The Nebraska Cornhuskers Special Teams. It's a paradox that many don't understand due to what the investment has been onto it.
Two seasons ago, Ross Els was the Special Teams coach of the Huskers, and it showed in that the whole group wasn't very good. But, it's sure easy to turn from a dolt to a genius when 1) your HC helps your cause in that department, and 2) you get De'Mornay Pierson-El in your wheehouse.
With the dismissal of both Els and his boss, Mike Riley decided to bring in his man in Bruce Read, who was given a big time salary and a big target of not messing up a big target. And, to be fair, Read could be the best thing for DPE.
Then Fall Camp started, and the worst case scenario came to light when Pierson-El was lost for a while with a foot injury. But then DPE came back! And then he was gone for the year due to a sprinkler head in Ross-Ade Stadium, pissing turpentine on the gas fire known as the Purdue game for Nebraska.
To say that Pierson-El's injury single-handedly changed the outlook of what Nebraska could do was an understatement. Pierson-El had 596 yards in 34 returns for the Huskers in '14, and the TEAM in 2015 had 114 yards on 11 total returns, 4 of which was DPE before his season-ending injury.
Obviously, the Huskers need to get more out of this part of the game. Jordan Westerkamp was the man trusted to catch the ball, and Stanley Morgan Jr. got a look as well in that. However, knock on wood to stay healthy, DPE will be the man that gets the first crack at his old job. Is it going to be fair to expect him to put up the numbers he did in '14, where he was a big time weapon? Maybe, yet maybe not. He may be better, and he may not even come close to what he was.
Far as Kick Returns, Morgan seemed to find a niche returning the ball, averaging just over 23 yards a game. With the way that Kickers put the ball in the end zone for touchbacks, getting good field position when you can return would be paramount to your efforts.
Speaking of Kickoff Returns, Drew Brown looks to return to being the Kickoff man. He averaged 40% touchbacks with his kicking, which seems to be the national average. The Huskers did well in KO coverage, allowing just under 19 yards a return. Brown also didn't have any kicks Out of Bounds, which is a big deal when it comes to field position.
All-Conference Sam Foltz returns to Punting, which he was the best in the B1G last year. His 44.23 yards per punt was 21st in FBS, and he has a big time understudy arriving in Lincoln in Caleb Lightbourn, who is looking to either redshirt or gray shirt this season. Either way, it's Foltz unless he gets injured like he was last year. If that is the case, Read may turn to walk-on RFr. Issac Armstrong. Last season, QB Tyson Broekemeier was the backup punter while Foltz was on the mend, but that didn't seem to work out too well.
Foltz has increased his average by 2 yards a season in his time in Lincoln. If he gets it to 46 yards per punt, that would literally put him in the top 5 punters in FBS, which would probably put him in the NFL at season's end.
Place Kicking duties fall back on Brown, who hit on 77.8% of his Field Goals (21/27), while hitting on 44 of 46 XP's. Kickers against Nebraska were good on 2 out of 3 FG's last year (16/24) and missed one XP out of 41 tries.
Brown did start slow, as he had a on & off day vs. Southern Mississippi. He hit 5 FG's, but also had 2 misses. However, in the last 7 games of the season (including the Foster Farms Bowl), he had one miss. That was against Minnesota, meaning he was perfect on FG's the final 6 games of the season. He wasn't completely perfect, however, as he did have 2 XP misses.
We haven't talked about Long Snappers yet, which is good because if you don't know his name due to rage, that's a beautiful thing. Jordan Ober is the scholarship LS, by the way. The less you hear of him, the better off things are.
The issue is that, for what most people see Bruce Read paid, they want borderline perfection. At the very least, something better than Nebraska had in certain spots. Yes, he tried on Punt Returns, but at the same time, when you're the one that has only one job, that's the issue. Whether Pierson-El comes back in the fold and gets to or close to his pre-injury status, then Read will look much better.
People don't remember the successes as much as they remember the errors, however. Not many people remember that Drew Brown had a 30 yard kickoff on the last drive vs. Michigan State, but they would have if the Spartans had won the game.
People are wanting more in the second year of Bruce Read, and it's hard to fault them for wanting it. If he doesn't deliver, he may be the second dismissal of Mike Riley, friend or not.