Luke McCaffrey does things that remind you he’s still a little rough around the edges, like firing a ball on a route tree into the dirt five feet short of his receiver. Then he does things that lead to speculation over whether he can actually be the No. 2 quarterback this season behind Adrian Martinez. Meaning he will have beaten out Noah Vedral (entering into his third season in this offense) and Andrew Bunch (more game reps).
That we’re at that point is a testament to not just the pure talent he possesses but the work the youngster has already put in.
Take, for example, an RPO play during 11-on-11 work in Wednesday’s practice. The freshman quarterback takes the snap and surveys his options. As the pocket begins to collapse around him, he escapes up the middle and looks to take off running but sees a defender in coverage come down to cut him off. On a dime, he stops, pivots and fires a ball from the left hash to the left sideline where running back Rahmir Johnson is waiting all alone. Johnson darts down field for 20 yards.
Schoolyard ball almost. The stuff you can do when you’re younger and quicker than anyone else.
But the expectation coming in for the Colorado native and youngest of the McCaffrey brothers was that he is both an incredibly talented athlete and an incredibly raw quarterback. But the work he has done since arriving on campus as an early enrollee in January has many optimistic about his future with the team. It takes a lot to make his position coach, Mario Verduzco, gush over a guy, but Verduzco was doing just that on Wednesday.
“He’s doing a nice job,” Verduzco started. “The day before yesterday we wanted to give him some reps with the ones. Boy, he really did a nice job. He really did. He’s doing really well.”
Fixing the mechanical snafus in his throwing motion isn’t an overnight process. It’s something that Verduzco works out over time, especially with a young quarterback. When the action is live and bodies are flying, quarterbacks need to be quick blinkers, and if someone is taking the time to think about the angle of his elbow he’s not thinking about something that’s happening in front of him.
The piece of the mental game McCaffrey has done well on is in his absorption of the playbook. Understanding and comfort was something head coach Scott Frost and others talked about in the spring, and it seems McCaffrey didn’t rest on his laurels there, continuing to spend time in the film room.
“I tell you what, he did a tremendous job on his playbook test,” Verduzco said. “It was out of sight. That part of his profile is solid. The stroke issues, we will get straightened out. Obviously, he’s a high work ethic guy and a great young guy. It’s a matter of getting reps and some experience.”
Verduzco has all his quarterbacks take a number of tests throughout the course of a season. They test during spring ball and before seasons and during game weeks. This one, a 722-question about the Huskers’ offense, challenges a quarterback’s grasp of what he’s being asked to do on any given down.
“Usually, if they don’t do very well, I won’t say very much, but I meant it was out of sight,” Verduzco said. “It was really, really good. As good as I’ve ever been around for a young guy. Being able to come in and handle 722 questions on a playbook test and missing very few. That’s unbelievable.”
The fact of the matter with the youngest Husker quarterback is there’s no reason for him to burn a redshirt in 2019. As long as the thing that we won’t even type because why take that chance doesn’t happen and Nebraska gets the season from Adrian Martinez it expects, McCaffrey is currently only battling for a No. 2 job and mop-up duty. A redshirt year would further separate him from Martinez’s timeline and set Nebraska up better down the line at the quarterback spot.
McCaffrey’s talent right now is a luxury, not a necessity, so it probably makes sense to save it for later. The only problem with that plan is telling the kid to ease up on the throttle in practice.
“There’s a fun battle between them for No. 2, between (McCaffrey), Bunchie and Noah,” Verduzco said. “I’d say Noah has the advantage going into fall camp. We want to make sure it’s a spirited as we can possibly make it.”
McCaffrey is still in the developmental stage, but he’s certainly doing his part in that regard.
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.