CHICAGO — Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez and throwing mechanics have gone together like peanut butter and jelly during his college football career. Or maybe that’s oil and vinegar.
Martinez, the highly successful but oft-maligned signal caller, has borne the brunt of criticism for his unorthodox throwing motion. But as his senior season approaches, he has continued doing his part to change perceptions.
This offseason, Martinez worked with Steve Calhoun, a Los Angeles-based private quarterbacks coach, for a second straight spring. The two were together three days a week for four weeks in 90-minute sessions and focused on Martinez staying balanced, particularly off his back right leg during a throw. Calhoun also instructed Martinez not to drop his right throwing elbow below his shoulder. And in addition to his work with Calhoun, Martinez also has spent time honing his throws with Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck.
The results, according to Nebraska coach Bo Pelini, continue to show.
“He made some big changes in his throwing motion and really his footwork and shoulder angle,” Pelini said during the Big Ten’s media days. “Once he got that corrected, he has the arm strength. He can make any throw there is. And he has tremendous talent. He just needed to refine some things, and he’s got to continue to work on that because it’s the little things that allow you to have success.”
Martinez has started a school-record 39 games at Nebraska and already holds the school record for total yards (9,449). He has thrown for 6,591 yards with 46 touchdowns and 27 interceptions.
Still, not everyone has been impressed with Martinez over the years.
Last season, in the days leading up to Nebraska’s home game against Wisconsin, Badgers defensive end David Gilbert criticized Martinez’s throwing motion. He noted it “still looks like he’s skipping rocks out there.” Gilbert added that Martinez “still can’t throw. I’m just going to say it. He still can’t throw. He’s not going to beat us with his arm.”
Martinez went on to throw for 181 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. He also ran for 107 yards and a score during Nebraska’s 30-27 victory. Gilbert, meanwhile, was benched for the opening play because of his comments.
“People will say anything just because they probably just love to talk,” Martinez said. “Whatever they say, it really doesn’t get to me. It’s a good thing they’re talking about me just because they know who I am.”
Martinez added that former Cornhuskers defensive end Eric Martin has reminded him of Gilbert’s comments on more than one occasion.
“He brought it up to me because he knows it pisses me off,” Taylor said. “And I think I play better.”
Martinez, who certainly doesn’t lack for confidence, has the offensive weapons in place to produce the best season of his career. Nebraska returns its top three wide receivers (Kenny Bell, Quincy Enunwa and Jamal Turner) as well as running back Ameer Abdullah, who rushed for 1,137 yards a year ago.
Nebraska’s school record for points per game came during the Cornhuskers’ 1995 national championship season, when it averaged 52.4 points. The Cornhuskers, who averaged 34.8 points per game last season, aren’t likely to match the ’95 bunch. But Martinez is confident in his ability and the ability of his teammates.
“I think it should be one of the top offenses Nebraska has ever had, especially with our offensive line,” Martinez said. “I think it’s going to be a strong point. They’ve played in so many games. We’ve all played in so many games.
“I think we played every top defense in the country last year — rushing defenses, passing defenses — and we exploited every one of them. It should be a fun season, and we’ll see if we can live up to the hype.”
Other Thursday notes from Day 2 in Chicago:
Hope sinks: Purdue cornerback Ricardo Allen said it took players considerable time to adjust to an offseason coaching change, particularly because the change came before the Boilermakers’ season had ended.
Purdue fired coach Danny Hope just one day after the school defeated Indiana 56-35 for the Old Oaken Bucket Trophy in its final regular-season game to become bowl-eligible. Less than two weeks later, Purdue hired Darrell Hazell away from Kent State.
“At first it was very rough because we had just won our rivalry game against IU,” Allen said. “And then our head coach gets fired. A couple days later you get announced a new head coach. We hadn’t gone to the bowl game or anything, but we still have a different coaching staff. So we’re hearing things from another coaching staff. That’s kind of rough.”
Despite the poor timing, Allen noted the firing of Hope wasn’t entirely surprising because players had heard their coach was on the hot seat.
“We somewhat thought it was coming,” Allen said. “But we didn’t think at that time. We at least thought after the bowl game. At the time it took us by surprise. We just won the Bucket. We couldn’t even celebrate it because the next morning, the head coach was fired.”
Hazell is one of two first-year coaches in the Big Ten, along with Wisconsin’s Gary Andersen.
“He’s a business-like man,” Allen said of Hazell. “He’s about business. He’s ready to win. I like it a lot.”
Legends or Leaders? This season represents the last for the Big Ten’s Legends and Leaders divisions. And judging by the remarks from a couple Big Ten players, that’s probably a good thing.
“It’s actually pretty tough to tell who plays in what division,” Allen said. “I still don’t know which one we’re in right now. I’m serious. I just play football. Which one are we in?”
For those curious, that would be the Leaders Division.
Next year, with the addition of Maryland and Rutgers, the Big Ten will switch to East and West divisions that are based more on geography rather than trying to create rivalries. The East will feature Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State and Rutgers. The West will include Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue and Wisconsin.
“I think it’ll be less confusing,” Minnesota safety Brock Vereen said. “Sometimes I forget who’s even in the Leaders and Legends. It was a very confusing split, so the fact it will be a lot simpler will be easier.”
Illini reeling: Illinois will open the 2013 Big Ten season in the midst of a 14-game conference losing streak that dates to Ron Zook’s final season two years ago. The Illini lost their final six conference games in 2011, which led to Zook’s firing, and went winless last season during Tim Beckman’s first year in charge.
“It’s definitely been a grind,” Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase said. “It’s been a struggle just for us in general. You’re just trying to figure out ways to get out of it. Going through last year you learned a lot not only about yourself on the field but you learned about yourself just from a character standpoint. From a leadership standpoint.
“Leadership is real easy when things are going well. You don’t truly know yourself until you deal with some struggles. We all dealt with that. We dealt with it together, and it’s something where we’re definitely excited about moving forward.”