Arms Race

As the game clock hit zero on the Memorial Stadium scoreboard, the Red-White scrimmage came to an end, and so did three and a half weeks of spring practice.

Spring practice provided an opportunity for competition, including at quarterback. With incumbent starting quarterback Zac Lee missing the entire spring while recovering from a wrist injury; it's been an open competition for Nebraska's four other quarterbacks.

"We're putting them all (quarterbacks) in it, and let the best man win," said NU offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson. "It's good for our football team, it's good for them, it's going to make us better."

With Lee not participating, Nebraska brought a combined two starts out of their five healthy quarterbacks (Cody Green vs. Baylor and Oklahoma). Green and Latravis Washington are the only quarterbacks who have taken a snap in a game.

Sophomore Cody Green and redshirt freshman Taylor Martinez each worked with the players at the top of the depth chart, as they each played in just the first half of the game, and were given the chance to shine in front of the 77,936 fans in attendance.

Cody Green finished 7-15, for 155 yards, and one touchdown pass. That touchdown came on a 72-yard completion to WR Will Henry. Green admitted he wasn't paying attention to any part of the competition; he was only focused on the game.

"I went up there today and kind of just had tunnel vision," said Green after the game. "It was just me and the other 21 guys on the field that I really just cared about and zoned in. I went out there and basically, for myself, there were some things I can say that I have to pick up on. Other than that, I thought I had a pretty good scrimmage."

The Red-White game gave Taylor Martinez his first chance to show off his skills in front of a crowd. The redshirt freshman finished 5-9, for 79 yards. Martinez threw two touchdown passes (A 6-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Legate, and a 36-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Kinnie) and one interception, as a pass was deflected and picked by Rickey Thenarse.

Martinez was most impressive as a runner, rather than a passer. Martinez led all rushers with 60 yards on nine carries. Shawn Watson admitted Martinez is definitely his fastest runner at quarterback, and is beginning to combine his speed with his arm.

"Taylor's talent is obvious as a runner, he did a great job running the ball," Watson said of Martinez after the game. "He's become a really good pass-decision maker as the spring wore on."

Three other potential candidates were given their shot during the game. Senior Latravis Washington completed 6-8 passes for 65 yards in his appearance.

After missing the entire 2009 season due to an injury, sophomore Kody Spano returned to health as the only quarterback wearing a green jersey. Spano completed 7-8 passes for 66 yards and a touchdown. Shawn Watson said they ran plays where Spano would not be forced to move around on his weak leg.

Former walk-on Ron Kellogg completed both of his two passes for 26 yard in the late minutes of the game.

Despite only having two quarterbacks who have played meaningful snaps (Zac Lee and Cody Green), and only one of those quarterbacks being healthy at the moment (Green), Shawn Watson stands by his statement that there will be fair an open competition for all of the quarterback candidates.

"When we say it's going to be fair competition, it's going to be fair competition. We grade everything they do. Every step the take, every pass they throw, every decision they make in the run game."

So what will it take to be the starting quarterback for Nebraska? Speed. Watson wants a quarterback who can create havoc both in the air and on the ground.

"To be a quarterback in our offense, you got to be a guy who can throw the ball," said Watson. "Balance comes from throwing the ball. But you got to be able to run, because that gives you another element."

Since Watson took over as Nebraska's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2006, he has heavily recruited "dual-threat" quarterbacks. Quarterbacks who athletic and have the potential to make plays with their feet. As Watson called it, a "playmaker."

"The quarterback run game is an important element of our offense," Watson said. "We've spent a lot of time learning it and enhancing it by studying others that we have respect for, and then coming up with our own twist obviously."

So with the slew of young arms taking their crack at becoming the next starting quarterback, where does this leave Zac Lee?

The senior suffered a wrist injury in the September game against Virginia Tech, and Lee played through the injury during the entire 2009 season.

Shortly after the Holiday Bowl against Arizona, Lee opted to have surgery, which is what kept him out of the spring practice.

With Shawn Watson declaring an open competition, Lee, who has started more games than all of the other quarterbacks combined, has been forced to watch his job be open another candidate.

Watson said after the spring game that missing practice did hurt Zac Lee, but he absolutely had to have the surgery.

"I think Zac feels like he missed a lot," said Watson. "When you don't get reps, you miss a lot. He'll have to make up for it, and he knows it. He sees the young talent that we have, and what they bring to the table. Zac will bull up to it, and he'll compete. It's his nature, that's what he'll do."

So as spring practice has reached its conclusion, the Huskers will return to their strength and conditioning regiments to prepare for the season. When practice resumes in August, Zac Lee will be back, but the competition will still be wide open.

Don't expect a quarterback to be named anytime soon. The arms race will continue until the opening kickoff of the season.


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