LINCOLN — Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck bumped into Ameer Abullah a few weeks ago. The junior running back appeared impressed with his coach's slimmer physique.
“Wow coach,” Abdullah said. “Have you been working out?”
Beck had lost 15 pounds. And he had been through a workout of sorts. When your jaw has been broken in four places to help alleviate sleep apnea, every little event is a grind. And applesauce, eaten with a baby spoon, becomes a frequent dinner guest.
The swelling in Beck's jaw has gone down. Family and friends say he looks younger. In a phone interview Monday, Beck sounded much like he did last season, when the Huskers finished in the top 30 in scoring and total offense. Other than being trimmer, he doesn't expect NU players will notice a big difference in his approach when training camp starts Monday.
But he said full recovery of the jaw could take up to six months. And the first month has had its share of challenges.
“I didn't realize what the heck I was getting into,” Beck said, chuckling.
He just knew he had to do it. Beck started noticing during recent summers — about the only time a coordinator can sleep a few extra hours — that he felt tired. He participated in a sleep study, which found he stopped breathing “37 times in an hour.” More than 30 is generally considered severe, according to sleep specialists.
Beck tried a CPAP machine. He didn't like it, and he often didn't use it on recruiting trips. So doctors eventually settled on breaking his jaw in four places and resetting it to improve his airway.
A July 1 surgery took six hours.
“It's the most trauma you can do to your face,” Beck said.
He spent three more days in the hospital. Few players were around in the summer and even fewer knew he was getting the surgery, so Beck didn't get many visitors.
As NU made a significant recruiting haul during the Fourth of July, Beck was in the foggy, early stages of recovery. He opened a Twitter account recently, in part because he had free time. Doctors told him he could return to work two weeks after surgery. He did, with a few tweaks.
Beck used a straw to eat whatever “could be cut or blended up.” Soups. Shakes. Applesauce.
Beck said he's hungry all the time, and just recently, one of the metal plates in his mouth from surgery pressed through his gums. Not fun.
Communication with other coaches started with Beck mumbling low and rough. They couldn't understand, so he started using a dry-erase whiteboard.
“Everybody kept saying 'What? What?' Because I couldn't move my jaw,” Beck said.
When camp starts, Beck expects to be able to talk loud enough for players to hear. He'll lean on assistants. At Big Ten media days, Husker coach Bo Pelini cracked, “I might get him a bullhorn.”
At least now Beck can chew a little. He can brush his teeth. And, yes, he's sleeping better. That was the main goal of the surgery.
Perhaps most importantly for NU, Beck said he's ready to see what more the offense can do. He wants to improve it in several areas — turnovers are atop the list — and suspects he has veteran players ready to do it with him.
“I'm excited,” Beck said. “I know our guys are excited. We're not going to rest on laurels.”
On other topics:
Ľ??Beck said he thinks every offensive recruit from the 2013 class can contribute immediately. When asked which freshmen are most likely to burn their redshirts, Beck didn't leave a name off the list, though he conceded he'd like to put a year of eligibility between redshirt freshman quarterback Tommy Armstrong and true freshman Johnny Stanton if he could.
“In my offense there are no freshmen,” Beck said. “It's get in there and go. With our two huddles in practices and the tempos we play at, we want to play everybody.”
Ľ??NU quarterback Taylor Martinez said at Big Ten media days that the Huskers and Oregon, which employs former NU quarterback Scott Frost, have a relationship that allows them to share information. Beck pumped the brakes on the depth of the sharing.
“There's never been a sit-down meeting,” Beck said. “It's stuff we'd see on film. It may be a phone call, a 'Hey, who did you read on that play?' They're pretty secretive — as am I. But it's not exactly what they do. It's more about how they go about doing it.”