system. When it became necessary to have a firm grasp of the playbook as the season wore on, he admittedly became overwhelmed and regressed with his performance in practice.

That's why this spring the 6-1, 185-pound Turner has dedicated himself to learning his responsibilities on every play and in every situation.

"I understand college better and what it takes to play and develop as a player," Turner said. "(Last year) I was just out here running around, just running the ball. I didn't understand the play concepts or nothing like that, but now I do. Everything is so much clearer, because I know what everyone is doing now."

Offensive coordinator Tim Beck said Turner has benefited from coming into spring ball knowing he's going to be used strictly as a receiver. With depth concerns at quarterback behind Taylor Martinez last year, Turner split some of his practice time under center, which kept him from giving the receiver position his full attention.

Beck said the gains Turner has made both on the field and in the meeting room have taken his game to the next level.

"In order for the kid to have the chance to be an electrifying, play-making wide receiver, punt return, kick return guy, you've got to give him that chance," Beck said. "He's understanding stuff, We've gone through a pretty extensive offseason with him, probably as tough as they've ever had since they've been here with the mental aspect of things that we've asked these guys to know and to study film-wise and whatnot to prepare them so when they get going, I think that's helped them a lot. You'll see that carry over to the field because they'll play faster. They're getting aspects of the game."

This past winter, Turner said he met with Nebraska's coaches several times to talk about their expectations for him this season and beyond and what he needed to do in order to meet them.

In a receiving corps loaded with young and talented wide outs, Turner knows full well that getting on the field and also getting the ball would be a daily competition.

Last year was a transition for the former high school standout, but while there was plenty of frustration around his freshman campaign, Turner learned exactly how to make this season a lot more like what everyone has been hoping for.

"Stay humble and go out and play every day," Turner said. "Every practice is like a game. You can't get complacent. You can't be just like 'Oh, I'm with the ones, I'm just going to chill.' No, you've got to go hard, because there's another guy right behind you fighting for the same position that you're at.

"It got my competitive level totally high, and I'm going out every day working my tail off to impress the coaches to let them know that I'm ready to go out and play."

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