Spring setup: Big stretch ahead for veteran Martinez, youngster Smothers in QB room

Nebraska quarterback Logan Smothers (8) cheers on his team from the sideline during the Penn State game in November at Memorial Stadium.

As the March 30 start of spring football draws nearer for Nebraska, the Journal Star is taking a brief look at each position on the roster and where the Huskers stand. This week continues with Mario Verduzco’s group of quarterbacks.

Monday: Offensive line

Tuesday: Tight end

Wednesday: Running back

Thursday: Wide receiver

Today: Quarterback

Saturday: Offensive two-deep projection

Returning scholarship players: junior Adrian Martinez and freshman Logan Smothers.

New this spring: freshman Heinrich Haarberg.

Walk-ons to watch: junior Matt Masker and redshirt freshman Brayden Miller.

Veteran presence: Pretty straightforward here, it’s No. 2. Martinez is a two-time captain and he’s started 27 games over the previous three seasons. He’s been a leader since the day he stepped on campus, but now he’s been through the wringer and had both success and struggles. He is also the only quarterback on Nebraska’s roster who has played in a college game.

Spring storyline

It’s really a two-part conversation at quarterback for Nebraska. First and foremost, as it pertains to the Huskers’ fortunes in 2021, is Martinez continuing to develop. He played better over Nebraska’s final three games of 2020 than he did early in the season, though turnovers remained too much of a bugaboo even as the Fresno, California, native saw his completion percentage jump to 72% from 59.4% in 2019.

Better play from his weapons and from the offensive line would help in 2021, but Martinez must also reduce his fumble rate and push the ball down the field more accurately.

Behind him, the question is whether NU has enough with Luke McCaffrey off to Louisville. Smothers faces a critical spring, and Verduzco and coach Scott Frost must determine whether he’s ready to be the second option. Remember, Martinez has missed time in each of his three seasons. Haarberg has the benefit of arriving on campus in January, too.

Three scholarship quarterbacks is pretty thin to go into a regular season with, but big springs from Smothers, Haarberg and/or one of the walk-ons, might be enough to convince Frost and Verduzco they can go for it. Otherwise, they’ll look to the portal after spring ball. 

— Parker Gabriel