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Tuesday, April 2, 2013
Taylor Martinez sets his sights high

By Brian Bennett

LINCOLN, Neb. -- He may be in the minority when it comes to this opinion, but Nebraska's Taylor Martinez sees himself as a future NFL quarterback.

Martinez doesn't even entertain thoughts about switching to another position like safety at the next level. His every intention is to stay at quarterback. He says he admires Seattle's Russell Wilson, another former Big Ten signal-caller that some people thought was too small to make it in the pros.

Of course, Martinez hasn't displayed the same kind of accuracy as Wilson. But for the second straight year, he's making a 70 percent completion rate his goal for the season, after connecting on a career-best 62 percent of his throws in 2012.

"I believe in setting your goals high," he told ESPN.com. "Because even if you fall a little short, you'll still be in good shape."

Taylor Martinez
Nebraska coach Bo Pelini had high praise for Taylor Martinez, calling the QB's decision-making "phenomenal" this spring.
It would be one thing if Martinez just talked about his lofty ambitions. But give the Cornhuskers senior credit for this: he has worked hard to make himself the best possible player he can be.

For the second year in a row, Martinez spent his spring break working with noted California quarterback guru Steve Calhoun. He threw passes to former USC receiver Robert Woods, current St. Louis Rams wideouts Chris Givens, Brian Quick and Austin Pettis and the Cincinnati Bengals' Marvin Jones. He compared notes with USC quarterback Cody Kessler and Nevada quarterback Cody Fajardo. Martinez showed markedly better mechanics and footwork last year after working with Calhoun and wants to continue to polish the finer points of his game.

He led the Big Ten in total offense last year, rushing for 1,019 yards and throwing for 2,871. As a four-year starter, he's poised to finish his career with some awfully big numbers. Consider:
Yet he still has his flaws, as anyone with a casual knowledge of Huskers football could tell you. Martinez still turns the ball over too much, both because of forced throws and fumbles. Most of that results from him trying to do too much.

"The kid wants to throw a touchdown pass or score on every play, but that isn't how you win football games," head coach Bo Pelini said. "He's a prideful guy and extremely competitive. But you've got to draw back on that and say, 'OK, it's not just what I can do athletically. It's about being a great quarterback.'"

Pelini has talked to Martinez about being a better game manager and not trying to play the hero so much. He has noticed a difference in his quarterback in that area this spring.

"He has been accurate and his decision-making has been phenomenal," Pelini said. "He is really recognizing defenses well and getting us in and out of the right plays. If he can manage games the way he is right now and stay on the path he's on, the sky's the limit. I can see him taking another step, and that could be scary for our opponents."

Martinez is easily the most experienced quarterback in the Big Ten, with 39 career starts under his belt. He is entering his third season under offensive coordinator Tim Beck, so he knows the system in and out. Beck said he doesn't have to worry about making the perfect call anymore, because Martinez knows enough to make adjustments at the line of scrimmage if necessary.

"I can change a play any time depending on what I see," Martinez said. "You might see a little more audibling from me this year."

Teammates have noticed a difference, too.

"His confidence and his leadership have just skyrocketed," receiver Jamal Turner said. "You can tell how comfortable he is with the offense, just calling plays and checking plays. Before, he would kind of have to look to the sideline. Now, he has it all down."

Martinez still has a lot to prove in his final year at Nebraska. He must show that he can play under control and avoid key turnovers. He has to help deliver a championship to the Huskers, or he'll never quite be beloved by the Big Red faithful. He'll face an uphill climb in convincing NFL general managers that he can play quarterback as a pro.

If he fails at any of those things, it won't be because he didn't aim high enough.