The Questions or the Answers?
Is the Spring his time to shine?
Is the Spring his time to shine?

Posted Mar 3, 2010


Spring football is just three weeks away. That’s how it is in Nebraska. There’s football season and then there is the waiting for football season to arrive. But this time can and sometimes is where we can have the most fun. It’s when we think about all the questions which should have answers after football season is finished.

What’s more compelling, the question or the answer?

Now think about it before you answer right away.

Here we are in the midst of the doldrums as we like to call them. Some outside of the Husker state refer to this time as the “off-season.”

But we know better, don’t we?

There is no off-season here.

Point of fact, there are three seasons:

Football in the Fall
Football in the Spring
Recruiting

Recruiting is the perpetual season. It has no real beginning. It has no real end. Signing Day is only the official mark of separation of one recruiting class from the next. But as we all know the recruiting class for the following year is already in the process of being built.

So, back to the question about the question, or the answer being the most compelling.

The instantaneous reply is that the answers are the most compelling, because they are either the realization or the disappointment.

It’s either yes or no, good or bad.

For me, though, I like the questions.

Look at the quarterback position:

Zac Lee had a serviceable year in spots. As we have beaten it to death, he looked like Joe Montana in the non-conference outside of Virginia Tech. And he looked simply solid against Arizona in the Holiday Bowl. Sandwiched between that was a year-long regression it seemed, and if the quarterback is struggling, even if your identity as an offense is based more on running than passing, the offense is still going to have a hard time doing anything.

That brings up the question about Zac being the guy.

Is he?


The idea nowadays seems to be that if the quarterback can't
run, he
might find himself out of a job.

The problem with this Spring is that he might not be a part of it, as he is still rehabbing from surgery on his lower right arm to repair a “flexor tendon.”

That brings up another question:

Was it the reason he struggled so mightily throughout the year?

Before the Arizona game you could argue that, and I don’t know how much anyone would disagree. It’s not a good injury to have for anyone, but especially for your right-handed QB.

Before the final game of the 2009 campaign Lee completed 58.8 percent of his passes, throwing 13 touchdowns against 10 interceptions. From the rushing standpoint, where you wouldn’t think this injury would have much impact at all, he totaled 106 yards on the season on 85 attempts. That’s 1.2 yards per carry.

In the Holiday Bowl he completed 52 percent of his passes, completing one for a touchdown, but against no interceptions. And in the running game Lee ran the ball 18 times for 69 yards, an average of 3.6 yds. per carry. And he even added his first rushing score as a Husker.

So, what’s the answer?

The completion percentage doesn’t suggest he got any better in this game versus most of the season. But he didn’t hurt his team with an interception. But running – there you saw a real difference, not just from the numbers but from simply the way he ran during the game. I’d say it was with a purpose versus most of conference play where I’d say it was with a lot more tentativeness instead.

But the bad part about Spring is that we probably wouldn’t have answers to any of those questions even if he was healthy, because, well…it’s Spring.

The difference this Spring, though, is that quarterbacks are now open-season for a lack of a better way of putting it. No green jerseys, which means when they run that Zone Read to the left, instead of going into that pitch knowing full well they weren’t going to get hit, now they should expect it.

That changes things.

Which brings up another question:

Did Nebraska quarterbacks get soft?

All that drop back, shotgun stuff where the signal-caller is asked to sit in the pocket until they find something. And if they don’t find anything, keep trying to find it and only after an exhaustive run through the progression, MAYBE you tuck and go. Maybe you just keep trying to find another option in the passing game.


Green proved to be tough. But can he prove to be dependable too?

Did the system make the quarterbacks shy in regard to contact?

We know it didn’t do that to Cody Green. As a true freshman, he still had fresh in his own mind the good old days of the prep ranks where he could do whatever. Run, pass – kind of anything he wanted to do. And at his size, when he put his head down after turning that corner on an outside run, people either got knocked out of the way or simply ran through.

But there is the issue of the passing game, where Green didn’t exactly blow anyone away, nor should he have. I don’t care about prep results. This isn’t high school. One of the questions which runs through my mind every single year is how some people can’t stop themselves from making a one-to-one translation of prep success to the collegiate level.

If college football was simply the allegorical next step of a young man’s progression as a football player, former Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen would be heading to the Draft with three national-rings to go along with the three state-title rings he had and so proudly donned when he announced his commitment to the Fighting Irish at the College Football Hall of Fame.

Maybe he knew that was as close as he was ever going to get to it.

Either way, back to the point…

…and to the questions

There doesn’t seem to be any end to the questions in regard to quarterback. There really doesn’t.

When Curt Dukes arrived seemingly eons ago and was heralded as the next Scott Frost – there weren’t any questions, really, because everyone assumed he was the answer.

Some assumed that of Frankie London, too, the Louisiana-native physically very similar to the guy he would hopefully resemble on the field as much as he did off – Tommie Frazier.

And even in recent years where the quarterback position has changed so much, we still haven’t had a lot of questions in regard to who was the guy, because it seemed like we kind of knew.

When former Head Coach Bill Callahan arrived, Joe Dailey was the guy, because there was nobody else. The only perceived competition was from former quarterback Jordan Adams. But inexplicably, he had surgery to remove his spleen right before practice began, making it Joe all the way.

When Joe Dailey proved not to be the guy, and Zac Taylor came in, because he played in Callahan’s type of system, had actually seen some Division 1-A competition at Wake Forest and had played in a national title game at the junior college level – yep, another no-brainer.

Then there was Sam Keller who seemed to come off the waiver wire from Arizona State with some dark horse Heisman hype. As much as there was a growing sentiment for Joe Ganz, the allure of the brash-talking Keller along with the prototype body and big arm – yep, another gimmee.

Then there was Joe who came in as the incumbent and I think for awhile we tried to assume that maybe someone might step up. But it was Joe’s job from the outset, and I think we created those questions, because questions about quarterbacks are some of the best ones you can ask.

It seemed equally as obvious going into last year that Lee was the guy. Sure, he had like two or three actual throws in his entire collegiate career. But with former Husker QB Patrick Witt transferring, he wasn’t just the incumbent, he was the automatic.

But now, especially with Lee missing perhaps the entire Spring, can you honestly say that based on last year he’s a gimmee, the automatic or in any way a shoo-in for the job?

Is that a question we really need to even ask?


Is this ever-changing offense even a fit for Spano now?

What about Kody Spano?

After two MCL tears which has kept him out of two straight seasons, surely this guy knows the system as well as anyone, despite not actually running it in a real game. But when he came to Nebraska the Zone Read was an idea more than it was an oft-used play.

It was still drop back, still some shotgun and not much running from that position.

Has the Husker offense passed him by?

What about Taylor Martinez? Can he be a quarterback at this level?

That’s a heck of a question to ask considering he’s been working at QB since he arrived last year. But with a 40 reportedly in the 4.4-range, and again, with the offense the way it was, despite the increased running at the position in the Husker offense – it seemed easy to think that he would find another position on the field.

Even now we have heard plenty about how this kid can run and the kind of athleticism he brings to the table, but still haven’t heard how he actually throws.

Then, of course, there’s Green.

Can he take the next step in understanding this offense and more importantly, understanding when NOT to throw the ball?

We know he has a great arm. We know he can run. We know he can improvise. But as tentative as we believed Zac Lee became as the season wore along, Green was almost the antithesis of that, throwing it places where you cringed when you saw either how many other defenders were around that ball where it fortunately dropped incomplete – or how you couldn’t see anyone in the general vicinity of where the ball was thrown.


Martinez will get off the bench this Spring. But can he prove he
is an all-purpose QB?

In some respects it’s a good thing if Zac Lee isn’t around in Spring, though, I doubt Lee would agree. There are still so many questions which we have no answers to when it comes to arguably the most important position on the field.

And with the green jerseys off you will be able to find out if Martinez can actually stand in a pocket and wait that extra second for a receiver to come open so he can deliver the ball versus relying on that impressive athleticism too much by tucking and running at the first opportunity.

Can Spano even run the option effectively enough for defenses to buy it?

Remember Lee’s version of the option this last year?

It’s not his fault, really.

We have been conditioned from decades of watching some of the best option quarterbacks this level of this sport has ever known. And he’s not anywhere close to that. Honestly, when you watched him run that option, with how deliberate he was when keeping it or pitching it, you might want to ditch that play entirely.

But you can’t. Not anymore. The option has found its way back to the Husker offense. No, not 75 percent of the time as it was in the good old days. But logically, it’s now part of an offense to make that offense more diverse.

Does Nebraska have a quarterback who can run it?

Can they be a quarterback before a runner, but also be a viable enough threat in the running game defenses actually have to take notice?

Tom Osborne loved the idea of a mobile quarterback, because it caused the secondary to suck up closer to the line, opening up those passing lanes, especially for the tight end.

But you have to be able to convince people you can run to do that.

That’s a lot of questions. And unfortunately, we aren’t going to have many of the answers (if any) coming out of Spring, which starts a week before the end of this month.

And at the most important position on the field.

That would give some heartburn.

Not me. I love those kinds of questions. I love not knowing what’s going to happen next, and actually having to wait to see an answer or even some semblance of one.

It’s fun thinking of the questions, and in sports the questions never end.

Also, let’s face it, unless Nebraska never loses a game, some of the answers you simply aren’t going to like.

….which brings up even more questions.

I love it.

 

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