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And so it begins

A handful of Nebraska players met with the media on Friday prior to the annual fan day festivities, marking the official start of “it’s ok to not think about anything other than football” season.

Here’s the highlights:

–K/P Brett Maher is already on the watch lists for the Guy and Groza awards based on what he did last year, but the senior said Friday there’s still room for improvement. “I think my leg’s gotten a little stronger,” he said. “Hopefully I can kick the ball a little longer and a little higher.” Maher was 4-for-4 on field goals between 40 and 49 yards, but only 3-for-6 beyond 50 yards. His career long is 51 yards.

–Maher also talked a bit about the new rule that will move kickoffs up to the 35-yard-line instead of the 30. That leaves special teams coordinators with a choice, take the easy touchback or roll the dice with their coverage units and try to pin the opposition deep. “I see benefits to both,” Maher said. “My personal opinion is it might be better most of the time to keep it out of people’s hands and not even give them the opportunity (for a return).”

–Much of the talk about the offense, as always, centered on Taylor Martinez. The start of fall camp also means we’re in the dog days of better, faster, bigger, stronger season. Every team and player in the country right now, if you ask them, is one of those four things and usually a combination of all four. No player draws more of that type of attention in Nebraska than Martinez. Senior tight end Ben Cotton, however, noticed one improvement in particular.

“It’s been a fun thing to see going through 7-on-7 this summer, he’s seeing his reads,sticking to his reads, and getting the ball where it needs to go whether it’s deep down field or in the backfield to the check down,” Cotton said. “He’s doing a great job of getting the ball to the guy that’s open and the guy that’s going to gain yards and do positive things for us.”

–Martinez revealed that he was still feeling the effects of the injuries he suffered as a freshman for much of last year. Martinez said he didn’t even put on cleats last season until the first day of fall camp. Those issues are gone this time around.

“The is the best I’ve felt since my redshirt freshman year,” Martinez said, adding that he’s hoping to run more this season. When asked if the Big Ten saw the “real Taylor Martinez” last year the junior replied, “I don’t think so.”

Martinez rushed for 965 yards, 5.96 yards per carry, and 12 touchdowns as a freshman compared to 874 yards, 4.62 yards per carry, and nine touchdowns last season.

–Martinez and fellow Californian Cameron Meredith are stockpiling tickets for Nebraska’s week two trip to UCLA. The only regret for Martinez about the Huskers upcoming trip to the Rose Bowl? “I wish (Rick) Neuheisel was still there.” The former UCLA coach recruited Martinez but not as a quarterback.

–Most of the questions surrounding the defensive line have focused on who will start alongside Meredith and Baker Steinkuhler, but there’s also the question of what will a defensive line coached by Rick Kaczenski look like? Kaczenski gets the chance to fully leave his mark this fall and both Meredith and fellow defensive end Jason Ankrah described his approach as “more aggressive.” It will be interesting to see how that meshes with Pelini’s system where the d-line is really asked to keep people off linebackers more than attack.

–Finally, let’s talk goals. Taylor Martinez said it’s a national championship, but that’s sort of his stock answer. He gave it last year too. For the Blackshirts, Jason Ankrah said he thinks Nebraska will be a top 10 defense this season. Senior safety P.J. Smith did him one better.

“We want to be more than top 10, we want to be the top defense.”

Fall camp starts Saturday for Nebraska.