Nebraska’s spring quarterback battle, for now, is being waged on two primary fronts. There will be more later. This is just the start. But for now Coach Mario Verduzco said he’s looking for two primary things from his quarterbacks, or “cubes” as he referred to them numerous times on Thursday, an apparent vocalization of the standard “QBs” abbreviation.
(A note on this translation: Henceforth I will write QBs so as not to disrupt the visual flow of the text, but you should say “cubes” in your head. Verduzco does.)
Battle Front No. 1: Retention
“They’re absorbing a lot of information, trying to piece it together, but they’re doing well, Verduzco said. “They’re working hard at it. We have to make sure that . . . what we get in the classroom, we take it to the field. Whether in pajamas or pads or when the bullets start flying and then when there’s scrimmage and then obviously there’s the game. All that stuff has to transfer.”
Verduzco has thought hard about that transfer. Wrote a thesis on it. In mid-January, just a few weeks after the new staff arrived in Lincoln full-time, the Husker quarterbacks were given their playbook test. It’s open-book for now, which might seem easy, but that’s a science of its own.
“They know where all the answers are,” Verduzco said. “This is as much a diagnostic as to their work ethic. And do I know my way around the information? Then when I have to take it closed-book, do I know what that stuff means? Do I have some recall?”
How’s that recall for the QBs after three practices spanning a three-week time frame? Thursday’s practice was merely, “OK,” Verduzco said. There were two interceptions that bothered him, and two more near misses. “But up to this point, with regard to the practices we’ve had and the reps they’ve had in the pass game, we’ve been pretty good.”
Pretty good and quick? The Husker quarterback hopefuls are still working on that second part, too.
Battle Front No. 2: Tempo
If retention is one of the primary goals early this spring, trying to go fast out of the gates could seem counterproductive. But Verduzco might view it more as the perfect sort of training. Head Coach Scott Frost mentioned Tuesday that the players got the whole playbook. No installing in parts, no perfecting Step A before moving on to Step B.
And if the QBs are going to be tasked with processing the most information, at speed, anyway, why not do it that way from the very start? Verduzco said he structures his meetings that way, quick questions with an expectation of quick answers, so what’s fast now simply becomes normal speed later.
But this early in the process, Nebraska’s five quarterbacks might feel like things have been slow to slow down. Helping his QBs get used to that faster way of life ranks high on Verduzco’s to-do list in the practices to come.
“[My hope is] that we just get that mentality that it’s up-tempo and let’s go,” he said. “So when the play is over the first place their eyeballs go is to the sideline for the next play, not necessarily to me to see what my quote-unquote evaluation is or what Frost might think of it. But, boom, let’s get on to the next play. That piece of the puzzle, just from that dynamic, is something we need to move forward.”
Verduzco isn’t alone in trying to get Nebraska’s quarterbacks up to speed. Frost, the former quarterback, is there when Verduzco needs him. But the head coach also has the confidence in his assistants to let them work, even if he might have to resist the urge to jump in from time to time.
“There’s a piece of Frosty that misses coaching,” Verduzco said. “But what better guy could you be working for than a guy that’s coached Marcus Mariota and been at the highest level?”
Verduzco was always interested in that lofty standard, from his first days as a young coach out in California, trekking around the state to hear Bill Walsh speak. In this offense, on this staff, he may have found the perfect fit with this brainy-but-brisk brand of quarterback play.
One that’s also perfect for Verduzco’s brand of quarterback instruction.
“Coach Frost’s interest is that our quarterbacks become as effective and efficient as fast as possible,” Verduzco said. I would be doing Coach Frost and our quarterbacks and the University of Nebraska a tremendous disservice if I didn’t know the best way to get that done.”