On Saturday, Nebraska announced its five team captains for the 2020 season. Among them: junior quarterback Adrian Martinez. The announcement all but ended speculation Martinez might lose his grip on the starting quarterback job to redshirt freshman challenger Luke McCaffrey. Monday, in speaking with the media, Martinez confirmed he’d be the guy when Nebraska opens its season Saturday.
Martinez is the guy.
Just take a moment and think about that statement.
That it needs to be said means there was a question as to whether it could be.
That, throughout a longer-than-normal offseason in which he didn’t know if he was going to actually be the starter or not, Martinez earned the vote of enough of his teammates to name him a captain for a second straight year might make it that much sweeter.
“I’m honored,” Martinez said. “It’s always a great honor to be voted on by your teammates as a captain. It means a lot to me. I’m gonna continue being the leader I know I can be and be there for the guys.”
Frost shared the news with the team at the end of practice last week.
“No speech needed, man,” Martinez said to his teammates as they huddled after. “We’re family.”
Martinez clearly has his teammates’ respect, this time not because of what he accomplished as a freshman—he had nothing from his 2019 campaign to rest on—but because of the work ethic he displayed this offseason.
When football looked like a lost cause, Martinez worked with his receivers to develop chemistry where he could.
When McCaffrey was chomping at his heels (this was a very close race), Martinez responded.
“It was more similar to that first year than it was last year,” Martinez said when asked about how this offseason felt.
Remember, that first year it wasn’t a given he’d start. Nebraska announced Martinez as its starter the Sunday before the season-opener against Akron. He’d beaten out Tristan Gebbia for the job. The 2019 preseason didn’t feature much of a competition, though Nebraska had the now-departed Noah Vedral behind Martinez. Coaches have said Martinez was laxer in his prep than he should have been. He was named a team captain last year also.
“I think (the competition) brought the most out of myself and Luke, as well as the team surrounding us,” Martinez said. “I think it got us going. It was a positive change.”
Martinez said earlier in camp that McCaffrey brought out a fire in him.
Teammates have noticed a better Martinez in practice.
Wideout Kade Warner (son of Hall of Famer Kurt Warner; so, a kid with at least a rudimentary knowledge of the quarterback position) thought Martinez progressed as a pocket passer and a deep ball-thrower. Both were areas in which Martinez wasn’t at his best last season.
“I’m extremely happy for him,” said senior right guard Matt Farniok. “Just as the days have gone on, he’s gotten a lot better at just making the right reads and trusting the pocket. We as an o-line have kind of proved to him to have faith in us, and now we’re giving him more time to make his job easier, and he’s been doing a great job with it.”
Said Frost: “I’ve seen a lot of improvement out of Adrian this year.”
Frost was guarded at times when talking about his team Monday afternoon. Questions about specific players returned answers about the group. In talking about his quarterbacks, Frost was careful to say too much about one without mentioning the other.
In doing so, though, he confirmed one thought on the quarterback race: this wasn’t a situation born by an incumbent underperforming in camp, this was a competition because Nebraska has two quarterbacks it feels very good about.
“I don’t know how much separation there is,” Frost said still, even after definitively naming Martinez the guy. “I think we have two first-string quarterbacks. That’s the way we feel about them. I really believe if Luke had been the one that had already been playing and we would have had the same camp, it would have probably been Luke. They both had tremendous camps and we see ourselves as having the luxury of having two starters.”
He said both players are viewed as leaders by their teammates. Martinez, as the voting showed, can still command the bunch.
“Adrian’s a great human being on top of being a good player,” Frost said. “I don’t know how much separation there was between the two but they both did a great job. Adrian did a good job on and off the field.”
Last season saw the 6-foot-2, 220-pound quarterback complete fewer than 60% of his passes. After a freshman year that saw him throw at a 65% clip for 17 touchdowns, 2019 brought a 59% rate and only 10 scores against nine picks.
Nebraska needs better from him. Perhaps Frost’s comments on the closeness of the race could be taken to mean Martinez’s runway for getting the offense up and running will be short. Then again, maybe Martinez doesn’t need much of a runway.
“I’m feeling good about where I’m at,” he said.
We’ll find out in five days.