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The Evolution of Jamal Turner

Jamal Turner likes to talk. That’s not new. What is new is what he’s saying.

The junior wide receiver held court with a rotating cast of reporters for about 20 minutes after Nebraska’s practice on Wednesday. He answers almost any question, and answers it directly. The words pop out quickly and easily, like spent casings from a machine gun.

Try to keep up as Turner gives you his thoughts on:

His stop-and-start, cut and cut-again running style with the ball: “That’s me trying to do too much and make a play when sometimes you could just run a straight line.”

His potential backup, redshirt freshman wide receiver Alonzo Moore: “With Alonzo his biggest problem is he’s not really learning the plays as fast as you’d want him to, but athletically the guy is crazy athletic. I’ve played basketball with him before and this guy, like, could be on our basketball team. He’s that athletic. He’s got major ups and loves jump balls. If he can just improve on learning the plays, he’ll play for us. He’ll play with us next year.”

His new position mate and schoolboy superstar Jordan Westerkamp: “Jordan’s basically got it all down, we’re just trying to work on his route running. He takes these really quick steps when he runs routes. If we could get him to open up his stride, make everything look the same, he’ll be a lot better.”

Jamal Turner , the guy who always thought making a cut or a move could garner more yards, is now espousing the value of straight lines? Jamal Turner, the guy who splashed onto the scene during his first spring game in 2011 but then fell out of favor halfway through his freshman year due to some lackluster practice habits, is now dispensing practice advice?

Chalk it all up to experience.

“I feel like I’ve been here forever,” Turner said. “It’s really funny because the younger guys come to me for a lot of things. They watch me run routes and they’re like ‘oh, he’s really successful now.'”

It’s really funny to Turner because it was hard to see him in this position two years ago. He says the young wide receivers know the stories about him, that he didn’t know the plays as a freshman, that he couldn’t run routes. They know that Turner was good enough to play right away as a freshman, that he had 13 catches over his first five games in 2011, and just two catches over the team’s final eight games as his playing time evaporated. Turner understands that now.

“I watch film (from my freshman year) and I look terrible,” he said. “I’m like, ‘why did they play me?'”

The young wide receivers know that the first half of 2012 wasn’t much different for Turner. Through eight games he was averaging just 1.75 receptions and 23.75 yards per game. Nobody argued Turner’s talent. In fact, most Nebraska fans were begging for him to get more touches, but things just weren’t clicking.

That changed last November when Turner caught his first touchdown pass in the 22nd game of his career. It was a big catch, a game-winner against Michigan State with six seconds left. It was a redo of the play a week earlier where Turner dropped a certain touchdown against Michigan. It was a catch that changed everything.

Turner closed the 2012 season on a roll. He scored the touchdown that capped a 14-point second half comeback against Penn State then scored again against Georgia in the Capital One Bowl. Over the final five games of last season, Turner’s averages jumped to 3.2 receptions and 40.6 yards per game. Turner finally looked, and more importantly felt, like a wide receiver.

“I wouldn’t go back to quarterback if they asked me,” Turner said on Wednesday. “I feel like I’m too good at the position. My route running this spring from last year  is night and day. I look like a wide receiver now and I feel like a wide receiver.”

Jamal Turner, the quarterback who was ranked ahead of last year’s Heisman winner Johnny Manziel coming out of high school, doesn’t think of himself as anything other than a receiver now?

The evolution is complete.