Quarterback battle is down to two
LINCOLN — Nebraska’s second scrimmage of training camp didn’t compel Scott Frost to name a starting quarterback.
But for the first time, the coach mentioned the possibility that both redshirt freshman Tristan Gebbia and true freshman Adrian Martinez could see the field early this season.
Standing inside a storage room under the northeast section of Memorial Stadium, Frost made it clear to a couple of dozen media members that his preference would be to go with one QB. As a former starter at that position, Frost said, he wouldn’t have felt comfortable or in a rhythm sharing time.
“That being said, right now, if we had to play a game today, both guys deserve to play,” Frost said. “So we’ll see how we manage it.”
Gebbia is “running it really well,” Frost said, but his plus traits are his accuracy, arm strength and decision making in the passing game. Martinez is throwing well, he added, but is “a little better runner.”
Martinez was a bit better Friday, Frost said, but part of that was three bad snaps to Gebbia that killed drives. The two have traded having better days throughout camp.
“It really comes down to who’s going to operate our offense the most efficiently,” Frost said. “We have enough weapons on offense, I think, that if we have a quarterback play well and efficiently and get the ball to the right guy on time, we can be pretty dangerous on offense.
“The other big key is we’re going to have to take care of the ball and not turn it over. We had a couple of those today that I didn’t like.”
Frost said he wants to give the second quarterback “actual, meaningful reps” no matter who the starter is for the Sept. 1 opener against Akron. However it goes, he said, “the sky’s the limit for this offense.”
Quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco stood in the back of the group of media as Frost spoke Friday. He addressed the prospects of a two-quarterback system Thursday.
“If you have two, you don’t have one,” Verduzco said. “But ultimately, Coach Frost will make that decision. If that’s the direction he wants to go, then that’s the direction we’ll go and I’ll coach the hell out of those guys and away we go.”
Other notes from Frost’s 11-minute media session:
» Friday’s scrimmage was better than NU’s first on Sunday, Frost said, but a step back from the previous three practices. He didn’t see the “juice” he wanted from the offense, which worked at a slower tempo. The defense also wasn’t as aggressive as it had been recently.
But Frost added later that the Huskers remain trending in a positive big-picture direction.
“I know we’re better,” Frost said. “We’re a lot better than we were at the end of spring. We’re miles ahead of where we were in January. Now how much we’ve caught up to some of the other teams that we’re going to play this year, I don’t know. I won’t know that until we get on the field and get an opportunity to compete and see where we are. But I know we’ve made a ton of progress and I can’t wait to test it out.”
» The running back room has “sorted itself out real well,” Frost said, and he would like to play three or four backs depending on what their roles are and who stays healthy. Junior Tre Bryant has been slowed by a minor ankle sprain the last couple days, Frost said.
» The defense began the scrimmage strong, with defensive coordinator Erik Chinander calling plays like he would in a game. Frost said that as the defense went to a more base look, the offense put together some good drives.
» Frost said the coaching staff is trusting the defensive backs more. He credited the four true freshmen and three transfers for providing more depth and pushing the NU returners to play better.
The Blackshirts have also been stronger against the run, Frost said. Nebraska ranked 115th nationally last year while allowing 214.75 yards per game.
“I think it’s been a give and take and that’s what you want if both sides are improving,” Frost said. “Half of playing defense is getting hats to the ball. I think most of the big plays you see in football happen because there’s only one defender there, and if you make that guy miss, it turns into a big play.
“Our guys are starting to understand how to hustle to the ball, how to get a lot of hats around it. That’s how turnovers are created and that’s how you prevent big plays. It’s getting better.”
» A large group of former players gathered for lunch on the third floor of Memorial Stadium. Frost said it’s part of a greater Husker brotherhood he wants revived. He also asked former Huskers Jason Peter, Grant Wistrom and Steve Warren to speak to the team during fall camp.
“I want that connection to be back,” Frost said. “We got all those guys up at lunch. I can’t wait to go up and see them. There was a bunch of guys here from my team and it’s always special to see that group.”
» Asked whether he plans to award any scholarships to walk-ons in the coming days, Frost said, “We’ll see.” NU coach Mike Riley gave six last August, including one to now-senior offensive lineman Cole Conrad.
“I can’t wait to put my first walk-on on scholarship,” Frost said. “It’s going to be a happy day for me when I see that come to fruition and see our plans for walk-ons take the next step.
“But we’re not going to hand them out. Guys are going to have to earn them, they’re going to have to be on the field, they’re going to have to do things the right way and represent Nebraska the right way. We’ll see if we have any coming up right away in fall, but I expect some of these guys to get there sooner or later.”
» Asked about Saturday evening’s Fan Day event at Memorial Stadium, Frost delivered a line he’s used before.
“Every day in Nebraska is Fan Day,” Frost said. “If I go to Walmart to get new diapers, I’m going to see fans. And it’s awesome. Ninety-nine percent of the time people are great and it’s awesome to see them. Look forward to that environment (Saturday).”