Photo by John Baker/Huskers.com

Camp Notes: QBs Still Even; Washington Impressing

By Brian Rosenthal

To say Adrian Martinez has an edge in Nebraska’s quarterback competition because he arrived on campus in January wouldn’t be fair, or accurate.

The race is, has been and, at least for a couple of more weeks, dead even. Nebraska quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco reiterated that fact after Wednesday’s practice when he briefed a large media corps on his group’s progress.

“They’re all right there, all right even, you know?” Verduzco said.

Yet Martinez, a true freshman, can’t imagine the difficulty of this battle had he not participated in spring practices, when many of his peers were finishing their senior years of high school.

“It was definitely the right decision to come during the spring,” Martinez said. “I’m so much more ahead on the installs and plays. I know them much better than I did during the spring. It’s definitely an advantage for me.”

Sophomores Andrew Bunch and Tristan Gebbia join Martinez as those who emerged from spring as frontrunners in the quarterback competition, with newcomer Matt Masker, a freshman walk-on from Kearney, joining the fray in preseason camp. UCF transfer Noah Vedral, meanwhile, will redshirt and not seek a waiver with the NCAA to play this season.

“Matt’s a great guy. He’s a very hard worker,” Gebbia said of Masker, a graduate of Kearney Catholic. “He asks me, Adrian, Andrew, Vedral all the time. It’s great. Like Tanner (Lee) showed me the ropes last year, and Bunch, now I get to do that for somebody else.”

Coaches have been splitting practice repetitions evenly. Gebbia said he keeps his head down and focuses on executing the correct play, not necessarily a big play, while also analyzing film and learning as much possible.

“We all love doing this. This is what we love to do,” Gebbia said. “This is something I want to do for the rest of my life, and I’m blessed to be out here, able to lace up my cleats every day.”

The 6-foot-2 Martinez, who came to Lincoln in January weighing 198 pounds, checked in for preseason camp at 218.

“I’m just feeling really good with my body, my speed and the way I’m throwing the ball,” Martinez said. “I feel faster than I’ve ever been.”

Martinez also said he feels better acceleration in his throws, a sign he’s continued to make progress from shoulder surgery that sidelined him his senior season. He said Verduzco continues to work with him in “quickening” his throws.

Like the rest of the team, Martinez said the quarterbacks are attacking each day, intent on being a bit better than the previous day. While very competitive, the quarterbacks strive for each other’s success.

“All I really can control is my effort, and I feel like I’m giving it my all each practice,” Martinez said. “I think our team is making some serious strides, so I feel good about where we’re at.”

Nebraska coach Scott Frost has said he would like to name a starting quarterback no later than a week before the Sept. 1 opener against Akron, but that if somebody emerges before then, he would likely announce so.

 

Washington impresses

Because Maurice Washington wasn't yet eligible and unable to participate in summer workouts with his Nebraska teammates, Martinez was among several people unsure of what shape to find the incoming freshman running back.

“That’s something I was kind of worried about,” Martinez said.

Then Washington took a handoff and, well, buried all doubts.

“I saw that quick acceleration, that quickness,” Martinez said. “You guys will find out pretty fast. He’s a quick guy who can move, and he’s already picking up things pretty well. We’re really excited about him. Honestly, I can’t say enough good things about the guy. I’ll try to keep it down for now.”

Yet, he continued.

“He’s just fast, man. He’s a damn good player. Husker Nation is going to love him.”

Washington has impressed Nebraska offensive coordinator Troy Walters, that much is certain.

“Maurice, he’s special,” Walters said. “When he’s out there, he has another gear. He has some instincts you just don’t coach.”

Simply put, Gebbia said Martinez is “a phenomenal athlete.”

 

Attacking defense

Martinez smiled when he said defensive coordinator Erik Chinander is adept at “throwing a lot of stuff” at the offense.

“They’re playing faster and more aggressive than ever,” Martinez said of the Blackshirts. "I feel like their confidence grows each day. It’s been tough, but I feel like our offense is good, too.”

Gebbia said he returned home from practice one day to hear wide receivers Mike Williams and Tyjon Lindsey arguing with defensive back Deontai Williams about who won the day in one-on-ones.

“Competition is just going to breed excellence,” Gebbia said. “The defense has been up to their game every single day. The Blackshirt mentality, they’re doing a great job of flying around.”

 

Stille making gains

Sure, sometimes it meant turning the apartment thermostat to 60 degrees at night, a measure taken to make sure he didn’t lose weight in his sleep, but Ben Stille has made a significant gain.

 A sophomore defensive lineman from Ashland, Stille weighed 255 pounds last season but checked into fall camp at 290.

In addition to a chilly home, Stille did a lot of heavy lifting and kept a keen eye on his diet, making sure he was eating every couple of hours, including immediately in the morning and before he went to bed.

Stille said he maxed his squat at 675 pounds for two reps.

“When you notice yourself getting significantly stronger in the weight room,” Stille said, “you’re definitely going to have a lot more confidence out on the field, just with how you’re going to be able to move, how you’re going to be able to move other bodies on the field.”

In this defense, Stille said he will rush some from a five technique (outside shoulder of the offensive tackle), but rush a lot more often from a three technique (outside shoulder of the offensive guard). This spring was the first time he’d ever rushed from a three-technique.

“It’s definitely a pretty taxing job in there at D-line,” Stille said. “Three-fourths of the rotations are going to be pretty heavy, taking guys in and out, so the more guys we can get and be able to play at that level, the better we’ll be at defensive line.”

Reach Brian at brosenthal@huskers.com or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.

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