September 14, 2010

Tuesday notebook: Martinez can pass, too

While Taylor Martinez has more than proved himself as an electric playmaker running the football, some still question his ability as a passer.

He's completed 65.6 percent of his passes for 242 yards in two games, but the redshirt freshman quarterback has yet to throw for a touchdown and has one interception. One could also argue that his completion percentage is a bit misleading as well because of the fact that he hasn't really thrown the ball down field much at all with any success.

Though there are plenty of doubters still waiting to see Martinez show the same success with his arm as he's had with his legs, his teammates say they've already seen more than enough to have full confidence in Martinez as their starting quarterback.

"He can throw it," junior wide receiver Brandon Kinnie said. "That was a big surprise once he really started getting reps during the spring that he could pass… He can throw it and throw it well.

"I'm confident in him. I believe he can get it done. He's a winner. That's all he knows how to do is win. Our whole offense (believes in him)."

Not only do Martinez's teammates believe in his ability to get the ball down field, so do his coaches.

"He's real good," offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said. "In practice, he threads the needle. He did some really good things yesterday and today throwing the ball down the field. He's got a great trigger and he's a very accurate thrower down the field. I think he's as good as I've coached throwing the ball deep."

Head coach Bo Pelini seems just as confident in Martinez as Watson and the rest of his players are, saying he noticed improvements in the Corona, Calif., native's passing performance last week against Idaho compared to his first game against Western Kentucky.

After completing 9-of-15 passes for 136 yards in the season opener, Martinez connected on only three more passes on Saturday, finishing 12-of-17 for 107 yards. Had he not missed a wide-open Mike McNeill over the middle for what should have been a 58-yard touchdown pass on the opening drive, though, his numbers would have been a little more impressive.

"I thought he did some good things," Pelini said. "He missed one (to McNeill) that I'm sure he'd like to have back, but I thought overall he's doing some good things. There's obviously always room for improvement, but he's doing some pretty good things, pass game wise and run game wise."

Though it might not show as much in the box score, Pelini and Watson both said the biggest step Martinez has taken as a passer the past two weeks has been an improved confidence throwing the ball and in his knowledge of Nebraska's offense as a whole

"I just think he's becoming more comfortable in the passing game and what we're asking him to do," Pelini said. "There's still a long way to go as far as that's concerned, but I am seeing some progress, which is good to see."

- Robin Washut

Tuesday practice takes
Hot ticket: It appears the excitement for Saturday's game against Washington is getting hotter by the minute. According to, the world's largest online ticket marketplace, Nebraska's showdown with the Huskies is the No. 1 grossing college football game in the country this week. As of Tuesday afternoon, the cheapest single ticket was going for $104, while the cheapest pair was listed at $75 per ticket. For a lower level ticket on the 50-yard line, some tickets are selling for as high as $500 each.

Running wild: Considering the way Nebraska has been running the football this season, it's little surprise that the Huskers currently lead the nation with an average of 8.8 yards per carry as a team. Led by redshirt freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez (13.5 yards per carry) and running backs Rex Burkhead (9.6) and Roy Helu (9.7), NU's average is nearly a full yard better than the second-ranked team on the list, Michigan State.

Former Huskers return: Former Nebraska wide receiver Chris Brooks (2005-09) and safety Brian Washington (1983-87) were in attendance for Tuesday's practice. Washington was a 10th-round pick by the Cleveland Browns and also played for the New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs. Brooks, who was cut by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a free agent this summer, said he is still looking to sign on with another NFL team or possibly get a tryout with the UFL's Omaha Nighthawks. Brooks is currently living in his hometown of St. Louis.

What's on tap next: The Nebraska football team practiced in full pads on the fields north of Memorial Stadium on Tuesday, as the Huskers continue to prepare for Saturday's trip to take on Washington. The team will return to practice on Wednesday for another full-padded session.

NU secondary ready for Locker

As would be expected, Nebraska's defensive backs are looking at Saturday's game against Washington and Heisman Trophy candidate Jake Locker as a chance to show the country they can shut down one of college football's best quarterbacks.

It will obviously be the toughest challenge the secondary has faced in some time, as Locker is averaging just under 300 yards of total offense the past two games to go along with five touchdowns and zero interceptions.

Still, the Huskers are taking on the approach that in order to be the best, they will have to beat the best.

"I think we're all looking forward to it," senior safety DeJon Gomes said. "We're getting prepared in practice; we're trying to work hard and make sure we're ready. Maybe he will throw his first (interception) this Saturday, but if he doesn't we'll just make sure we're in the right spots."

Gomes went on to say that the secondary would have to play as close to perfect as possible against the Huskies, as Locker is capable of making defenses pay for even the smallest mistakes.

The best way to prevent those mistakes, Gomes said, was for each defensive back to stick with his coverage assignments and rely on the defensive schemes to put them in positions to make plays instead of trying to make them on their own.

"In some plays (against Idaho) we weren't in the best position we needed to be," he said. "Even if the quarterback didn't throw it, we know that if he would have thrown it like what may happen this Saturday, we'd be out of position to give up some big plays. We just have to make sure we're always doing the right assignment."

Locker may be coming into this weekend's game with as much hype as anyone in the country, but after watching some film of him and UW's offense, Nebraska might have found at least one weak point in Locker's game.

"He doesn't have a fast release," senior safety Rickey Thenarse said. "The guy we just played against (Idaho's Nathan Enderle), (Locker) wasn't faster than him. I think as long as we keep studying film and keep doing what we're doing, we'll be fine."

How much the Huskers will be able to take advantage of that will be determined on Saturday, but one thing that is for sure is the secondary is chomping at the bit to see how they stack up against one of the nation's best.

"I think everybody likes to play against the greatest," senior cornerback Prince Amukamara said. "I like to go up against Niles (Paul) every time, so I think our defense is especially ready for that competition."

- Robin Washut

Sirles continues to improve

The season couldn't have started off much better for redshirt freshman offensive tackle Jeremiah Sirles so far.

Not only did he come out of fall camp as the starting left tackle, he's also nearly flawlessly transitioned to right tackle when called upon to do so with little preparation in order to provide depth while junior Marcel Jones has been out with injury.

Through two games, Sirles has yet to allow a sack or commit a single penalty.

Sirles credited his quick development in large part to the help he's received from his teammates since he first arrived on campus last fall, though he said he's far from a finished product.

"I improved in picking things up, but I still have so, so much more to learn," Sirles said. "You get out there and things fly around, and you think you know one thing and all of a sudden something else is happening. So I still have so much to learn, and I'm excited to learn. It's a great opportunity to get to play this young and learn and be with guys like Keith (Williams) and (Mike) Caputo who have all been through it before. They've helped me out a lot."

With Jones out of the lineup, Sirles was asked two days before the season opener to move over and take some reps at right tackle behind senior D.J. Jones, while also making his first career start at left tackle.

Understandably, Sirles was a bit overwhelmed at times, but he said the experience he's gained over the past two games has been invaluable in his understanding of the game and Nebraska's offense.

"I need to play where the coaches need me to play, and if that's on the left side or right side, I'm here for team," Sirles said. "I've done a decent job, but again, I just need to keep working. It's a great experience being able to play both sides. You get double the reps, you get double the experience. To be able to play both ways, you get to see everything from a different perspective and you really know the offense really well."

- Robin Washut

Quick hits

***Outside of redshirt freshman defensive back Andrew Green, who has missed the past two practices, there were no new injuries to report following Tuesday's practice.

***Though Locker has been the primary focus for Nebraska's defense this week, Washington receiver Jermaine Kearse certainly hasn't gone unnoticed during film sessions. The Huskies slot receiver has 14 catches for 287 yards and has four of Locker's five touchdown passes this season.

"We've been watching him on film, I actually just got done watching some film on him," Gomes said. "He doesn't seem like a big receiver like we have, but he has the ability to break a lot of tackles and make a lot of plays. I think he is Locker's favorite target, I believe he has four of his touchdown (passes). He'll probably be one of his go-to guys this game."

***Gomes said he and the rest of the defense can't wait to take on an opponent of Washington's caliber, saying they're ready to finally face an offense that might actually present a challenge.

"It really shouldn't happen, but sometimes you play down to the level of your competition," Gomes said. "When you go into these big games, you know you have to bring your big pads and you just have to prepare to go out and focus and do everything that you need to do, because if you slip up, then they're going to really take advantage of it. You can't just rely on your athletic ability."

***Kinnie has been a mentor of sorts to fellow junior college transfers Jermarcus Hardick and Lavonte David since their arrival on campus. He said he wants to be there for Hardrick and David because he knows how hard it is to adjust from junior college to Division I football.

"Just from what we all went through in junior college, it's tough being in that type of environment down there, because there's only 12 men who can play (on a team) from out of state," Kinnie said. "We went through a lot together, and just for them to come here and a big reason for it being me and coming to play with me again, I want to show them the ropes and show them how it is and what needs to be done to play and how to stay focused on the task and just keep working. I'm glad I can do that."

***Sirles said he watched film from Saturday's win and noticed that many of the mistakes Nebraska made against Idaho were results of the Huskers losing focus on small details in their technique.

"It wasn't as much mental stuff as it was the little things," Sirels said. " Coach Bo always talks about focusing on the process and the details, and there were some great things on film but there were also a lot of yards left on the that tape. It was a lot of detail things, like you'd take the wrong step here or throwing a ball here or not throwing a ball here. It was just a lot of little, little things. We were are own worst enemy when it comes to that kind of stuff.'

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