Thursday, March 31, 2011
Beck has Huskers' offense back on attack
By Adam Rittenberg
LINCOLN, Neb. -- There are two buzzwords heard around the Osborne Athletic Complex regarding Nebraska's offensive makeover this spring.
Attack and freedom.
Nebraska coach Bo Pelini, left, and his staff have made changes designed to simplify things for quarterback Taylor Martinez and the offense.
The Huskers' offense wants to reclaim its aggressiveness after stumbling to the finish line in 2010. The best way to regain an edge, according to new coordinator Tim Beck, is by loosening the reins a bit.
"You can over-coach guys so much that they're paralyzed and they lose their athletic ability," Beck said. "They become robots. I'm not in the technology business. I'm a coach and I want them to have fun and go out there and play."
Huskers players are having fun as they learn the new system this spring. It beats the joyless end to last season.
Nebraska scored 143 points in its first three games and eclipsed 30 points in eight of its first nine contests. The Huskers introduced "T-Magic" to the nation as freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez dazzled nearly every week, piling up 886 rush yards and 12 touchdowns through the first eight games.
But in that eighth game, a 31-17 win against Missouri, Martinez severely sprained his right ankle. The quarterback on Monday said he re-injured the ankle "five or six times" the rest of the season.
"It was tough on me," Martinez said. "I couldn't really run and do what I wanted to do."
Martinez was never the same -- 79 rush yards, no touchdowns in the final five games -- and neither was the offense. Nebraska scored 20 points or fewer in four of its final five games, losing three times.
Although Martinez's injury played a role in the unit's decline, there were other factors.
"We almost tried too hard to change what we did by what defenses were doing," tight end Kyler Reed said. "Coach Beck talked to us and said we kind of were a defensive offense. We were reacting to defenses, what they did, instead of dictating what we wanted to do.
"We're supposed to be the offense. We're supposed to be attacking."
Coach Bo Pelini's decision to go a different direction on offense, part ways with Shawn Watson and promote Beck to coordinator from his post as running backs coach has sparked a guessing game this spring in Husker Country. What will Beck's offense look like? How will players' roles change? What should his system be called?
We might not get a clear picture until Sept. 3, when Nebraska opens the season against Chattanooga. But a few clues have emerged.
The Huskers will huddle less than they did in 2010. They want to get to the line quickly, survey the defense and then go with their best option.
Nebraska will use hand signals to relay plays to all offensive players, not just the quarterbacks. Martinez said he'll be able to pick plays he wants to run, a luxury he didn't have last season.
"There's enough freedom by position," Beck said. "For example, receivers. If you get open, you're going to get the ball. There's a variety of techniques they can use, so use what you want to use. It's not an undisciplined offense. It's very disciplined. But to sit here and tell a guy, 'You're always going to do this,' it doesn't work like that. And when it changes in a game, they freeze.
"I want them to play fast."
As Beck notes, the offense isn't without its rules. Although Reed and the receivers get more leeway on how far they run their routes, if it's third-and-10 and they run eight yards, they're going to hear about it. When it comes to run blocking, Reed's assignments are non-negotiable.
But for the most part, the Huskers do what it takes to remain in "attack mode," as running back Rex Burkhead puts it.
"We're getting faster to the line, getting more plays in," Burkhead said. "It keeps a defense off balance. They can't make adjustments or run certain blitzes they want. They're just trying to get lined up correctly."
As Nebraska transitions to the Big Ten, Beck hopes the offense can stay a step ahead of its new competitors.
"I don't know what Wisconsin's going to do against us or Ohio State," Beck said. "You could watch three years of film, and they're going to have a completely different plan of what they're going to do.