We conclude our first look at the 2013 Husker football team with special teams.
Returning: Mauro Bondi, So. P/K; Joseph Rotherham, So. Long Snapper; Kenny Bell, Jr. Returner; Jamal Turner, Jr. Returner; Ameer Abdullah, Jr. Returner
Incoming: Pat Smith, Sr. P/K Transfer from Western Illinois
Departing: Brett Maher, P/K; P.J. Mangieri, Long Snapper; Tim Marlowe, Punt Returner; Jase Dean, Holder
2013 Previews* Quarterbacks
* Running Backs
* Wide Receivers
* Tight Ends
* Offensive Line
* Defensive Line
Mike: Two years ago, Husker fans were worried how Nebraska could possibly replace Alex Henery. Then Brett Maher went out and arguably had a better season than Henery as a junior. Bondi has seen very limited playing time in Lincoln; one extra point and four kickoffs in 2011. As I recall, he didn't seem to have a very strong leg...but that's such a limited sample size, it's almost irrelevant. And with the new kickoff rules, mostly meaningless.
The bigger issue is the return game. It's simply been a mess. Nebraska fumbled so many punts that suddenly the days of Santino Panico started to look golden in comparison.
Hahahaha. DRNIK RT @husker_mike: Where is Santino Panico when you need him?— CornNation (@CornNation) October 20, 2012
Kick coverage wasn't very good either. I have to wonder if we'll see responsibilities change this season to take some of the load off of Ross Els, who has his hands full with linebackers and as recruiting coordinator. Of course, with the new changes regarding recruiting, how long will Els be in the dual role of recruiting coordinator and linebackers coach?
One thing I feel safe in predicting is that Ameer Abdullah won't be returning kicks this season now that he's the clear #1 I-back.
Salt Creek and Stadium: My biggest concern here is that Ross Els is still in charge of this area of our game. Maybe with him in all likelihood relinquishing the RC role, he'll be able to devote more time to this area of the game. Then again, I don't remember 2011's special teams being all that fantastic either.
As important as line play is to becoming an elite team, Nebraska is going to have to find a way to improve its ability to defend special teams better. We've got kicking down - I have confidence that Bondi will be more than serviceable, and if not, Pat Smith, the transfer from Western Illinois, will be available to step in and save the day.
But seriously, I hear you're allowed to try and block kicks! It's in the rules and everything. The past few seasons you'd think Nebraska was worried people would be offended if we were within ten feet of the opposing kicker. Yes, running into the kicker is bad (ask Sparty) but you are allowed to try and get to the ball. Drake Martinez looked pretty darn good at blocking kicks in his high school tape. Let's give this a shot, eh, Els?
As Mike mentioned, with Ameer going to RB #1, Nebraska will have to find someone else to drop punts this season. Or maybe we'll reinvent special teams and NOT drop punts and kickoffs. Wouldn't THAT be something. We may even attempt to return some kicks!
As for defending our own kicks...Why not just go for it on fourth down, every time! I mean, if we're going to let the other team return it 20, 30 or 40 yards every time, what's going for it on fourth down going to change? The statistics suggest that's the best outcome! (Ignore the fact that the statistics on going for it on fourth down are as applicable as handing the ball off to Heard. Yes, it succeeds more often than not, but then again, if it was more common place, it is likely that success would decline.)
Needless to say, special teams has every chance to be special in the negative connotation of the word if Els and Pelini don't pay more than lip-service to fixing things. Considering recent history, I'm more than a little bit concerned about the whole thing.
So what do you expect on special teams in 2013, other than massive improvement?