Few in the Husker program put more time into their craft than Luke McCaffrey.
That’s according to head coach Scott Frost, who spoke with the media this week to cover a wide array of topics. McCaffrey garnered universal praise last offseason for the way he attacked the playbook, the way he learned the offense. This offseason, he’s pushing for legitimate first-team reps come fall camp.
“He’s one of the hardest working kids on our team,” Frost said. “He spends all his time on football. He’s going to be ready. All the reports I’m getting are that he’s whipping it around really good and throwing it better than anybody’s ever seen him throw. I feel real confident about him.”
There are few on the Huskers roster who could have benefitted more from spring ball than McCaffrey. In a redshirt season his first year on campus, McCaffrey played in the maximum games allowed but put very little on tape in the way of actual throwing. Just 12 passes, of which he completed nine for 142 yards and two scores. He wasn’t asked to throw downfield, and Nebraska got creative with trying to give him easy decisions.
Decision-making was an area incumbent starting quarterback Adrian Martinez struggled in, so the expectation from many was that this offseason would feature a true quarterback competition.
When spring ball was canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic, the chances of someone other than Martinez taking the first snaps of the year at quarterback got significantly smaller.
We saw Noah Vedral transfer to Rutgers, hopeful to use his last two years of eligibility in a role beyond full-time reserve. His departure left McCaffrey and the true freshman Logan Smothers as the primary backups to Martinez at quarterback—which effectively put an end to the speculation about McCaffrey as a wideout—and it left McCaffrey as the biggest threat to Martinez’s spot.
How would missing 13 of the allotted 15 spring practices impact McCaffrey’s development, though? After all, a few packages designed to zig where Martinez zags and catch defenses off guard isn’t the same as commanding the offense.
And yet, of the young quarterback, Frost said: “I don’t have any worries or concerns about Luke, to be honest with you.”
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McCaffrey got first-team reps last fall camp. Not a ton, though maybe that changes this fall. With a recently-approved preseason training schedule modified to compensate teams for the time off, Nebraska will have two weeks of OTA-styled walkthroughs with a ball before fall camp to focus on Xs and Os. Perhaps that helps set the table for an all-out battle at the quarterback spot come fall camp.
A challenge either of the three quarterbacks will encounter once the live reps begin is a lack of chemistry between passer and catcher. Only three of NU’s listed wideouts have caught a pass at the FBS level; Martinez has completed a total of 16 pass attempts to wideouts not named Wan’Dale Robinson. It’s not just about the newcomers—the Omar Mannings—it’s also about building trust with the Travis Vokoleks and Jamie Nances on the roster.
It’s not exactly a level playing field, Martinez has two years of starting experience on his resume, but it also might not be the show competition it was last season.
McCaffrey will have to translate the film room knowledge to the field and run the offense efficiently if he’s to have any real shot. Practices in the spring were already a step faster than usual with Matt Lubick taking the reins as the offensive coordinator; quarterback coach Mario Verduzco had to tell his guys on a few occasions the ball needed to come out quicker.
Nebraska looks for athleticism and dual-threat capabilities when it scours the country for quarterback prospects, but the most important trait a quarterback in this offense can have is a fast processor.
Be a quick-blinker, Verduzco calls it.
Nebraska helped Martinez as a freshman by simplifying what he was having to look at. That’s not too dissimilar from the way it handled McCaffrey’s snaps. In 2019, at least early on, Nebraska perhaps got too cute with scheme, opening things up way too much, and Martinez was more mistake-prone because of it.
That’s the progression of a young quarterback, though, which Martinez still was then, and which McCaffrey still very much is now. A redshirt freshman with 12 career throws, it’s important not to take Frost’s admiration for the way McCaffrey’s gone about his business and go diving into the deep end.
The distinction worth making is that Martinez hasn’t necessarily lost his job, it’s simply more open than it was for someone else to come and take it. Fall camp is going to be a battle.
Competition breeds excellence. Nebraska likes where the room is at.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.