Nebraska Cornhusker wide receiver Levi Falck runs with the ball after catching the football
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Vertical Passing Game Coming Along, Martinez Making Receivers ‘Look Good’

April 14, 2021

So much of Nebraska’s offensive potential in the upcoming season can be unlocked by a more dangerous vertical passing game. Nebraska knows this. It’s been a major emphasis on the training grounds in spring ball and a major talking point behind the dais after practice. 

Being better down the field means everyone doing their jobs with just a touch more consistency. The offensive line finishes blocks. The wideouts get themselves open. The quarterback finds them accurately and on-time. 

On that last point, it sounds as if Nebraska’s starting quarterback—fourth-year man Adrian Martinez—is in a good place.

“I thought he had a good last year, especially with his completion percentage. He’s taken it (to) another level from a leadership standpoint and an accuracy standpoint, and I even think from a fitness standpoint,” offensive coordinator Matt Lubick said Wednesday. “I already knew he was a good athlete and fast, but he looks even a step faster. 

“He’s throwing balls on time. He’s really making the receivers and tight ends look good because he’s putting the ball where it’s supposed to be on a consistent basis.”

Martinez said last week he had worked to reshape his body a bit this offseason in an attempt to rediscover the first-step burst he had as a true freshman. By all accounts, Martinez is physically and mentally in strong shape. 

Senior wideout Levi Falck said Martinez’s arm looks better. Martinez smiled at the compliment when it was later shared with him, saying he didn’t want to toot his own horn, but he felt that as well. 

The cannon will help just in simple terms of pushing the ball downfield, but Lubick is more interested in the technical aspect. 

“He’s always had great zip and arm strength—I think NFL arm strength—but the thing I’ve noticed is he’s taken his accuracy to another step,” Lubick said. “When he has to put touch on the ball, he’s putting touch on the ball. That’s why we’re hitting on more deep balls than we have in the past.”

Lubick becomes the latest in a string of Huskers in recent weeks to make that same assessment. Nebraska is hitting downfield with more frequency this spring period than it has in the past. 

It’s an emphasis, in the sense that Nebraska is repping those kinds of stretch plays more often, but also in the way it’s handled by the quarterbacks. 

“Last year in games, I don’t know if that was the first read in a lot of our games,” said junior wideout Oliver Martin. “Now there’s more of an emphasis on if there is a vertical route in a concept, give it a look even if it’s not supposed to be the first read.”

Martin fancies himself a deep ball threat. At 6-foot-1 with a quick first step, he’s in a room full of like-minded wideouts. Of Samori Toure, a 6-foot-3 transfer from Montana this offseason, Martin said he “consistently can get open.” Of Omar Manning, a 6-foot-4 second-year man, teammate Wyatt Liewer said he’s “making all kinds of plays.”

The 6-foot-2 Zavier Betts got praise from starting corner Cam Taylor-Britt on Monday. 

“Happy with them,” Lubick said when asked about his overall level of satisfaction with the wideout performance so far. “Those guys are feeling a lot more confident because they understand the offensive plays faster and they’re making plays and the quarterbacks are throwing some really good balls.”

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