These first couple points are going to sort of follow a point-counterpoint structure. The rest will be like normal. Let’s get into it.
Adrian’s Big Week
Setting aside the fact it was revealed this week that Nebraska’s sophomore quarterback likes to put ranch on his spaghetti, this was a good week for Adrian Martinez. We’re one step closer to the football season, and the Westgate Vegas SuperBook gave him the third-best odds to win the Heisman Trophy. He’s tied with Jalen Hurts, who will play his final year of collegiate football within the offense that has produced the last two Heisman Trophy winners. That seems significant.
I had Martinez third on my intrigue list (not that that means anything when compared to the Heisman odds news) mostly because he has the potential to produce even more and the team has the potential to win much more this season than last. That sentiment seems to be reflected by Vegas.
But the Martinez-related news of the week that probably best illustrates why he’s such a special football player was the announcement that he would be heading to Chicago along with two seniors to represent the team at Big Ten Media Days next week.
Since joining the Big Ten in 2011, Nebraska has sent 21 different players and only three times has it sent a non-senior. Martinez will be the first-ever sophomore to go.
Scott Frost said in the spring he wanted Martinez to be more of a leader this season, to accelerate that process. The quarterback position demands it. “He’s going to be whether he wants to or not,” Frost said. “He can’t back into that. He’s got to take it on, accept it and embrace it. … It’s hard to be a real leader as a true freshman, but it’s time for him to step into that role.” He’s already been a camp counselor at the Manning Passing Academy. He will almost assuredly be out at the Husker Football Road Race on Sunday.
He feels like he should be older than he is. You sort of forget that there are still things he needs to work on in his game, that he’s still just a true sophomore with things to learn. Mostly, you forget those things because he projects confidence so easily and he projects the teaching he gets day in and day out from Frost and quarterback coach Mario Verduzco. He says the right things, acts the right way and doesn’t often stir the pot.
I’m curious what media members from other markets are expecting of Martinez in a week, and whether they will be disappointed to see a guy who already knows how to play the media game after just a year in the program. I’d be shocked if the quote of the weekend came from Martinez when Mo Barry and Khalil Davis are joining him. Which wouldn’t be a problem. Nebraska needs a workman-like mentality heading into this season; coach and quarterback are on the same page there. I think that’s why he’s going. That seems significant.
Adrian’s Big Week Doesn’t Matter
There’s a difference between a quarterback’s function and his responsibility. That’s something the Husker quarterbacks are taught often. They’re taught to not show emotion on the field, not even a little, not even for a second after a misfire or a dropped ball or a bad read. They’re taught that they are, as Nebraska’s quarterbacks coach says often, one cog in the wheel of success.
“I remind him about the things that we've talked about since I first got here in January," Verduzco said of his quarterback back in late October of 2018, on the heels of a Big Ten co-Freshman of the Week nod. "One is we're one cog in the wheel of success or failure. Truly and ultimately, we're doing our job. Thirdly, the quarterback's importance is no more different than anybody else on the team in terms of function.
"I think it creates a sense of calm for a quarterback when it's approached that way. Just to go out and do your job. Don't try to do anybody else's job.”
It’s a different way of looking at the position. Discourse around college football almost always follows the same thinking: the quarterback is the most important position on the football field. We spent all of last offseason talking about the quarterback. Quarterback battles are dissected every day. Quarterback play is written about constantly. Seven of the top eight Heisman odds belong to quarterbacks. But Verduzco routinely stresses to tune out the noise.
Martinez is simply doing his job. That escape and sidearm throw from the Colorado game I gushed over in yesterday’s piece? That was Martinez doing his job. Does he have more responsibilities than a wide receiver? Yes. Is he functionally more important than a wide receiver? He’s taught the answer to that question is no.
If a wideout doesn’t run his route properly and ends up in the wrong place, even the best throw from Martinez does nothing. If Martinez’s legs can produce Heisman moments play in and play out, he goes nowhere if the offensive line doesn’t do its job. If the running back doesn’t pass-protect, or the defense doesn’t get stops on third down, or the special teams unit doesn’t take care of business… you get the point.
This is the environment Martinez is being brought up in. One that keeps him grounded. You could argue this has something to do with the way Martinez has developed as a leader.
Same Old Summer League
I wouldn’t argue Isaiah Roby and James Palmer Jr. have been underwhelming in their four and three NBA Summer League games, respectively. But I also wouldn’t argue they’ve been playing above their heads. They’ve just been what we thought they were, which makes their next steps hard to plot.
Roby has yet to sign a rookie deal with the Dallas Mavericks after being selected 45th overall in the June 20 NBA Draft. The Mavericks have 14 guaranteed contracts already on the books for next season and they re-signed every piece of their frontcourt while adding a 7-foot-3 center to play with star forward Kristaps Porzingis. The names don’t so much matter here, just the fact Roby will have lots of them ahead of him in the rotation.
He could sign a two-way deal, Dallas could keep that 14th spot open heading into the season—something more and more teams are doing in the name of flexibility—and Roby could try and play his way into a bigger deal, but that’s a step back from where I thought he would be heading into the Vegas games.
In 28 minutes a night through four games, he’s averaging 9.8 points, 5.3 boards, 1.8 assists, 1.3 blocks and one steal a game. He’s shooting 49 percent from the field, but he’s also 2-for-8 from 3 with eight turnovers and 14 fouls. He had an efficient 4-for-4 performance his last game out, scoring nine points and grabbing six boards, but it came on the heels on a 1-for-6, six-point, five-foul, three-turnover performance.
As for Palmer, I thought he was excellent in his first game for the Suns. He had a team-high 23 points, he knocked down 4-of-7 from beyond the arc and he limited his shot selection to 3s and in-the-paint looks. But, just like with Roby, consistency is going to determine his deal. He’s 8-for-20 from the field in the two games since and 3-for-11 from distance.
The Suns also have 14 players on the books for next season while still needing to find their two two-way guys. Palmer could be in line there, but you just never know with a 23-year-old volume-shooting off-guard. We’ll see. You hope for the best with former players trying to earn their keep at the pro level, but both guys could use some big closing arguments.
Oklahoma State does this thing with Pistol Pete where every individual college at the school has it’s own unique Pistol Pete logo that has something to do with the college. The different athletic teams have their own Pistol Pete iterations as well. (Take a minute, click that link and go look at the logos. We’ll wait for you to come back. They’re worth it.)
It’s a fun idea. It’s a fantastic idea. It’s one Nebraska should emulate.
You've seen Herbie with a football, basketball, and baseball.
Now introducing the #Huskers mascot swinging a golf club.
— Matt Reynoldson (@Matt_Reynoldson) July 10, 2019
While I try not to use the “if (insert thing) was sold, it would sell out like crazy” cliché too often, it’s totally appropriate here. There’s Basketball Herbie, and obviously the OG Football Herbie, but what would the other Herbies look like?
Would the Volleyball Herbie have a goat on his hat in place of the N?
Get the equipment people on the phone and let's find a way to make this happen. Just tell me who I need to talk to.
— Paul Finebaum (@finebaum) July 11, 2019
Peak offseason. We’ve reached it.
Y’all gots to chill.
It seems like every new prognosticator feels like they have to one-up the previous Nebraska prediction. We just need fall camp to get here. At some point, all these predictions become counterproductive for a team trying to establish itself because they get conflated with expectations.
Bonus: Because I Need This Space
Houston Rockets fans don’t deserve Russell Westbrook. They really don’t.
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.