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How I See It: Receivers get tough

Jamal Turner might not have known exactly what he was getting himself into when he agreed to switch from quarterback to wide receiver last spring.

His initial reaction to such a move was the obvious. He could handle the demands of the position, no problem. The name said it all, right? He would be a receiver.

“I was like, ‘Well, I’m going to catch passes; that’s really about it,’ ” he said.

That’s not about it, however, not for a receiver at Nebraska, anyway.

He would be expected to catch passes, of course, but “then you’ve got to block on plays, and it kind of hit me like, ‘Oh, I’ve got to be more physical,’ ” said Turner. “I didn’t know how physical I was until I moved to receiver. You gotta hit the weight room a little harder, this and that.”

Plus, you’ve got to “get more mentally tough,” he said.

Turner isn’t physically imposing, at 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds, not like teammates Quincy Enunwa (6-2, 210) or Brandon Kinnie (6-3, 225), so taking on a linebacker can be challenging.

“You’ve got to be tough,” Turner said. “You can’t just go in there, ‘Oh, let me just stay in front of you.’ You’ve got to hit ‘em in the mouth and then lock on, be real physical. You can be as big as a house, but if you’re weak and your mind’s not there, you’re going to get beat every time.”

Physical as in the hit Enunwa put on Fresno State defensive back Derron Smith, though that was technically a tackle not a block. Smith had intercepted a Taylor Martinez pass and was returning it when Enunwa blindsided him, knocking the ball loose in the process.

Enunwa is “at the top of the list” among blocking receivers, according to Kenny Bell. “He’s annihilating people. He’s stoning people,” said Bell. “Quincy Enunwa is a fun, fun football player to watch, whether he’s got the ball in his hands and six people are trying to tackle him, because he’s so big, or he’s going in there laying the wood on linebackers and safeties.

“He looks like he’s built of marble, doesn’t he? He is solid, absolutely.”

Whether a receiver resembles marble or balsa wood, he has to be able to block. It’s not negotiable, and “it doesn’t take a lot of encouragement because they understand that if they’re going to get on the field and have some playing time, that’s their role,” receivers coach Rich Fisher said.

“I think for me from day one I’ve emphasized the complete package. It’s part of the prerequisite of playing the position. Our job is not to go out there and just catch footballs.”

The receivers play an important role in the running game. That’s Husker tradition, receivers blocking on the perimeter and downfield. And size doesn’t matter. Remember the days of Corey Dixon, Reggie Baul, Abdul Muhammad and Riley Washington, Ron Brown’s “Itty Bitty Committee”? Washington was the biggest, at 5-9 and 165 pounds. But all four of those guys could block.

“At this level, you can’t be one-dimensional, and really at any level, in order to have any type of success,” said Fisher. “You can’t just be a receiver, a catching receiver or a blocking receiver. You’ve got to be the total package in order for our run game to work the way it’s supposed to.”

To this point, the Husker running game hasn’t worked the way it’s supposed to, at least not consistently. Through three quarters of the Fresno State game, for example, Nebraska averaged just over 2 yards per carry not counting Taylor Martinez runs of 57 and 38 yards and a 4-yard sack, and of 31 rushes in the game, not counting the sack and three kneel-downs, 16 gained 2 yards or less.

Such a reliance on big plays in the running game as well as the passing game underscores the importance of the play of wide receivers, blocking as well as catching.

As did Turner, Bell had to adjust when he got to Nebraska. “We want to see the team succeed,” he said. “We’re not worried about personal statistics and personal catches. If we want to pound the rock on a Saturday, that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to get physical with (defensive backs).
“And if we want to air it out, we’ll do that like we did in the second half against Fresno State.”

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