With his first 15 practices as Nebraska's new offensive coordinator now in the books, Tim Beck is overall pleased with the strides the Huskers took over the course of spring ball.
For the first time since the Red-White Spring Game, Beck talked about his offense when he appeared as a guest on Big Red Wrap-Up on Tuesday night. Beck covered a wide range of topics, including the changes NU were able to make to the offense during the spring, the quarterback competition and some of the young and exciting players who emerged.
To start, Beck addressed how his players handled the change in offenses from former OC Shawn Watson's system to his. While there was still plenty left to be learned and corrected before the start of the season, Beck said the transition went about as well as he could have expected.
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In particular, he said the idea of simplifying the offense definitely went over well through the four weeks of spring practice.
"I think in the past perhaps we looked for the perfect play, and (now) we have a play and we teach our guys how to adjust to what teams do," Beck said. "It goes back when I was first hired, I want us to understand our offense. I want the guys to get what the plays stand for - why am I running this play? Who am I getting open off of? What happens if he does this and be able to react to it as opposed to just running plays.
"That was the deprogramming aspect a little bit of what we went through offensively. I looked at the wide outs, and I'd be like 'get open.' And they'd be like 'well, where do I -', and I'd be like, 'get open. You get open, we'll get you the ball.'"
Continuing on how simplifying things might change the look of the offense, Beck said there times in previous years where having so many plays at the coaches' disposal bogged down the play calling rather than adjusting to the flow of the game.
"I think sometimes when you have too much (in your offense), you just go to the next play," Beck said. "You go from A to B. There's no systematic in football. It's not 'if they're stopping me from doing this, then I can go to this play.' A lot of times when you have a lot of things, you feel like you have to try to go them, and maybe they're not always the best things."
When Beck first addressed the media during Nebraska's spring press conference, he also said limiting the number of penalties and turnovers would be two of his top priorities as offensive coordinator.
Last season, the Huskers were the second-most penalized team in the Big 12 Conference and committed 24, which were the ninth most in the league. The 24 turnovers would have also ranked third worst in the Big Ten Conference last year.
"We're working to improve the penalties and the turnovers," Beck said. "I wouldn't say we've arrived there, but we were better. I was pleased with that. I think our players realized, and I constantly talk to them about as long as we're moving forward, we won't be stopped. We have to eliminate bad plays - sacks, negative yardage plays, turnovers, penalties. You can't score if you don't have the ball. I think they're starting to realize a little bit more of an importance than just saying hang onto the football."
In summary, Beck may have said it best when he said the overall goal for the offense, not only the spring but for the whole season and years to come, was to "carry our weight" and equal the high level of play of the defense.
There is still much work left to be done in getting there, but Beck said he felt his offense took some good steps in that direction in his first 15 practices.
"It's our job to get our offense to that same level," Beck said. "You know, the culture and having that same kind of mindset, attitude and toughness that we play with defensively."
Spring Game was just another practice
As much as fans may want to look at the stats from the Spring Game and use them as arguments in certain position battles, Beck doesn't put much stock in them at all.
Not only did he reiterate that Nebraska used just a handful of basic run and pass plays for the entire game, he said it was pointless to evaluate too much from the scrimmage because of the mix-matched rosters and some players playing out of position.
"They were a few of our plays, we just didn't have a lot, and we went in with that intention," Beck said. "It wasn't about tricking the defense or for them to trick us, it was about letting our kids go out there and play."
Beck said there were some timing and communication issues in the game from both teams, but those mistakes were to be expected because of the unusual circumstances presented by the draft format of the Spring Game.
For those reasons, Beck said the coaching staff didn't take away anything more from the game than what they would from an ordinary spring practice.
"We looked at it for what it was worth," Beck said. "Our kids played hard. It was a practice. I mean, if you really look at it, I told our guys, I said 'we don't get 15 practices and a spring game, you get 15 practices, and (the spring game) is one of them.' We went out there, and there were a lot of good things that took place in it."
Leadership No. 1 trait for quarterbacks
It's assumed by many at this point that sophomore Taylor Martinez is a lock to return Nebraska's starting quarterback this season, but Beck didn't exactly come out and confirm that notion on Tuesday night.
Instead, Beck described everything that he was looking for in his first starting quarterback, adding he would continue to evaluate those traits on through fall camp.
"No. 1, he's got to be a great leader," Beck said. "Leadership is defined a lot of different ways. I think sometimes there's this feeling that because you're the quarterback you're a leader, and that's not true. I think you still have to go out and earn that everyday. I've talked with our guys about being able to do that, being an unselfish player and running the offense."
Secondly, Beck said it was important for the quarterback to embody the same tough and strong-minded personality of the coaches, the program and the state of Nebraska.
"He's got to be a tough guy," he said. "I think if we're going to preach toughness and our football program is going to be about toughness and you have tough people in Nebraska… and he's standing there in front of the huddle, he better be a tough guy. We're getting there. I think they're getting that message and understanding it. It's not going to happen overnight, but we're going to get there.
"The bottom line, he's got to drive our team to win. It's not about having statistics. He's got to do the things we need him to do to win the football game. He may not rush for 100 yards, he may not throw for 100 yards, but if we're winning, that's what's going to count."
Of those who aren't quite sold on Martinez as this year's starter, many feel redshirt freshman Brion Carnes just might be the answer after his impressive performance in the Red-White game. Carnes completed 11-of-15 passes for 173 yards and two touchdowns to go along with nine carries for 40 yards.
When asked about Carnes, Beck certainly made it seem like the Bradenton, Fla., native was very much in contention for the starting job.
"Brion in particular has really come a long way," Beck said. "He's a very talented young guy. Again, he's still learning stuff, but he did some really nice things in the spring game. He's very talented and he's pushing guys. He's getting a lot more confidence in his ability and understanding what's going on, and he's just going to make Cody and Taylor that much better."
Turner's move to WR paying off
One of the first people to start the snowball of hype that accumulated for freshman Jamal Turner this spring was Beck, who described Turner as "electrifying" every time he touched the football.
Through the first week of spring ball, however, Beck also noticed Turner wasn't exactly enjoying himself lined up behind center at quarterback. Wanting his star freshman to be able to relax and just play football, Beck decided to move Turner to receiver.
As we all saw in his breakout spring game performance, the move has been a complete success so far.
"Part of our decision to put him at receiver for a little bit was to allow him to go play," Beck said. "My thing is I want guys to have success, because if they're having success they're having fun. He wasn't having any fun (at quarterback). I could see him stressing. He was putting a lot of pressure on himself trying to be somebody."
Despite how well Turner played at receiver, Beck said Tuesday that the door hasn't closed on the Arlington, Texas, native moving back to quarterback at some point in his career.
For now, though, Beck said he's more than happy with what Turner has done at wide out thus far. He even said Turner is one of the leading candidates to handle the punt and/or kickoff return duties this season.
"A lot of teams don't like putting a young guy back there, but he's different," Beck said. "The maturity level and what he's had to overcome to get here in his life personally, he's a strong guy. I felt like all along when we were recruiting him that he was going to play somewhere, somehow, he was going to be on the field."