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CHICAGO - Even though Tommy Armstrong has eight starts under his belt as a college quarterback, the fact remains that his inexperience is one of the major question marks facing Nebraska's offense going into the 2014 season.
In an effort to help Armstrong, as well as a revamped offensive line and young group of receivers, the Husker coaching staff decided - as they like to put it - trim the fat off of their playbook during the offseason. According to head coach Bo Pelini, the decision to focus longer on less has already started to pay off for an offensive unit that boasts just as much potential as is does inexperience.
"I think (offensive coordinator Tim Beck) made a concerted effort, and we talked about it after last season, to kind of pair down a little bit what we were doing, simplify it a little bit," Pelini said during the second day of Big Ten Media Days at the Hilton Chicago. "Not over simplify. We're still going to be multiple in what we're doing, but try to a certain extent make the offense a little bit more user friendly and get really good at what we're doing.
"I think Tim has a really good feel for working with quarterbacks and understanding what the quarterbacks like, what they're comfortable with, and to have a good plan going into the offseason and seeing with each quarterback, and the offense as a whole, what we needed to work on. I thought we did that."
Pelini said many of the changes had to do with repeating a certain amount of plays in practice while making it a point to not go too quickly through offensive installation and throwing too much at the team too soon.
Nebraska's players agree that the change in approach made a big difference in the offense's overall understanding and efficiency during spring practice. Senior wide receiver Kenny Bell said players had to know roughly 500 different hand signals and process them from the coaches on the sideline between each play. With different coaches giving different signals to different positions that changed depending on the drive situation, Bell said it wasn't an easy task for players to properly process it all.
As the group now continues to master more and more plays in small chunks, the comfort level with the system across the board should be as good as ever.
"I just know that a lot of fat has been trimmed from the playbook," Bell said. "Last year, there was so many things that we did. We did some things good and some things alright, but the things that we didn't do great, we threw them out. We'd rather be great at a few things than pretty good at a lot of things. We were just doing too much. We didn't have an identity."
- Robin Washut
New alternate uniforms coming in 2014
For the third season in a row, Nebraska will break out a new alternate uniform for a game this season, Pelini confirmed on Tuesday.
While Pelini wouldn't give any specifics as to what the uniforms would look like, he said he was fairly certain the Huskers would wear them for their Big Ten opener at home against Illinois on Sept. 27. Pelini said he saw the new threads a couple of months ago, and expected adidas to officially unveil the uniforms in the near future.
"Obviously it's got to go through me and the athletic department, so there are a lot of people that have their hand on this stuff," Pelini said. "I don't think you're ever going to see us get out of hand with it. That's not our style. I think the alternate uniforms we've had have been pretty good. It helps in recruiting, and to me it's crazy that it does, but it does."
Nebraska wore alternates the past two seasons, sporting black uniforms in a loss to UCLA last season and an all-red look in a win over Wisconsin back in 2011. The Huskers also wore throwbacks for a game back in 2009.
Pelini said players were consulted about what they would like to see in the uniforms, but it was ultimately adidas who put them together. Based on Bell's ideas for the new look, Pelini is probably glad his players only had a minor input.
"You know the (Denver) Broncos' throwback unis? The yellow and the diarrhea brown? I would put us in something so ridiculous and ugly," Bell said. "That'd be fun. It would have nothing to do with our school. I'd put the Bugeaters on our helmet. People would freak out and be mad for no reason. Wouldn't that be fun if we came out in light purple with yellow socks. That would be fantastic."
- Robin Washut
Abdullah perplexed by RB height perception
At this point, Ameer Abdullah is used to it - when most people see him play for the first time, they see his smaller stature and assume he's a speed back who makes his living scampering outside the tackles.
Anyone who's watched the 5-foot-9, 195-pound back knows he's more than capable of weaving his way through the middle of the line, so Abdullah says the perception doesn't bother him anymore. But he does admit it confuses him.
"People have this perception that every running back is just huge," Abdullah said. "If you look across the NFL, few running backs are over 5-foot-10. Every running back is short. I don't know why everyone thinks it's a bunch of (former 6-foot-4 Giants running back) Brandon Jacobs walking around. No running back really looks like that."
Abdullah pointed out that many of the NFL's most successful runners, such as Ray Rice (5-foot-8), Jamaal Charles (5-foot-11) and LeSean McCoy (5-foot-11) are around his size.
"I met Maurice Jones-Drew (of the Oakland Raiders) and he's wide as a truck, but he's only 5-foot-5," Abdullah said. "When you see a shorter back, often times his base is more powerful and he's closer to the ground."
- Dan Hoppen
Bell discusses good and bad of Twitter
Bell has experienced both the highs and lows of Twitter during his time at Nebraska. When times are good, it's a great way to have fun and interact with fans, of which Bell has many. He has more than 55,000 followers, by far the most on the team.
But he's also experienced Twitter's darker side, especially after a rough loss. As one of Nebraska's more outspoken and popular players, Bell often takes a good deal of barbs when things get tough.
"Sometimes you just wish you could say, 'You're a moron,'" Bell said with a smile. "You wish you could say stuff like that. But you can't. People can't hear the sarcasm or the voice you're saying it in. People will read it however they interpret it."
"I've been called a pompous idiot on Twitter. Those people don't know me at all. But you can't make everybody happy."
Bell admits that he's made mistakes on social media that he wishes he could take back, but he believes he's learned when to bite his tongue now. But after he graduates, expect to see a much more loose-lipped Bell emerge.
"When I'm not associated with the university anymore, I'll be able to speak my mind," Bell said.
- Dan Hoppen