CHICAGO — The way Nebraska senior defensive lineman Khalil Davis tells it, Husker sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez can get kind of feisty during practice.
Apprised of this on a podium across the room at Big Ten Media Days on Thursday, Martinez just smiled and shook his head.
The playful accusation: That Martinez once ended a bit of smack-talk by tossing a ball at a defender’s facemask.
“I wish he didn’t say that, but that did happen one time,” Martinez admitted.
Kidding aside, everybody seems to have an appreciation for the energy that the outwardly calm, cool and collected quarterback brings to any sort of practice, 7-on-7 or drill work.
“That’s how it should be and there’s no hard feelings,” Martinez said. “I think that’s the thing that can be misunderstood. I want it to be competitive. You’re not supposed to touch the quarterback, that’s how it is, but I want it to be competitive and I want them to be fiery in practice, and if that’s what happens, that’s what happens. I’m still going to go in the locker room and give him a hug because that’s my guy.”
Martinez said he probably trades the most barbs with junior safety Deontai Williams, in part because their lockers are close to each other. It’s all a part of the other side of the leadership coin for Martinez. In front of reporters, he’s the voice for a program. At practice, he’s the engine.
“I am competitive and I think the offense can feel that and the defense can feel that,” Martinez said. “I want to win each down, each matchup, each play. I try not to be too out there about things, but especially when we’re going against our own team, for whatever reason I like to poke a little bit at the DBs and get (senior linebacker Mohamed) Barry fired up a little bit, but I think it brings out the best in us and that’s my goal in that.”
Mills impressing early on: Junior college running back Dedrick Mills will be one of the most-watched and most-talked-about players as preseason camp gets underway, considering his pedigree and the need NU has in the backfield.
Mills rushed for more than 1,800 yards at Garden City (Kansas) Community College last year and was the ACC Freshman of the Year in 2016 at Georgia Tech after rushing for 778 yards and 12 scores.
Martinez has spent the summer playing 7-on-7 and working out with Mills and has positive early reviews.
“Once you guys see him, he’s just a real muscular dude who’s going to run real hard for us. He’s not going to give up one inch out there and that’s what we need.”
Added Barry, “When I tell you he’s in the weight room working, he’s working. He reminds me of Devine (Ozigbo) a lot, so I don’t think there’s going to be drop-off in the run game.”
Martinez will run it '40 times' if needed: Martinez, the 6-foot-2 Fresno, California, native, said he’s up to 225 pounds as summer workouts conclude.
“I don’t think I’m going to try to get any heavier this offseason because I need to stay fast,” he said. “That’s a part of the equation for me, begin powerful but keeping my speed.”
As a freshman, Martinez ran the ball 140 times for 640 yards (4.5 per carry) and eight touchdowns. Martinez wasn’t at full strength against Michigan but averaged 14.5 carries per game in eight other league contests.
“The Colorado game is when I first realized that you can’t just bulldoze the entire time,” he said. “You have to be a little bit smarter with the way you treat your body and you really have to last a little bit. But running the ball is part of my game and it’s part of our offense. That’s not going anywhere and it’s not going to change.
“I’ve put on some more healthy weight, I think I’m built better to handle it this year. If Coach Frost wants me to run the ball 40 times against whoever, I’ll do it if that’s what it’s going to take to win.”
Frost, OSU’s Day share Kelly connection: Scott Frost chuckled in response to a question about what he, now in his second season, might advise of Ohio State’s newly minted permanent head coach Ryan Day.
"Ryan doesn’t need any of my help," Frost said.
The two have known each other for some time, though, considering Day played for Chip Kelly at New Hampshire and Frost spent several years coaching for Kelly at Oregon.
“I think the first time I met Ryan was at the Chipper and Zipper golf tournament out in New Hampshire when I went up there to play it with Chip,” Frost said. "(Day)’s had a fast rise in coaching, I know (Boston College) and on to the Eagles and 49ers and Ohio State.
“His roots in offense are out of Chip’s system, the same as ours. Ours has evolved a lot, his has evolved a lot, sometimes in the same direction and sometimes in different directions. But you can definitely see the nuts and bolts of it coming from the same place and you can probably trace both of those back to Chipper.”
Banks switching sides: Ethan Piper isn't the only young lineman changing sides of the ball.
Brant Banks, the early enrollee from Texas, is now listed as an offensive lineman and has changed his number to No. 74.
Banks, a 6-7, 300-pounder, was recruited as a defensive lineman and spent the spring in Tony Tuioti's group, but apparently will be working offensively from now on.
So, too, is Piper, the Norfolk native. It makes sense to try both on offense, considering the relative lack of depth in Greg Austin's room compared to the veteran defensive line.
Stoll on watch list: Jack Stoll is the latest Nebraska football player to appear on a preseason awards watch list. On Friday, the junior was named to the John Mackey Award watch list, which goes to the nation's top tight end.
Stoll led NU's tight ends last season with 21 catches for 245 yards and three touchdowns. The 6-foot-4, 260-pounder had 11 catches and two touchdowns over the final five games of the season.