Steven M. Sipple: NU receivers are offense's best option

2012-10-27T00:05:00Z 2015-04-03T21:17:26Z Steven M. Sipple: NU receivers are offense's best option JournalStar.com

Reputations typically don't die easily, or so we're told.

In the college football realm, Nebraska still is widely known as a running school. For good reason. Or reasons. The option. The power-I. The fullback trap. Jeff Kinney. "Tough" Tony Davis. Mike Rozier. Lawrence Phillips. Ahman Green. Andra Franklin. Tom Rathman. Great running backs and fullbacks charging between snorting linemen. It's in our DNA.

Wonder how much longer the reputation will last.

The most athletic and deepest collection of talent on the 2012 Nebraska squad — offense or defense — is at receiver, (good) hands down.

If Rich Fisher's theory is valid, talent might continue to accumulate in his realm.

"The great thing about our guys — and I tell them this all the time — they are the marketing tool for the school," said NU's second-year receivers coach. "I get calls all the time from recruits. They'll say, 'Who's that No. 80? Gosh, is he fast.' Or, 'Who's No. 18?'"

Sophomore Kenny Bell (No. 80) and junior Quincy Enunwa (No. 18) sell their position well. They sell Tim Beck's spread offense well. They sell the program well.

They lead a deep crew with 26 and 23 receptions, respectively. Sophomore Jamal Turner has 13 catches, while unheralded senior Steven Osborne has seven. Senior Tim Marlowe has two receptions but surely would be in double-digits if not for being limited to two games because of injury.

Redshirt freshman Taariq Allen has practiced exceptionally well of late, Fisher said, and made a leaping touchdown grab on a fade route late in last week's comeback win at Northwestern.

Highly touted Jordan Westerkamp is sitting out as a redshirt.

Throw in talented senior tight ends Kyler Reed (13 receptions) and Ben Cotton (eight), and you better understand why Taylor Martinez's quarterback rating (162.8) leads the Big Ten.

"We have some kids who have come up on recruiting visits because of what they've seen from our receivers on TV," Fisher said.

What they see is the best group of receivers in the Big Ten.

What they see is arguably the best group of receivers in school history. Granted, Nebraska long thrived in a run-based offense. Even so, the Huskers have had their share of excellent receivers over the years, including Johnny Rodgers and Irving Fryar.

The 2007 Nebraska offense had Maurice Purify, Nate Swift, Terrence Nunn, Todd Peterson and Frantz Hardy. Was that group better than the 2012 cast? It's debatable.

There's no debating Fisher's emphasis on physical play from receivers. No surprise there. He was a starting linebacker at Colorado in the early 1990s and champions a rugged mentality.

"We play a physical game," he said. "I don't care what position you're playing on the field, you better be physical. Whether it's running the ball or going up and competing for a contested catch. …"

Like Enunwa did early in the third quarter at Northwestern. He leaped to catch a pass, missed and landed awkwardly on his head and shoulder. His head throbbed. He sprained his shoulder. He sat out for a while. The same play was called during the final minutes, as Nebraska rallied. The ball came his way again, and he snagged it. Talk about mental toughness.

"There's no doubt I have a little fire in me," Fisher said. "Hopefully, that rubs off on the kids.

"The greatest thing is I think there are some guys in our (receivers meeting) room who have really put in a lot of work to become the players they are right now."

Two years ago, the 6-foot-1, 185-pound Bell "was just a skinny little kid sitting in the room who had never played."

A few Nebraska coaches told Fisher that Bell flashed speed on the scout team.

"For him to develop leadershipwise — just his whole attitude and approach to the game and how he competes — those are things you really don't know in recruiting," Fisher said. "You never know how hard somebody's going to work. You never know, when he gets in a tough situation, how he's going to compete.

"Are they going to shut it down? Or are they going to take over? Are they going to be a great leader, or the guy who just wants to step to the back?"

Turner admittedly backed off last season when Marlowe pressed him daily in practice. Turner evidently is responding better this season.

"He's learned so much, and there's so much to the wide receiver position," Marlowe said. "He's running better routes. He's catching the ball. His ball security is better. He knows how to watch film now. He knows how to read coverage — he's grown so much."

Fisher, upon arriving at Nebraska, wanted to make sure his receivers knew he cared about them. He wanted to establish trust, "because once that starts happening, you can really get into coaching a kid as hard as you want, as long as he knows you really care about him," Fisher said.

Allen and Fisher have a strong bond. Fisher coached Allen at The Rivers School in Weston, Mass., and Allen since has worked his way up at Nebraska "to the point where I have confidence in him, and the team has confidence in him that we can stick him in the game and know he's going to go up and make plays," Fisher said.

Allen made a critical play against Northwestern, catching a touchdown pass that pulled Nebraska to 28-23 (NU prevailed 29-28). Martinez came through mightily in the clutch, as did his receivers — fitting, since it's the Huskers' strongest position group.

"As iron sharpens iron, men sharpen men, and that's what they're doing for each other," Fisher said.

Reach Steven M. Sipple at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com.

Copyright 2015 JournalStar.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

About the writer

Steven M. Sipple | Lincoln Journal Star

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.


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