LINCOLN, Neb. -- How’s this for a surprise on the opening day of spring football practice? Nebraska has a new quarterback.
Well, Jamal Turner is not new; the 6-foot-1, 185-pound senior caught 60 passes over the past three seasons. And he has played quarterback -- in high school.
Turner shared time at QB on Saturday with several others behind Tommy Armstrong Jr. as the Huskers completed the first of 15 spring practices at their indoor practice facility.
Coach Bo Pelini said Nebraska plans “significant reps” for Turner in March and April.
Turner has tried the position in the past at Nebraska, Pelini said, but never in such an expanded role.
“This spring is a time for us to experiment and maybe take it to a different level," Pelini said. "He likes it. He thinks he’s [NFL quarterback] Russell Wilson. Jamal isn’t lacking for confidence.
“I thought he handled some things pretty well. He was further ahead than I thought he’d be. But when you play wideout, you kind of get how the offense runs.”
Turner also spent time at receiver on Saturday. He accounted for more than 10,000 yards in his high school career at Arlington (Texas) Sam Houston.
Armstrong performed well on Saturday with the top offensive unit. Redshirt freshman Johnny Stanton also worked at the position in addition to walk-ons Ryker Fyfe and Tyson Broekemeier. Freshman Zack Darlington, who joined the team in January, wore a green jersey to restrict contact in his first workout.
Senior I-back Ameer Abdullah said he liked the element that Turner adds.
“We’re just trying every new wrinkle we can to make this offense more dynamic,” Abdullah said.
Pelini said he was pleased with the opening day.
“I liked the tempo, the enthusiasm,” the seventh-year coach said. “Obviously, different guys are at different levels right now, as far as their knowledge, but I thought it was a good start.”
The Huskers have installed changes this spring to terminology and other logistics in an attempt to simplify aspects of the offense.
Pelini said he expected more mistakes than occurred.
“I was surprised how smooth it went,” he said. “There were very few missed assignments and alignment errors.”
Secondary matters: Senior safety Corey Cooper, Nebraska’s top tackler in 2013, sat out on Saturday with turf toe, Pelini said. Cooper suffered the injury last week in a conditioning drill.
“I’m not going to push Coop at this time of year,” Pelini said. “We want to make sure he’s 100 percent.”
Pelini said the Huskers used juniors Charles Jackson and Byerson Cockrell, a newcomer out of junior college, at nickel, the spot manned last season by versatile defender Ciante Evans. Junior Jonathan Rose performed well at cornerback opposite returning starter Josh Mitchell.
Getting bigger: All-Big Ten defensive end Randy Gregory has made important strides in recent weeks, Pelini said, as the junior attempts to add weight.
The 6-6 Gregory, who recorded 10 ½ sacks last season, looked especially thin in January. But Gregory is back up to about 235 pounds, the coach said.
“His offseason has only begun,” Pelini said. “He’s got a long way to go before we play a game.
“Every day is important for Randy to get bigger.”
Time to reflect: Senior receiver Kenny Bell caught 52 passes for 577 yards last season and remains on track to shatter school records in both categories.
He’s not resting on his accomplishments, though.
“I was disappointed in my year last year, for selfish reasons," Bell said. "I wanted to perform better.”
Bell’s production dropped from his sophomore season, when he caught 50 passes for 863 yards and a career-best eight touchdowns.
“I had a lot of time to self-reflect and think about it over these past three months,” he said.
Spring football is often unenjoyable, Bell said, but he’s determined to improve.
“I’m here to work, definitely. I want to win football games with my team. I want to do something that hasn’t been done here in a long time, and that’s win a conference championship."