Mario Verduzco saw the seating chart in his meeting room shrink this week, but it apparently will take more than that to knock the Nebraska quarterbacks coach off kilter.
“I’m enthusiastic despite what happened,” he said Thursday after practice, referring to sophomore Patrick O’Brien’s decision to transfer from the school.
The race for the Huskers’ starting quarterback job in 2018 now features three contestants in freshman Adrian Martinez, redshirt freshman Tristan Gebbia and sophomore walk-on Andrew Bunch.
The room also features Central Florida transfer Noah Vedral, though the Wahoo native must sit out 2018 per NCAA transfer rules. NU could decide to explore the graduate transfer market, but Frost said earlier in the spring that they’re not currently focused on that avenue and on Thursday reiterated his confidence in the existing group.
That trio, of course, features exactly zero Division I playing time. Verduzco, though, said the group is learning fast.
“We had a pretty good day today and I told them that I was proud of them, but we have to get better. No doubt about it,” he said. “They know that. But at least for what we’ve got in in terms of our install, and how they’re operating and how they’re taking care of their business from snap to snap has been pretty good.”
Each of the three, in the veteran assistant’s estimation, has at least the potential to meet the running and passing standards demanded by Frost’s offense. That’s part of where O’Brien fell behind, Verduzco confirmed, in “that speed and athletic aspect.”
With that baseline satisfied, the remaining signal-callers will compete through the rest of spring ball, then take Verduzco’s vaunted quarterback exam sometime after the end of the semester. They’ll work on their own through captain’s practices and 7-on-7 in the summer, then come back for fall camp and enter the home stretch of the race.
It’s always possible one will emerge as the clear front-runner at some point. It’s also possible the race will remain neck-and-neck between two or more candidates.
For as much as Verduzco and the staff try to clearly communicate standing and grading method, this will not be a decision made exclusively based on metrics.
“You’ve heard me talk about the domains of learning and making (sure), as much as possible, that that evaluation is as objective as possible,” Verduzco said. “That’s what you want, but because this is human activity, there’s going to be some subjectivity to it. Sometimes it comes down to just a gut feel.
“Typically that gut feel is because two guys are really close.”
Should the race stay close, there will be plenty of dialogue between Frost and Verduzco as Sept. 1 draws nearer.
“Coach Frost may come to me with a question about how I see things and I’ll be as objective as possible in that framework to tell him how it all shakes out,” Verduzco said. “Then it might just be a gut decision between Coach Frost and myself, but ultimately he’s the head ball coach. It’s my job to make that recommendation and then we’ll go from there.”
For now, both men have positive reviews on the work done through nine practices. Frost on Tuesday said that Bunch had shown more running ability than he expected and Verduzco was also complimentary on Thursday.
“He can go, now,” he said. “He’s a dynamic young cat.”
Not dynamic compared to other walk-ons. Just dynamic. Period.
“I don’t look at Andrew as being a depth-filler,” Verduzco insisted. “He’s competing. He’s doing a nice job. When he goes out there, he does some really nice things, just like Tristan does and just like Adrian does. Andrew’s a heckuva player.
“As far as I know, just in dealing with him, he doesn’t look at himself as a walk-on and he has to continue down that road and not take a backseat to anyone. Let’s compete and let’s go.”
Gebbia was not asked to run much in high school, in part because of a lack of depth at the position, but Frost on Tuesday gave him high marks.
“Geb’s got good speed,” the head coach said. “I think more than speed, it’s about getting him bigger and stronger so he can take the hits and do those types of things. We’re going to ask the guys to carry the ball some and there’s big guys in this league.”
Added Verduzco, “Tristan’s awesome. He’s a great young cat. He tends to be a little hard on himself, so I just remind him, ‘Hey, play and have fun and do what you need to do. Get your eyeballs and feet in the right place and I’ll coach the rest of it.’ He’s doing great, he really is.”
Frost also complimented Martinez on Tuesday and said he, “showed signs of a guy who’s really talented.”
So now less than two weeks remain in spring ball and the race, for now, is down to three. Only time will tell what happens next.