LINCOLN — Steve Calhoun relays an observation about Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez that coaches, teammates and even beat reporters know to be true: The more trust Martinez has in a person, the more he opens up.
So when the Husker senior captain and career passing leader went to Calhoun, his Los Angeles-based private quarterbacks coach, for a second straight May, he had a message that was music to Calhoun's ears.
“He said, 'I'm going to be a piece of clay. Tell me what to do and I'll do it,'” Calhoun said. “He wanted to work.”
So they did, just the two of them. No groups. Four weeks, three days a week, 90 minutes per session.
“We refined everything,” Calhoun said. “He looked really, really good.”
Especially that back right leg. It's the key, Calhoun said, to Martinez maintaining balance in his throwing stance and achieving maximum accuracy.
When Martinez is throwing at his best — Calhoun pointed to NU's 2012 season-opening win over Southern Mississippi, when Martinez completed 26 of 34 passes for 354 yards — his right leg is straight and his shoulders are parallel. But Martinez will often bend his right leg, which tilts his left shoulder upward, making it harder to clear that shoulder efficiently for the most accurate throw possible. It creates the “launcher” look.
Staying balanced, Calhoun said, is the best way for Martinez to stay on top of timing routes. He shouldn't lose any velocity on those throws, either. Calhoun showed Martinez film of his motion last year — when it looked good, when it didn't — and Martinez provided feedback on what he was feeling.
Calhoun also instructed Martinez to keep his right throwing elbow above his shoulder instead of dropping it down as he leans back on the right leg. A quarterback ought to be figuratively able to “reach out and hand the ball to the wide receiver,” Calhoun said, explaining that where a quarterback's hand finishes on the follow-through has a big effect on the trajectory of the ball.
By the end of the month, Calhoun said, Martinez had developed “muscle memory” for proper balance. NU offensive coordinator Tim Beck also gave Calhoun a package of plays the Huskers will install this year, and Martinez executed the drops and reads for them.
“He knows Coach Beck's offense — everything about it,” Calhoun said. Beck and graduate assistant Joe Ganz have developed Martinez exceptionally in that regard, Calhoun said.
But NU's coaches can't force Martinez to have better, more consistent mechanics. Only the quarterback can do that. Calhoun — whose son, cornerback Nick Needham, will attend the Huskers' football camp — will be in Lincoln next week to work with Martinez a few more times if he can. From there, Martinez has to finish the muscle memory process on his own.
“It's on Taylor to get out there — 15 minutes before practice, 15 minutes after practice — to work on the things we worked on,” Calhoun said. “He'll do it.”
Calhoun has also worked with incoming NU quarterback Johnny Stanton, though not much in high school. Stanton briefly visited Calhoun before ESPN/Nike's Elite 11 showcase last year — Stanton made the coveted top 11 — but Stanton generally worked with Rancho Santa Margarita Catholic High School coaches for the last four years.
Calhoun taught Stanton in eighth grade, and he'd be more than happy to work with him again if Stanton is interested.
“I have a great relationship with Johnny,” Calhoun said.
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