Nebraska is now over halfway done with spring practice in 2018. Not surprisingly, the Huskers are performing better now than they were on the first day on March 16, but more work lies ahead in the final stretch.
“We’re better than we were day one,” Nebraska head coach Scott Frost said Tuesday, “and that’s good, but we need to be better at day 15 than we were day eight. This is kind of the hard part of spring ball where the enthusiasm of new opportunities and everything wears off and then it’s just hard work. Most of the guys are embracing that, but we have to make sure we knuckle down and get a lot out of these last five or six practices.”
The main focus of Tuesday was quarterback.
Four of Nebraska’s five quarterbacks on campus spoke to the media on Tuesday. It was the first time any of them had been made available after practice this spring. Sophomore Patrick O’Brien was the only one unavailable.
From Frost’s perspective, everyone in that group is bringing their own different strengths to the table.
“(Tristan) Gebbia is doing some good things running and throwing,” Frost said. “Pat (O’Brien) can really throw it, and is doing a good job learning it. (Andrew) Bunch has been doing a really good job as a walk-on here. Adrian Martinez is showing signs of being really talented. Noah Vedral is a guy that’s here for us that’s the most familiar, and things are coming a little easier to him.”
Vedral, a native of Wahoo, followed Frost from UCF in January and will have to sit out the 2018 season due to NCAA transfer rules. It was a sacrifice Vedral thought worth it in order to play for his favorite coach at his favorite program.
“Once you’re on a team, it’s a family,” Vedral said. “I want what’s best for them, and I know they want what’s best for me, too. We’re all in this together. Everyone believes the best player should play, no matter who that is. We’re all going to be there to prepare, help each other get there and help this team succeed.”
Even though Vedral can’t play this year, being a Husker was an experience he wanted to be able to share with his dad Mike and his uncles Jon, Mark and Matt who all played at Nebraska in the 90s and into the early 2000s.
“Everything I had heard growing up is that this place is special,” Vedral said. “Through my recruiting, it never really opened up, but I wanted a chance to be here to be a part of that just like they were, so hopefully we’re on our way back there.”
With Vedral ineligible, the starting job will come down to either Martinez, O’Brien, Gebbia or Bunch. At this point, Frost is in no hurry to create a pecking order amongst that quartet.
He’s starting to see separation in the pack, but didn’t name any standouts specifically.
“As many reps as we get, the depth chart will sort itself out,” Frost said. “The one thing that we’re going to have to do and we kind of have started a little bit today is making sure we’re getting the guys are kind of separating themselves more reps so we can get our team ready to play, but we have until September to figure out who’s going to be the first guy on the field.”
The true freshman missed his senior year at Clovis West High School due to shoulder surgery, but Martinez told Frost Tuesday that his arm feels about 90 percent of the way back to full strength.
“I don’t quite see maybe the steam on the ball sometimes I saw on tape,” Frost said. “But, he’s getting it there, it’s accurate. So, he’s looking good. I think he’ll continue to improve as he works with (quarterbacks coach) Mario Verduzco and gets that last ten percent.”
Martinez said the Under Armour All-American Game in Orlando on Jan. 4 in Orlando gave him a chance to “get some of the rust out” before spring practice began.
His goals are now pretty straight forward.
“I want to try and be as best as I can be personally,” Martinez said. “Then, try and gain the starting role. I think that’s all quarterbacks’ goal. As a team, we want to try and win a championship.”
Competition can sometimes create rifts or rivalries among teammates in certain sports, but Martinez describes his camaraderie with the other quarterbacks as a family-like bond.
“I think that just comes down to being a good person,” Martinez said. “I feel like we have a lot of those guys in the quarterback room. We obviously know we’re competing for the same spot, but I’ve been thankful to be with guys that get that and can still help each other.”
A native of Thompson Stations, Tennessee, Bunch spent the 2016 season at Scottsdale Community College before joining Nebraska as a walk-on last January.
He was the third quarterback on the depth chart last season, with Tanner Lee locking down the starting job last April and O’Brien coming in as the top backup against Minnesota. Gebbia used a redshirt in 2017.
This coaching change has given Bunch a chance to almost reset and make a new first impression.
“Andrew for one is a great kid and great to be around,” Frost said. “He’s really gone to work learning it. He has the ability to process information quickly and make good decisions. He’s more athletic than I expected him to be. When he takes off running, he can make some things happen, so he’s been a pleasant surprise for me.”
Bunch ran a pro style offense during his first year in Lincoln, but the adjustment to the tempo offense wasn’t hard for him.
“That’s all we used to at my high school in Tennessee,” Bunch said. “We just ran tempo all day. It feels natural.”
He had developed a relationship with the previous coaching staff, but Frost’s hiring didn’t cause him to seek other options.
“I think everybody in the country wants to play for Coach Frost,” Bunch said. “So, if he’s coming here, then I’m not leaving.”
Gebbia is thought by many to be the early favorite amongst the QBs, possibly due to his running ability. He finished his high school career with 542 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns.
At 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds, size is the first spot where Frost would like to see Gebbia make some gains.
“I think more than speed, it’s getting him bigger and stronger so he can take the hits and do those types of things,” Frost said. “We’re going to ask the guys to carry the ball some, and there’s big guys in (the Big Ten).”
His real strength was his arm. Gebbia threw for 13,109 career passing yards, which is the second-most in the history of the prestigious Calabasas High School in California. He also threw 141 touchdowns.
Gebbia will be able to show off his arm in this offense as well, but he’s surprised himself a little this spring with how well he’s been able to run.
“I didn’t do a whole lot of running in high school, but when I did, I felt like I always got us 8-10 yards,” Gebbia said. “When I had to run, I was able to. I kind of want to do that again. Hopefully, just get the ball in the play markers’ hands and then go play. Then, if I have to go run out there and make a play, then I guess I will, too.”
The annual Red-White scrimmage is only 10 days away, and Frost says he and the coaching staff are close to determining how the game will be run and what format will be used.
“There’s 90,000 people coming and I want to put on the best show that we can and show people the progress,” Frost said. “Spring games are more for the fans than they are the coaches. By that time, we’ll have 13 practices under our belt and a lot of decisions made about who’s playing well and who isn’t.”
Nebraska will hold its 15th and final practice sometime shortly after the spring game. Probably on the following Tuesday. Frost said that time will be used to practice and to teach the team how captain’s practices and 7-on-7 drills will be run during the summer.
Offensive line coach Greg Austin said Saturday’s practice was the offensive line’s “biggest day of adversity,” but Frost saw stronger play from that unit on Tuesday.
“I think today was our best day (on the O-line),” Frost said. “It was tough out there today. It was a long practice. We put them through a lot. They’re working hard out there, getting a lot of reps. I saw What I want to see more of is guys with the grit and grime that get a look in their eyes and say I’m not going to lose no matter what. They’ve got to understand it’s on the line every time we’re out there.
“I want the whole team to do it. It can’t be a part time thing. Nebraska Football is built on guys that won’t quit, won’t give up and refuse to lose. We’ve got some of it, and we need to build more of it.”
Sophomore tight end Jack Stoll was named as one of the players who’s been bringing that attitude on a consistent basis. Senior left guard Jerald Foster was named as someone who’s been a leader, as was junior linebacker Will Honas.
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