Steven M. Sipple: If going one-on-one before NU’s spring ball, these six would be first on the list

Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez throws a pass against Northwestern during the first half last November in Evanston, Illinois.

If you cover the Nebraska football program, you don’t get many one-on-one interviews. 

It used to be a routine occurrence during the late 1990s and early 2000s. Not anymore. 

This particular media group has swelled in number to 30-plus, easily. That’s much larger than the media corps for most college football teams, which probably is the leading reason for fewer one-on-ones.

Whatever the case, if I could choose six people for a one-on-one interview in advance of a critical spring for Nebraska football, these are the ones: 

Bill Busch, defensive analyst 

You see the title. Defensive analyst. But I’m told he’s helping with special teams. How extensively is he helping? 

It should be his focus.

The 55-year-old Busch, who grew up in Pender (population 1,112) in Thurston County, spent 2004-07 at Nebraska under head coach Bill Callahan coaching outside linebackers (2004) and safeties (2005-07) while also serving as special-teams coordinator. He has an extensive background coaching special teams. 

If coach Scott Frost is going to pull his program out of its spiral, special teams play is going to have to improve dramatically. What does Busch see on film as he watches Nebraska’s special teams in 2020? How poorly was it coached? How was it possible for Rutgers’ Aron Cruickshank to basically run a straight line for 98 yards on a kickoff-return touchdown? Exactly how extensive were the breakdowns that led to Illinois’ punter running for a first down? 

Busch most recently spent the past three seasons as safeties coach at LSU. How extensive is the talent gap between the Tigers and Big Red? Could he diplomatically put that in perspective?

Adrian Martinez, quarterback 

Perhaps you saw the Martinez hype video that Nebraska sent out Saturday.

“We’re fighters. We’ll find a way …” 

The music is loud, and I’m old, but listen closely and you can hear Martinez’s voice saying those words. What keeps him fighting at such a high level? Have Nebraska’s struggles during his three years as starter diminished his fire? Or is he more hungry than ever? 

Luke McCaffrey, who started two games last season, transferred to Louisville. McCaffrey needs a ton of development at the position. But there surely would’ve been pressure on Frost to keep McCaffrey happy this season. Does the situation feel less complicated without McCaffrey? 

Frost has said he thinks the scrutiny on Martinez “has been rough on him.” Can he really tune out the naysayers?

What has he done during the past few months to reduce turnovers? 

Martinez technically has two seasons of eligibility remaining. Does he consider the possibility of returning in 2022 and perhaps being a five-year starter? 

Or has he had enough of this place?

A truly compelling story would be Martinez rising to an All-Big Ten level and leading his team to first place in the division.

Imagine that. 

Zach Duval, head strength coach

He doesn’t do media interviews, which I sort of admire in that he obviously isn’t much into self-promotion.

Because he largely eschews the limelight, Duval is a bit of a mystery man.

Is he going for that sort of persona?

“It’s hard to describe Duval,” former Husker offensive lineman Matt Farniok says. “He’s got kind of a country-boy feel. He’s just a fun guy to be around, and he knows what he’s doing.”

Frost brought Duval with him from Central Florida because Duval fit perfectly into Frost’s grand plan at NU — that is, to meld new-school speed elements that fit his no-huddle spread offense with an old-school Husker Power approach that can supply the sort of physicality required in the unforgiving Big Ten.

Is that still the grand plan? Has the mindset and plan been tweaked at all? 

And this is key: Did Duval see Nebraska’s veteran high-profile players bust their you-know-whats during the winter? Who were the absolute beasts? 

How far did that Omar Manning guy progress? Is he ready?

So many questions.

Markese Stepp, running back  

“It feels good to be part of a historical program like Nebraska,” he said recently in his own NU-produced hype video. “You have all-time greats here like Ahman Green and Mike Rozier. I’m here to tote the rock.” 

It was cool hearing the transfer from USC mention a couple of Nebraska’s greatest running backs. How extensive is Stepp’s knowledge of the Husker program’s running back tradition? Does NU running back coach Ryan Held emphasize the importance of that tradition? Does he tell his guys about Jeff Kinney, Roger Craig, I.M. Hipp, Lawrence Phillips, Doug DuBose, Ken Clark, Tony Davis, Ameer Abdullah, Rex Burkhead, and on and on? Sorry to those I left out. The list is long. 

Is Stepp interested in watching videos of defenders grasping at Kinney’s tear-away jersey, to no avail? 

I think Nebraska’s tradition can be helpful to current players if those players take time to understand its importance. It always helps to compete for something bigger than yourself.

What exactly has Frost told the 5-foot-11, 230-pound Stepp about the nature of his role? Is NU about to turn up the emphasis on the run game?

Perhaps the new RB in town could provide clues. 

Cam Taylor-Britt, cornerback 

The 6-foot, 215-pound junior returned to Nebraska for another season even though he could’ve made the jump to the NFL. What exactly did he hear from pro scouts? How high would he likely have been drafted? How heavily did position coach Travis Fisher’s background as a former NFL corner weigh on his decision to return? 

Taylor-Britt seems to feel Frost has Nebraska on the right track as a program. What does Taylor-Britt see in that regard that the program’s harshest critics don’t? I’d like to hear several examples.

Along those lines, we also should ask him about Manning. Just saying.

Scott Frost, head coach 

He had to know heavy criticism would accompany Nebraska trying to pull out of the Oklahoma game this season. He’s already drawing a heavy amount of criticism from fans for his team’s poor play. Did he just figure that at some point all the noise blends together into one roiling pot of nothingness? 

Did he put enough emphasis on special teams in his first three seasons in charge? 

Is Maurice Washington in Lincoln? How is he doing?

I could keep going. But I’ll stop there. Interesting spring ahead.