On Wednesday night, Nebraska coach Scott Frost made a ho-hum comment about the upcoming quarterback battle that’ll unfold in his first spring camp in Lincoln.
“Quarterback is going to be a work in progress and we’re going to let all those guys compete,” Frost said on the local radio show “Sports Nightly” on Wednesday night. “Everybody’s going to get a fair shake and a fair opportunity.”
Why is such a vanilla comment noteworthy? Well, for probably one of the first times that’s been said, I actually believe that everyone is going to get a fair shake at the starting quarterback job. And with Frost running the controls, this has the potential to become a prime opportunity.
Nebraska’s quarterback battle is unlike any in the B1G and perhaps unlike any in the country. The Huskers will begin spring camp with three scholarship quarterbacks, all of whom were 4-star recruits who have at least three years of eligibility left. Oh, and they have a combined zero career starts.
Patrick O’Brien is the only one who played in a game, but that was in a completely different system under a complete different coaching staff. He’ll have to scratch and claw the same way as redshirt freshman and early enrollee Adrian Martinez will to win Frost’s approval.
There are all sorts of factors at play.
As for why this is the “most intriguing quarterback battle in the B1G,” let’s quickly look at the other candidates.
Barring something crazy, Dwayne Haskins is the guy at Ohio State. Barring the NCAA sinking to a new low, Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson will be eligible to play immediately and he’ll start at Michigan. Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota and Rutgers aren’t loaded with 4-star quarterbacks battling it out, and none of them have coaches with the quarterback pedigree of someone like Frost.
So yeah, Nebraska has that title for now. Trying to figure out which quarterback has the edge will probably put your brain into a pretzel.
Let’s start with O’Brien because of seniority. Once billed as the quarterback of the future, O’Brien has size (6-4, 230 pounds) and arm strength to make a lot of throws. But in Frost’s offense, the quarterback has to be able to run effectively. In limited action last year, O’Brien was more of the “Tanner Lee” variety when it came to mobility. In other words, he took too many sacks.
Gebbia is a bit more mobile despite the fact that he was also a pro-style quarterback recruit. Mike Riley actually ran some run-pass option looks with him during last year’s spring game, and they were pretty effective. Gebbia even called his own number and ran in a touchdown. He also gets rid of the ball quickly and is meticulous with his preparation. That could bode well for him in trying to learn Frost’s offense.
Many will wonder if Gebbia’s thin frame could be an issue, but Frost noted that not everyone needs to be built like Marcus Mariota. UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton was only 5-11, 177 pounds and he finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting in Frost’s last year in Orlando.
Martinez is 20 pounds bigger than Gebbia and schematically, the true freshman might fit the mold for Frost a bit more naturally. He’s a true dual-threat, which was why there was a lot of “quarterback of the future” talk when Martinez flipped his commitment from Tennessee to Nebraska.
Can he be the quarterback of the present, too?
The spring game will show just how ready Martinez is after a few months on campus. Given the fact that two true freshmen quarterbacks battled it out in the national championship, it’s not crazy to think that Frost could play his youngest signal-caller if he’s up for the challenge.
There’s also some macro-level risk to starting a true freshman that Frost would have to consider. As mentioned, Gebbia and O’Brien are former 4-star recruits with three years of eligibility left. The coach who recruited them already left. If one of them were to lose the job out of fall camp, they could be a candidate to transfer. If both of them were to lose the job to Martinez, both could leave Lincoln before the 2018 season ends.
That’s just how it works with elite quarterback recruits.
Maybe Frost could sleep a little easier making a decision like that knowing that UCF transfer and Wahoo, Neb. native Noah Vedral will be eligible in 2018. Perhaps true freshman walk-on Matt Masker, who actually broke Frost’s passing touchdowns record for a Class C-1 quarterback in Nebraska, would ease Frost’s concerns of multiple quarterback transfers.
Whatever the case, all signs point to Frost letting this thing play out deep into fall camp. It’ll be unlike any quarterback battle we’ve seen in recent memory at Nebraska. For once, there aren’t veteran starters like Tommy Armstrong Jr. or Taylor Martinez. Even Lee won the job in the spring last year and without much debate.
There figures to be all sorts of quarterback battle debate in the coming weeks and months in Nebraska. There figures to be plenty more when the Huskers host their sold-out spring game next month.
Whoever gets this gig will still be considered a project in Frost’s offense. It took McKenzie a full two seasons to really grasp it, and Mariota didn’t really take off until his second year with Frost, too. Nebraska’s new starting quarterback will likely be far from a finished product this September, much less this April.
But if his first three months on the job were any indication, that won’t lessen the excitement or expectations for Frost’s new offense in Lincoln.