LINCOLN, Neb. -- One of the nation's most talked-about but least talked-to players broke his silence Monday.
After Nebraska wrapped up its fourth practice of the spring, quarterback Taylor Martinez addressed reporters for the first time since Nov. 13. While the fleet-footed Martinez might feel more comfortable surrounded by defensive ends than media members, he didn't look for an escape route. He answered questions, even sensitive ones about transfer rumors and leadership and former coaches, and vowed that he wouldn't be a stranger in 2011.
"I'll start talking to the media more often now," he said. "Last year I wasn't really ready. I was just a freshman last year."
Martinez's last point is sometimes easy to forget. Few freshman have gone through the ups and downs and been scrutinized as much as Martinez was last season.
"I'm proud of the way he's handled everything," new Huskers offensive coordinator Tim Beck said. "He's a young kid and we put a lot on his shoulders. He had a very difficult task to take on, being the quarterback and putting all the expectations on him. I'm proud of the way he's handled it."
The 6-foot-1, 205-pound Martinez is healthy this spring after chronic ankle/foot problems limited him down the stretch last season. Although Nebraska's starting quarterback job is open, if Martinez recaptures his form from early 2010, he'll likely prevail.
He also seems to be enjoying Nebraska's new offense under Beck, who has provided more freedom to the players. Although Martinez made a national name for himself as a runner, he could be more effective in the passing game this fall.
"He's a lot more impressive than people think he is when you really watch him and you see him throw the football," Beck said. "People think he's so one-dimensional. I don't see that."
Martinez surged through the first eight games last season, racking up 886 rush yards and 12 touchdowns. But he sprained his ankle against Missouri and tweaked it "five or six times" in the final five games.
"After I hurt my ankle, everything pretty much went downhill from there," Martinez said.
There was the sideline encounter at Texas A&M with Huskers coach Bo Pelini, captured on video, which quickly sparked a rumor that Martinez had quit the team. The buzz about Martinez leaving the program continued until early January, when the quarterback issued a statement through his father that he was staying at Nebraska.
Martinez reiterated Monday that he "never was going to leave."
"He went through some tough stuff," Huskers center Mike Caputo said. "He's a tough kid, so he'll be alright. He's doing really well. I've got a lot of faith in Taylor."
Martinez made it clear that despite all the questions, he "was a leader last year. Maybe [the media] didn't think I was, but I was."
His teammates see him continuing to grow in the role.
"He's done a great job," Huskers running back Rex Burkhead said. "Throughout the offeseason, he was a great leader, leading by example, speaking up when he needs to speak up. He's finishing runs, you can tell he's back from his injury.
"He had that leadership [in 2010], but he's definitely stepped it up to another level."