LINCOLN — When asked the other day to provide a progress report for two redshirt freshmen at wide receiver, junior Jamal Turner didn't hesitate for long. He's used to this.
He started with Alonzo Moore, who Turner says is athletically gifted (especially evident on jump balls) but needs to bury himself in the playbook. Then Turner assessed Jordan Westerkamp, a sure-handed talent who's grasping concepts but is being held back a little by route-running technique, Turner said.
Turner almost, for a moment, sounded like a coach.
“I feel like one. I feel like I've been here forever,” said Turner, who was then promptly reminded that it was just two years ago when he started catching passes for the first time instead of throwing them.
Back then, a veteran's evaluation of Turner wouldn't have been too flattering. As Turner put it in his mock rendition of what his teammates witnessed as he struggled to adjust to the receiver position: “Jamal couldn't learn a play. He couldn't run routes.”
Yet in 24 months, Turner now finds that he's the one setting the example. And it's exactly the role Turner wants.
“They can relate to me because of the situation they're in,” Turner said. “They come to me a lot.”
Same goes for junior Kenny Bell, who took licks on the scout team as a true freshman, and senior Quincy Enunwa, who rode the bench for most of his first season at NU.
These three veterans, perhaps the most dangerous receiver trio returning in the Big Ten, know what kind of results are produced by continual commitment to day-by-day improvement. They are the products of that.
Now they're hoping to pass their habits on to the underclassmen working behind them.
“The No. 1 thing that we can do is to give back to this team and teach the younger guys the way we do it,” Bell said. “That's how you develop a legacy of great receivers. I could care less if anybody remembers my name if we're producing some (great) receivers down the road.”
It's sort of an additional self-motivation that Bell, Enunwa and Turner can use during the next two weeks as spring practice grinds on.
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They know the offense, its plays and concepts. They're familiar with defensive schemes and coverages. They understand the fundamentals.
Indiana's the only Big Ten team with three receivers returning who had more combined catches in 2012 than Bell (50), Enunwa (42) and Turner (32).
“Realistically, the past few years, we've played a lot of football,” Bell said. “But sometimes you've got to learn to compete against yourself. Am I better today than I was yesterday?”
So you nitpick. Focus on the nuances, Bell said. Receivers coach Rich Fisher makes sure to keep them fully engaged, too — “He says the same things over and over and over,” Turner said.
Turner, Bell and Enunwa talk about their goals every day. They watch film together during lunch or between classes.
They're assuming that the detail-oriented approach will eventually rub off on those young guys still trying to learn the basics. And it should help them get better, too.
“I'm really proud of myself,” Turner said, “but this isn't the time to stop working hard.”
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