The Nebraska football team set out to use the first of its two bye weeks as a chance to get back to basics.
One of the most basic questions, though, remains unanswered, at least publicly.
That’s the health status of sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez, who suffered an apparent left knee injury in the third quarter against Northwestern on Oct. 5, did not play in a 34-7 loss at Minnesota on Oct. 12 and did not talk with reporters Monday afternoon.
Asked if Martinez was on track to return this week, head coach Scott Frost said, “Hard to say.”
Steve Sipple and Parker Gabriel give updates about players potentially returning to the field after a press conference on Oct. 21, 2019.
"Adrian has been working hard to get back, and he's doing really well, working hard,” Frost added. “It helps to have a bye week. It helps to have fall break here where he can spend a little more time rehabbing, so he's going to do whatever he can to get back."
Sophomore Noah Vedral played the first three quarters against the Gophers before suffering an apparent left leg injury of his own, which led to junior walk-on Andrew Bunch playing the final minutes in Minneapolis. Frost didn’t talk directly about Vedral’s status this week, only that he thought the Wahoo native played well against Minnesota.
There is also uncertainty about freshman wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson, who leads the Huskers in offensive yards but left in the second quarter against UM with an apparent left ankle injury that led to him being carted to the locker room.
Then, of course, sophomore running back Maurice Washington is not currently part of the team and it’s unclear when, or if, he’ll be back.
Bottom line: NU has to find a way to improve on the basics despite question marks for several of its key offensive players.
“Obviously we miss the reps with the guys that aren't able to practice, but you know, the flip side of that is there's some young guys that got a lot of run last week in some of those practices,” Frost said Monday. “And those guys need to continue to improve and get reps so they can be more physical, play with better technique and do all the little things right."
Technique, Frost said, is where NU’s offensive line needs to make the biggest strides.
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“We need to get on guys and move them instead of just occupying,” Frost said. “There haven't been a lot of mental breakdowns, it's just been technique-related, finishing blocks, maybe being a little more physical and nasty up front so that we can count on the holes being there a little more often. Obviously pass (protection) has to get a little bit better. There have been times we've had good time to throw and other times when I wouldn't want to be quarterback back there.
“We went back to work on all those things this week, and I'm excited about the progress they made."
Sophomore tight end Austin Allen said he thought the Huskers played, “a little bit timid,” against Minnesota, but that he liked the physicality he saw in practice over the bye week. It featured extensive "good-on good" periods -- the team's top units clashing against each other -- and significant time dedicated to the run game.
Tight end Austin Allen talks quarterback Adrian Martinez's desire to get back out there on Oct. 21, 2019.
With Washington out of the picture, junior Dedrick Mills will be in for a bigger workload and he says he’s ready for it.
“Most definitely,” Mills said. “I’m just ready to carry the ball. That’s all.”
“He's learning how to run in our scheme a little better,” Frost said. “And I think he's been getting better every week, so he'll continue to improve."
Mills’ availability has been one of the few constants on offense for Nebraska this fall. Coming out of the bye week, it’s clear he’s in for a sizable role.
The rest, particularly on the health front, continues to be a work in progress.
“We're practicing whoever is healthy and up and ready to go, and we'll see who's ready and who's not come Saturday," Frost said.