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On the Offensive

CHICAGO – The Nebraska coaching staff wants to trim the fat. Simplify things. Stay on the cutting edge.

The goal of efficiency won’t be limited to practice for the Huskers this year. Kenny Bell and Bo Pelini shared some insight Tuesday at Big Ten Media Days indicating that the cliches above will be cornerstones of how Nebraska runs its offense in 2014, entering the season with a new quarterback for the first time since the Big 12 days.

“We went back and researched everything that we did well,” Bell said. “Anything we did well stayed in our playbook. Anything we did okay or not very well, it’s out of the playbook.”

That’s the first step; the trimming of the fat. It leaked into the communication aspect as well, where Bell said the Husker offense previously had around 500 signals on offense to learn. Fewer signals and fewer plays go along with fewer formations, but more options within each formation, reminiscent of Chip Kelly’s Oregon offenses.

Pelini has said before he’d like to run an offense similar to that of the Ducks.

“Whenever you do something like that, whenever you practice something that you’re good at over and over and over…we’re taking things we did good at, and we’re going to get great at them,” Bell said. “And the things were weren’t so good at, there’s no need for them.”

It’s a fine-tuning process, as Bells says, derived from a hat-tip worthy amount of research by the coaches. The senior wide receiver said the coaches presented a mass of empirical data and stats from last season to figure out situationally where the offense excelled, and also where it struggled.

He’s not sure not sure how much the statistical backing increased this year, but admitted he’s never seen the coaches present this kind of data to tweak the offense.

“(We’re) doing everything we possibly can to simplify in every area,” Pelini said. “The terminology, as far as what we’re doing and how we’re doing it, make sure that our players can play a hundred miles an hour.”

The shift in offensive philosophy couldn’t come at a more opportune time than the crossroads between the eras of Taylor Martinez and Armstrong. The simplification should allow younger talent to overcome inexperience, he said. In other words, an 18-year-old kid taking on his first year of college won’t need to learn 500 signals in five weeks during fall camp.

Though the challenge still remains of an offense acclimating to a new quarterback. Bell said Monday that it takes years and thousand of reps to gets him thinking the same way as his quarterback. He saw that challenge last year with Armstrong and Ron kellogg taking snaps.

“From Taylor to those two guys, it was night and day,” he said. “That was big.”

Kellogg for example, had the lowest ball flight of the three. Martinez had the highest with his high-arcing ball, Kellogg the lowest throwing right on a line, with Armstrong right in the middle. Having seen thousands of passes from different quarterbacks, he said he’s realized that the timing is the most important part.

“It comes out of their hands really differently, but on our team it doesn’t matter, because none of those guys are tall enough to see behind our O-line,” Bell said with a laugh. “I don’t see it unit it comes out of our left tackle’s ear or like our right tackle’s ear.”

He got used to watching the ball appear out of the offensive line with three years of Taylor Martinez. That’ll take another thousand reps with Armstrong, which he’s confident he’ll hit during the next month of fall camp.

“The number one thing you’ll see this year is that he’s not a wide-eyed (freshman),” Bell said.  “You’re gonna see a guy that it’s slowed down (for).”

Though it was a “raw deal” for Armstrong last season, Bell gushed over his performance last year, and the spillover he hopes to see in the fall.

“You have any idea what it takes to play Division 1 quarterback at a place like Nebraska, where the starter has been the starter for four years and is arguably one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the position at our university?” Bell asked the crowd of reporters.

“He gets hurt and you have to play our first conference game…dude. I don’t think people appreciate how difficult that is. Then the kid wins nine games and beats Georgia. I don’t care who you are, you should be impressed by that.”