Big Ten: Tyson Broekemeier

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.

[+] EnlargeJamal Turner
Hannah Foslien/Getty ImagesJamal Turner will workout at both receiver and quarterback this spring.
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.”

Other Notes

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.”

Sophomores LeRoy Alexander and Nathan Gerry, a converted linebacker, played safety with the top defense in Cooper’s absence.

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 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."
On Monday, we ranked the top individual quarterbacks in the Big Ten heading into the 2012 season. As we'll do with every group, we now take a look at the quarterback units as a whole throughout the league.

Having a good starter is critical here, but depth also matters. Quarterbacks can take a beating during the course of a season, so teams without experienced backups will fall a notch in these rankings. Away we go:

[+] EnlargeCaleb TerBush
Brian Spurlock/US PresswireCaleb TerBush threw for 1,905 yards and 13 TDs last season.
1. Purdue: Do the Boilermakers have one of the top quarterbacks in the league? No. But they have something no other Big Ten team can claim: three players with significant starting experience. The benefit of dealing with injuries the past couple of years is that now Caleb TerBush, Robert Marve and Rob Henry are all seasoned veterans who can be interchanged by head coach Danny Hope. That gives Purdue the best quarterback depth in the Big Ten.

2. Michigan: The Wolverines have the league's most experienced quarterback in star Denard Robinson. They also know that if something happens to Shoelace -- or if they just want a change of pace -- Devin Gardner can fill in capably. Redshirt freshman Russell Bellomy is more of a pocket passer who showed some things this spring.

3. Nebraska: We know all about Taylor Martinez. The question is, how good is Brion Carnes, his backup? That's hard to say, since Carnes hasn't played much, but he is entering his second season as the No. 2. Redshirt freshmen Tyson Broekemeier and Bronson Marsh and true freshmen Tommy Armstrong add depth if not experience.

4. Iowa: The Hawkeyes are ranked here mainly on the strength of James Vandenberg, who's reliable and durable. Things drop off after him, with senior John Wienke and redshirt freshman Jake Rudock the likely backup plans. Junior college transfer Cody Sokol is expected to redshirt, though that could change in case of emergency.

5. Ohio State: Braxton Miller should be one of the top quarterbacks in the league for the next three years. But what if he gets hurt, which seems like a real possibility as much as he runs the ball? Urban Meyer said Kenny Guiton showed marked improvement this spring. True freshman Cardale Jones was highly regarded on the recruiting trail.

6. Minnesota: While senior MarQueis Gray is the clear starter, sophomore Max Shortell gained valuable experience last year in key spots. And the Gophers are excited about the future with true freshman Philip Nelson, who was a major recruiting coup.

7. Illinois: Reilly O'Toole saw a lot of action as a true freshman and will continue to push Nathan Scheelhaase for playing time. Junior Miles Osei could serve as third-string QB.

8. Wisconsin: There's a reason the Badgers brought in another graduate transfer. This spring, Wisconsin had only two healthy quarterbacks -- Joe Brennan and Joel Stave, the latter of whom pushed ahead in the competition. Danny O'Brien should solidify the position, but with injuries to Curt Phillips, Jon Budmayr and Bart Houston, depth is still a concern.

9. Northwestern: Much depends on how Kain Colter improves as a passer. Sophomore Trevor Siemian completed 16 of 26 attempts last year and could give the Wildcats a different look if they want to move Colter around.

10. Michigan State: The Spartans got a preview this spring at what might happen if Andrew Maxwell gets hurt. Freshman Connor Cook had to lead both offenses in the spring game, as depth is a pressing issue here. Maxwell should be very good, but Michigan State still enters the season without a quarterback who's ever played significant downs.

11. Indiana: Tre Roberson had a promising rookie campaign yet felt some stiff competition this spring from junior college transfer Cameron Coffman. The Hoosiers will bring in promising prospect Nate Sudfeld, too. So even with two former starters -- Dusty Kiel and Ed Wright-Baker -- transferring in the offseason, Indiana should have decent depth here.

12. Penn State: Call me an optimist, but I believe Matt McGloin will be more effective at quarterback now that he's got a more modern offensive system and peace of mind that he's the starter. Still, the Nittany Lions have earned the bottom spot in these rankings with poor performance at the position over the past couple of years. Rob Bolden has not capitalized on his opportunities, and fan favorite Paul Jones has not played a down in college. At least Penn State has nowhere to go but up.