Nebraska Football Spring Game 2011: Cornhuskers Showcase Talented Young Guns

Kraig LundbergAnalyst IIIApril 17, 2011

Jamal Turner
Jamal Turner

Last week, I commented on a Husker spring game preview that, while true freshman Jamal Turner was my runner-up, I was most excited to watch what the blazing Kenny Bell could do in the glorified scrimmage.

I'm going have to take that back.

In a game that elicited a generally apathetic response from a relatively small crowd of 66,000 (emphasis on the word "relatively"), Turner's play consistently bucked the trend.  The young quarterback-turned-receiver electrified the crowd every time he touched the ball.

That's not to say Bell wasn't impressive. The redshirt freshman had a respectable 42 yards on three catches in limited action against defensive backs that were probably a little better than those Turner faced.

But Turner's four catches for 93 yards and a touchdown, along with a punt return and kick return both over 50 yards, captured spectators' attention.

While it's dangerous to look too much into any one spring game performance, Turner's field day was admittedly refreshing to watch and easy to get excited about.

Recruited as a quarterback out of high school, Turner hadn't played receiver until the Under Armour All-American game in his senior year. Despite his infancy at the position, he turned heads in that game and speculation began to swirl about his versatility.

After a short stint at quarterback in Nebraska's spring practice (Turner enrolled early, along with OT Tyler Moore from Florida), Turner was switched to wideout and made an instant splash. 

Offensive coordinator Tim Beck called Turner "electrifying," and that claim most certainly held true during the spring game. 

Not only does he have speed to burn, but the former Houstonian looked truly natural catching passes and returning kicks. He ran precise routes and caught the ball away from his body when playing receiver, and he got upfield quickly and made opponents miss with ankle-breaking moves when returning kicks.

As good a quarterback as Turner might have turned out to be, it seems pretty clear that Turner's home is at receiver and returner. Regardless, it looks like Turner could prove worthy of suiting up in Roy Helu Jr's No. 10 jersey.

While Turner's performance stole the spotlight, there were other players that had standout performances, including Rex Burkhead and Brion Carnes.

Burkhead, looking better than ever, burst for 12 yards on the first play of the game and finished the game with 91 yards on just 11 carries (and a breathtaking touchdown run negated by a penalty).

The junior from Plano, Texas looks to be in peak physical form and should pick up right where he left off last season, when he rushed for over 900 yards in a backup role. 

While he does not have the bulk of a true power back or the speed of a home-run threat, his toughness, balance and vision make him one of the top backs in the nation, and he consistently showed that in limited action on Saturday.

Redshirt freshman quarterback Brion Carnes from Bradenton, FL used a simplified game plan to his advantage, finding wide open receivers to go 11-of-15 passing. He also rushed for a respectable 40 yards on nine carries. While he doesn't have quite the burst a healthy Taylor Martinez does, Carnes showed that he might be the team's best passer.

He seems to be a very smooth signal-caller, and he knows how to keep plays alive with his feet. Perhaps the best thing about Carnes' day was that he seemed to have a nice rapport with Jamal Turner.

As a whole, the offense clearly has a long way to go. While many of the fans seemed disconcerted by the lack of production, particularly in the first quarter, some growing pains on that side of the ball are to be expected.

The most concerning thing was the penalties. The offensive line doesn't seem to have come very far in eliminating the false start penalties, and there were a few other unnecessary flags that need to be addressed.

On the bright side, there were very few holding penalties, which are far more costly than the false starts.

Defensively, the team seems ahead of the curve, which is to be expected. The secondary, which is the defense's biggest question mark, did a great job for the most part (with the exception of covering Jamal Turner).

Possible All-American cornerback Alfonzo Dennard (affectionately known as "The Fonz" among Husker followers) played sparingly, as the coaches know what they have in the star senior.

Among the backups, cornerback Josh Mitchell and safety Harvey Jackson stood out.  Mitchell played aggressively and had a nice sack of Taylor Martinez, and Jackson seemed to be in on a lot of plays and intercepted a deflected Martinez pass. Both players could see playing time in 2011.

Sophomore Andrew Green had a solid day as well, aside from a play where he was beaten by Jacob Smith for a touchdown from Brion Carnes.

The defensive line looked deep and strong, particularly at defensive tackle. Jay Guy, a stout redshirt freshman, looked promising in disrupting a few plays in the backfield.  Defensive end Eric Martin also had a good game and is beginning to round into shape as a pass-rusher.

The linebackers, while inconsistent, look to have a lot of potential with all the young talent behind Sean Fisher, Will Compton and All-American Lavonte David, who should develop into a formidable trio.

While there were some great individual performances, the Cornhuskers showed first and foremost that, as a team, they still have some kinks.

A little fall competition between the Huskers' seasoned veterans and a formidable group of young guns should help iron those out.

Just one question: Is it September yet?