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Steven M. Sipple: Where Martinez stands among returning B1G QBs; and Moos' insight on hire

Steven M. Sipple: Where Martinez stands among returning B1G QBs; and Moos' insight on hire

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Red-White Spring Game, 5.1

Adrian Martinez (2) throws a pass as Huskers' head coach Scott Frost looks on during the Red-White Spring Game May 1 at Memorial Stadium.

Things I know, and things I think I know: 

Already one of the top returning quarterbacks in the Big Ten — as his QB rating last season suggests — Nebraska's Adrian Martinez concentrates on taking his game to a higher level.

He focused on three areas this spring.

"I wanted to elevate my leadership — find a way to encourage our guys and drive our unit," the junior from California said May 1 following the Red-White Spring Game. "If things aren't going our way, find a way to turn that around. That was the first checkpoint I wanted to hit.

"Secondly, I want to get better myself with accuracy and decision-making. I think you can always get better at those things."

Of course, he also concentrated on ball security, arguably his biggest bugaboo. 

"Turnovers have been a problem," he said. "It's definitely been a point of emphasis for us." 

By all accounts, the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Martinez enjoyed an excellent spring. He dropped weight and looked quicker. One of his veteran receivers, Levi Falck, said Martinez is throwing the ball harder and smoother than a year ago. 

Martinez obviously didn't have a great year in 2020. But he was efficient enough to rank fourth among returning Big Ten starting quarterbacks in QB rating. Justin Fields, now an NFL rookie, led the way at 175.56. After Fields, the field was bunched up: Taulia Tagovailoa of Maryland was 47th nationally at 138.54 followed by Sean Clifford of Penn State at 137.44 (50th), Michael Penix of Indiana at 136.5 (53rd) and Martinez at 134.98 (55th). 

Minnesota's Tanner Morgan was next best at 72nd (128.15), and Wisconsin's Graham Mertz was 79th (125.23).

I haven't seen enough of Tagovailoa to assess his game compared to Martinez's. But I've seen enough of Clifford to know I would take Martinez over him in a heartbeat. 

Meanwhile, although Penix had excellent receivers at Indiana last season, he completed only 56.4% of his throws and rushed 18 times for just 25 yards before tearing his ACL in the sixth game. Give Martinez a receiver the caliber of 6-2, 214-pound Ty Fryfogle — the 2020 Big Ten receiver of the year — and let's see how it would affect the Husker quarterback's stats. The Hoosiers, of course, also had talented Whop Philyor (54 catches) and Peyton Hendershot, a third-team All-Big Ten tight end.

Some folks would take Morgan over Martinez. Morgan was excellent in 2019 — 30 touchdown passes versus only seven interceptions with a 66% completion rate — but he had the luxury of throwing to Tyler Johnson, Rashad Bateman and Chris Autman-Bell. Last season, with Johnson in the NFL and Bateman playing in only five games, Morgan's passing numbers slid to 106-for-183 (57.9%) for 1,374 yards and seven touchdowns, with five picks. 

In the past two seasons, Morgan has 86 rushes for minus-92 yards. Just sayin'.

Maybe you'd take Mertz over Martinez. I'd be careful with that. With what Nebraska coach Scott Frost regards as an improved group of receivers — it certainly has a wider overall catch radius — look for Martinez's passing numbers to improve in 2021. He completed 71.5% of his throws last season, but obviously needs to hit at a higher rate downfield. 

As for his rushing ability, he runs like a running back.

With a bachelor's degree in hand, Martinez has matured into a man. He seems much more comfortable with being Nebraska's quarterback and all that entails. He seems comfortable in his skin — at peace, as Frost says.  

Regarding the upcoming summer months, Martinez said, "We definitely have made some progress this spring, and we can't lose it. After a break, there's a group of us who are going to hop on and push this thing forward. We feel really good about that. We're passionate about where we're at and where we need to be."

Nobody is saying Martinez is the best returning quarterback in the Big Ten in 2021. But he's definitely in the conversation. 

You won't convince me otherwise.

* If you happen to notice an unfamiliar executive around Memorial Stadium, it just might be Ben Murray, Nebraska's new senior associate athletic director for development. The former West Virginia fundraiser's first day on the job was April 30, the day NU formally broke ground on its $155 million athletic facility. In his new role, Murray will lead the Huskers Athletic Fund team, which serves as the fundraising arm for the athletic department. 

Nebraska athletic director Bill Moos said there was a lot of interest in the position, although nobody from in-house applied, he said.

"Ben's from the Midwest — Elkhart, Kansas — and his wife is the daughter of farmers," Moos said. "The fit really felt right." 

Murray plans to "go heavy on a philanthropic approach," Moos said. 

"Bottom line, we needed a pro," the Husker AD said. "We didn't want to bring in an assistant coach to take the head coach's job. This is Nebraska. We've got to always remember that, and remember that people want to be part of Nebraska. That's why the candidate pools for these type of jobs are full of such great talent."

* Time for the old columnist to take a break. Probably just a week. I need it. 

Wasn't 2020 just a hoot? 

I'll never forget the empty Big Ten football stadiums. That part was awful. Weird and awful and unsettling. A saving grace was the players' intensity and genuine enthusiasm. I saw it every week. It genuinely moved me. Left an indelible impression. 

I feel honored to cover this stuff, all of it. Enjoy your week. 

Contact the writer at ssipple@journalstar.com or 402-473-7440. On Twitter @HuskerExtraSip.

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