Nebraska head coach Scott Frost made his "Sports Nightly" radio debut on Wednesday evening and, as expected, the folks that called into the show spanned the country and the spectrum of questions.
From Columbus and Plattsmouth to Texas and Iowa and more, callers touched on everything from just flat being happy the Wood River native is in charge, to program culture, to student engagement, to snow in Sioux City.
But let’s be real. These are Husker fans calling in and, as such, there were also plenty of questions about the on-field product tossed to the first-year head coach.
Primarily: What’s up at quarterback?
Well, Frost reiterated that the signal-callers — sophomore Patrick O’Brien, redshirt freshman Tristan Gebbia and freshman Adrian Martinez — will be part of a wide-open competition between now and Sept. 1.
“Quarterback is going to be a work in progress and we’re going to let all those guys compete,” Frost said. “Everybody’s going to get a fair shake and a fair opportunity.”
Martinez rushed for more than 1,400 yards as a junior at Clovis West High in Fresno, California, in 2016 before missing his senior season with a shoulder injury, but he's the only one of the bunch to be considered a home-run threat in the run game. But Frost assured listeners that he’s been impressed by the work of the pair of returners so far.
“Both have been doing a great job,” he said. “I can see them getting stronger. They can both really throw it and they’re picking things up well.”
NU’s impending change from Mike Riley’s offense to Frost’s spread-out system has spurred questions about whether either can handle the run-game elements Frost and offensive coordinator Troy Walters look for, but Frost pointed to the flexibility of the scheme and some of the quarterbacks he’s had in the past to dispel the notion that either O’Brien or Gebbia is ill-suited for his offense.
“One of the great things about our offense and our scheme: I’ve watched it evolve in my time being involved with it. At Oregon, our first year, we had Jeremiah Masoli, who could throw but was more of a runner, and we were really quarterback run-heavy. The next year we had Darron Thomas, who was pretty good at everything and we opened up a little. Then we had Marcus (Mariota) and he could run but we wanted to protect him, so we did a little more throwing and running back runs with him.
“Obviously this year with McKenzie (Milton at Central Florida), we didn’t want to run him up the middle much, either. He’s just not that big of a kid, but he’s an effective runner.”
That’s the key. Mariota won the Heisman Trophy and led the Ducks to a national title game by matching a dangerous passing game with a dazzling array of explosive runs. That’s great, of course, but not required to operate this system at a high level.
“In our offense, you don’t need to be 4.4 (seconds in the 40-yard dash), you just need to be an effective runner,” Frost said. “When the defense dictates that you should pull it and run it, you have to be able to get some yards. That doesn’t mean you need to be Johnny Rodgers or Mike Rozier, but being able to pull it and get 6 or 7 and get down, I think both (O’Brien and Gebbia) are going to be capable of that.”
O’Brien has the only collegiate experience of the group and his only extensive playing time came in the second half against Minnesota in November after Tanner Lee was knocked out of the game.
The trio of competitors for the starting job will also have Noah Vedral’s knowledge to lean on. Vedral, the former Bishop Neumann standout, spent his freshman season as Milton’s backup and played in eight games for Central Florida. He transferred here in January and, while he is not eligible to play in 2018 pursuant to NCAA transfer rules, he is already with the team and in the quarterbacks room and able to help the others learn the system.
Quick hits from Frost
* NU is still considering opening another spring practice because demand for Red-White Spring Game tickets sold out before some people even had a chance to buy them. Frost said they’re “batting around” the idea but nothing’s finalized yet.
* As winter conditioning progresses, the head coach said the progress made by many players on the roster is readily apparent.
“It’s really impressive. I’ve seen some before-after pictures and it kind of looks like ‘The Biggest Loser’ you know? You see a picture of someone seven weeks ago before they started with Coach (Zach) Duval and there’s guys making really good gains and cutting body fat.”
* Frost said junior college linebacker Will Honas is, “our kind of kid. He doesn’t say much at all but he’ll hit you. I had a great time going down there and recruiting him and meeting his family and we’re looking forward to seeing what he can do.”
* Frost called the Unity Council, a player-led leadership group that Tom Osborne leaned heavily on, an important part of NU’s success while he played here and said he’ll re-institute it, but not this year.
“We didn’t start it until our second year (at UCF) because, if it makes sense, you kind of have to train everybody on what your culture’s going to be and you have to develop the leaders that can take over and help be part of the decision-making process.”