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Steven M. Sipple: ‘Everybody’s guy’ Martinez bigger, better as he slings into spring game

April 12, 2019

One can understand why Travis Fisher playfully claims a certain amount of ownership in Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez’s rise, even though Fisher coaches the Husker secondary.

When a reporter interviewing Fisher this week prefaced a question by stating, “I know he’s not your guy,” a smile instantly came to Fisher’s face.

“What do you mean that’s not my guy?” Fisher said. “That’s my guy.”

He repeated it for emphasis, then added, “That’s everybody’s guy.”

A sophomore from Fresno, California, Martinez has a value in Nebraska’s football program that can’t be overstated. His importance really began to crystallize last April in the Red-White Spring Game when he carried 14 times for 60 yards and three touchdowns, highlighted by a 23-yard run. He completed 10 of 13 passes for 114 yards and another touchdown, with no interceptions.

I’m a 52-year-old who’s covered Tommie Frazier and Eric Crouch, and I was a bit blown away by Martinez.

That sentiment continued throughout the fall. A lot of folks were blown away.

So, yeah, I’ll be watching jersey No. 2 closely Saturday in this year’s Red-White Spring Game. We received good news Wednesday in that regard when Nebraska quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco told the Journal Star that Martinez will play at least half of the scrimmage.

“Frosty wants to make sure he stays sharp and gets his work in,” Verduzco said of NU head coach Scott Frost.

Verduzco said Martinez has thrown only one “head-scratcher” of a bad pass all spring. It was an errant bubble screen Wednesday in the 14th of 15 practices.

“He maybe took it for granted that he was going to get it out there,” the coach said. “It’s the only one he’s had. I looked at him and was like, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ But that part of him has really cleaned up.”

[ WATCH: Frost on Spring Game format, practice as a whole ]

What’s more, Martinez has thrown only five picks all spring. Verduzco wouldn’t even venture a guess as to how many throws Martinez has made, but it’s safe to say it’s well into the hundreds. So give him an A-plus in the lack-of-interceptions category.

“He’s been good with his feet and eyeballs,” the coach said. “Does he miss something here and there? Yeah.”

Of course Martinez makes mistakes. He’s still a kid. You can bet Verduzco details all the mistakes, which is exactly what Martinez wants. He craves excellence. It’s largely why he’s here. Verduzco and Frost can make him better. If you’re a Nebraska fan, you have to appreciate the picture.

“We haven’t arrived, you know what I’m saying?” Verduzco said. “For me, it’s not going to change. I mean, c’mon. He could win the freakin’ Heisman this year and I’m still not going to think he’s arrived or we’ve arrived or anybody’s arrived. It’s yesterday’s newspaper, man.

“As well as Adrian was doing last season taking care of his job, every week, I would just ask him, ‘Was last week luck? Was it just one of those things? We have to prove again this week it wasn’t just luck, that it wasn’t happenstance.’”

Verduzco asks his quarterbacks to put the team in position to win, emphasizing that Martinez is just one piece of the puzzle. He’s emphatic about that.

But let’s be real: If Nebraska is going to win nine games this season -- that’s as high as I can go as far as a ceiling is concerned -- Martinez has to lead the way. He’s definitely raised his profile as a leader. That’s become clear.

“He’s got a great command of the offense and the guys protect for him really, really hard,” new Nebraska defensive line coach Tony Tuioti said. “That shows you how much respect they have for him, especially the guys up front.

“It’s so hard for us once we rush the quarterback. If we don’t do a good job of trapping him, it’s going to be an explosive play. He did that (Wednesday) in practice. He got us really good for at least 70 or 80 yards; it could’ve been a touchdown.”

[ WATCH: Chinander on what to expect in the Spring Game ]

If this were a pro sport, you might call Martinez the franchise. He’ll be that guy soon enough. An NFL guy. Does anyone even question that anymore?

You might tell me to pump the brakes on the Martinez hyperbole. OK, I hear ya. But it’s not easy.

“I think he’s gotten a little faster,” said Cam Taylor, a Nebraska sophomore quarterback who squares off against Martinez every day in practice. “I called him ‘slow’ last year.”

Wait a second. Taylor described the franchise as “slow”? To his face?

“Yes, I did. I called Adrian Martinez slow,” Taylor said with a grin. “That’s my dog. I’m going to be real with him. I told him, ‘We can’t be getting caught. We’ve got to take it 75 to the house.’”

Verduzco said all of his returning quarterbacks have gotten bigger and stronger.

“But Adrian tends to show it a little more, I guess you could say, just because of his frame and his stature,” Verduzco said of the 6-foot-2, 220-pounder. “But, yeah, he’s thicker and he’s even getting a little more juice on the ball. He’s a year more comfortable with his stroke. We’re building on that. We’re now making sure we can feel at ease throwing just goofy kind of balls when the environment requires us to do that.”

I’m not even going to mention Patrick Mahomes.

Nebraska fans are happy enough with their guy.

[ WATCH: Parker Gabriel and Steven M. Sipple talk about what to expect from the Spring Game ]