What to Make of Jamal Turner at Quarterback
It's hard to take the move of Jamal Turner to quarterback as a vote of confidence for the other options Nebraska has at the position. Whether he's meant to be a Wildcat quarterback, a backup, or a potential starter, it doesn't send the message that the Huskers have an over-abundance of depth behind center.
During the 1994 national championship season, NU lost Tommie Frazier to blood clots. Brook Berringer punctured a lung. Walk-on Matt Turman was pressed into service. Tom Osborne invited after Tony Veland to return to quarterback (a position he'd played earlier in his career). Veland was undoubtedly an outstanding athlete, but the move was more telling about the position's depth than Veland's talent. If depth is the motivation for moving Turner, that suggests that there aren't enough quality options at the position.
A Fresh Start
Taking things further, it's possible that Turner isn't only desirable from a depth perspective but that he could have the potential to emerge as a starter. Given he's spent very little time practicing at the position in his 3 years in Lincoln, that's not terribly appealing. Any new starter at quarterback is going to make their share of mistakes. Paul Thompson moved from receiver to quarterback at Oklahoma and still managed to win a conference title. Of course, Thompson, had already spent most of his career at OU preparing to play quarterback. That's not the case for Turner. If Turner has growing pains, NU won't benefit in future years because he's already a senior.
The Wildcat has been a useful and productive formation for a number of teams. Darren McFadden used it to devastating effect for Arkansas in 2006-2007 (both years where the Razorbacks faced Bo Pelini's LSU defenses). Rex Burkhead used it with some success in 2010. Kain Colter was a weapon as a Wildcat quarterback for Northwestern. But the common element for these players is that they largely were used when the other quarterback options were less than stellar. Casey Dick was only a middling SEC quarterback at Arkansas. Burkhead was drafted into service after a Taylor Martinez injury and to complement a so-so Cody Green. Colter's main competition behind center was Trevor Siemian, a modestly productive pocket passer. None of these situations was a screaming endorsement for the other options at quarterback.
Bo Pelini has shown that he can win a number of ways. In 2008, his passing offense carried the team. In 2009, his defense led the way. The 2010 team was more balanced until injuries forced it to become a ball-control team that used the Wildcat. The 2011 and 2012 teams were mostly carried by a mulitple offense. Last year, the offense carried things early until the defense took over as the team rode Ameer Abdullah. The recipe for success in 2014 will probably rely on defense. The tandem of Randy Gregory and Vincent Valentine will need to be disruptive enough to allow the offense to again lean on Abdullah. You'd like to see great things in the passing game, but the move of Turner suggests that that's not terribly likely.