So finally, we come to the specialists.
And because we have, I get to share Deadwood’s own Al Swearengen’s thoughts on the subject:
“Strange, huh, Miles, but — something ya gotta know about specialists — they pay a premium, and they never cause fuckin’ trouble. Sometimes I imagine in my declining years runnin’ a small joint in Manchester, England, catering to specialists exclusive. And to let ‘em know they’re amongst their own, maybe I’ll operate from the corner, hanging upside down like a fuckin’ bat, hmm?”
Of course, the specialists to whom Al refers had a very different skill set than the Husker kickers and returners. The particular “specialist” of Deadwood had a penchant for…well…um…he’d pay for three of the Gem Saloon’s ladies to…ah….undo their…ok, never mind. Just Google “Deadwood” and “Al Swearengen” and “specialists”. It’s not football-related. You’ve been warned.
Position Coach – Jovan Dewitt
This will be short and sweet. I’m just thrilled to have Coach Dewitt cancer-free and back on the field after a winning his battle during the course of which he lost 102 pounds. Welcome back, Coach – now let’s see how Special Teams did last year.
Nebraska Specialists Stats Ranks 2018
Kickoff Returns - 125th - 15.8
Punt Returns - 59th - 9.4
Net Punting - 79th - 37.04
FG % - 40th - 14/18 .778
The overall placings were not great, but there is reason for hope in several areas. It’s the pre-season, so of course there’s reason for hope. There was reason for hope last year on special teams right up to the moment that Tyjon Lindsey did whatever the hell he did against Michigan and then transferred.
Hope, baby. We’ve got it in spades, pass the damn Kool-ade
The Specialists - 2019
No guesswork is necessary here as I have the benefit of putting this out after the depth chart was released.
Kicker – Barret Pickering
After some shaky moments to start the season, Pickering settled down and actually ended up with a solid freshman year. He was 12/13 inside of 40 yards, 40/41 on extra points and had a long FG of 47 yards. He should gain some leg strength, build on last year’s success this season and will likely get more opportunities as Frost gains confidence in his consistency.
Punter – Isaac Armstrong
Armstrong took the job from Caleb Lightbourn last year and averaged 2 more yards per kick. For now, he has held off the challenge from Michigan St transfer Will Przystup and the Huskers’ net punting should improve significantly.
Kick Returners – Maurice Washington, Wan’Dale Robinson
Kickoff returns last season were quite simply awful with JD Spielman being the only Husker to average over 20 yards per return (21.1). Mo Washington will once again return kicks despite averaging only 15.7. He will be joined by true freshman Wan’Dale Robinson who should give the Huskers a dimension they haven’t had in the kickoff return game for years.
Punt Returner – JD Spielman
Punt returns as a whole were very average, but Spielman, who will be the primary punt return man this season, returned 6 punts for a 17.3 yard average which would have been good for 2nd best in the country if had returned the required 10. Expect this number to jump.
Special teams was NOT a strength last year, however, they appear to have upgraded at every spot except placekicker where Pickering had a very solid freshman year.
- Armstrong was a noticeable improvement over Caleb Lightbourn who has joined the exodus to Corvallis.
- To be fair to Washington, on many of his attempted returns he was being swarmed before he hit the 10 yard line, so the key to improving here may be a combination of improving the blocking scheme and learning when to take a knee. If they can open a gap or two, he and Robinson could be deadly.
- Even though it seems as if 96% of punts are fair catches anymore, Spielman is the firm #1 at punt returner and, as his 77 yard TD return will attest, he has the playmaking ability to remind people of De’Mornay Pierson-El.
- Excepting FG’s, much of special teams is about creating better field position. If Spielman can make punt returns a consistent threat and if Nebraska can just improve to a level of average in net punting and kickoff returns, a huge improvement in average field position from 2018 should be the result. If they intend to flip that 4-8 record, that building block is a nice place to start.
If those numbers don’t improve, we may want to get some rope and hang upside down in the corner next to Al Swearengen.