Bright lights shine on Nebraska quarterbacks, with each one competing to lead Husker offense

Bright lights shine on Nebraska quarterbacks, with each one competing to lead Husker offense
True freshman Adrian Martinez, No. 2, is one of the Husker quarterbacks learning from Scott Frost, left, and assistant Mario Verduzco, right. (World-Herald News Service)

LINCOLN — For his first group interview as a Husker, Tristan Gebbia had his helmet and two footballs at his feet and his back against a wall. Packed into a second-floor space of the Hawks Championship Center, reporters traipsed over camera stands and maneuvered around a kiosk to press in.

“This is a special moment in time,” Gebbia said at one point.

Four NU quarterbacks talked after Tuesday’s practice, and they might as well have been The Beatles. One — Patrick O’Brien — declined to stop, walking over the skyway that connects the practice field and the locker room. But the rest — Gebbia, Noah Vedral, Adrian Martinez and Andrew Bunch — stood for as long as questions were asked.

It was a bit of a media circus for spring practice. But new coach Scott Frost tends to be a kingmaker of quarterbacks — see Marcus Mariota at Oregon and McKenzie Milton at Central Florida — so the spotlight burns a little brighter for these five, especially since none of them have started a game at Nebraska.

But someone is winning this competition, and Frost hinted that a few guys are starting to separate themselves from the pack.

Who? Frost wouldn’t say. Neither would the quarterbacks.

“It really builds a lot of character and team unity,” Gebbia said of the competition.

“It’s fun out there,” said Martinez, the true freshman who enrolled early after missing his senior season because of shoulder surgery.

“Patience is a big thing I want to remind them of, that they’re not beating themselves up too much,” said Vedral, who can’t play this season because he transferred from UCF. The Wahoo Neumann grad called coming home “a dream” as he’s the fifth member of his family — a combination of Vedrals and Turmans — to put the N on his helmet.

Vedral possesses one key bit of seasoning his teammates lack. He knows Frost’s offense. He played in it last season, backing up Milton in several blowout wins. Vedral said he didn’t fully grasp the offense until late in the 2017 season.

Frost’s scheme — a hybrid of spread-passing concepts and old-school power football based on the coach’s Nebraska roots — isn’t as hard to grasp, Vedral said, as the speed with which everything must be done. There can’t be delays between snaps. It’s go, go, go, and your eyes have to find the playcall mere seconds after the previous play ended.

“We are uptempo now,” Vedral said. “And things have to go fast. That’s a weapon for us and we’re mastering that and we’re mastering the playbook.”

Frost said every quarterback has to get more familiar with his system, a tectonic shift from Nebraska’s old offense — a pro-style, huddle-up scheme that ranked 84th in scoring offense and 67th in yards per play. Frost, himself a former Husker quarterback and quarterback coach, watches that position more than any other, and the process “takes awhile” to work.

“And once it clicks,” Frost said, “it really clicks. But there’s a lot of little details, a lot of things happening really fast, and quarterbacks have to be able to manage that.

“I see every one of the quarterbacks making some good plays and then a play that’s not so good. A lot of times it’s because they’re just a little behind mentally. They don’t understand the concepts or they can’t quite get there in the time it takes us to snap the ball.”

Frost briefly listed the strengths of each quarterback, not tipping his hand much on pecking order.

“Gebbia’s doing some good things running and throwing,” Frost said. “Pat can really throw it and is doing a good job learning it. Bunch has been doing a really good job as a walk-on here. Adrian Martinez is showing signs of being really talented. And Noah is a guy who’s here for us who’s the most familiar.”

Bunch, a walk-on from Scottsdale (Arizona) Community College, has been a “pleasant surprise” to Frost.

“He’s really gone to work learning it, and he has the ability to process information quickly and make good decisions,” Frost said. “He’s more athletic than I expected him to be. When he takes off running, he can make some things happen.”

Being an efficient runner is not negotiable in Frost’s offense. Whether he was offensive coordinator at Oregon or head coach at UCF, his quarterbacks collectively ran the ball at least seven times per game each of the last five seasons. In 645 carries since 2013, Frost quarterbacks have run for 4.58 yards per carry.

So Gebbia, whose Calabasas (California) High School offense was more like a run-and-shoot Washington State passing system, has had to work on his speed and agility.

But the redshirt freshman — who drew raves from the previous coaching staff for his study habits and work ethic — didn’t consider transferring when Nebraska fired the man who recruited him, Mike Riley.

“Nebraska’s my home now,” Gebbia said. “I love it here.”

Frost coming home didn’t hurt, either. All four quarterbacks made a point to mention Frost’s role in their desire to stick around. Vedral said Frost is like a father and a brother. Bunch said everyone in the country wants to play for Frost.

Five quarterbacks do. And one of them is starting a football game in five months.

“To be the guy at Nebraska, you’ve got to do a lot of great things,” Gebbia said. “We’ve got five guys who do a lot of great things.”

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