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Nebraska Spring Football Preview: Special Teams

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Mike Dawson looks to score huge returns from special teams units

NCAA Football: Nebraska at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

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Position Coach: Mike Dawson (Special Teams Coordinator)

Breakdown By Class

Seniors: 2

Juniors: 3

Sophomores: 5

Redshirt Freshmen: 3

Freshmen: 6

Departed:

Sami Khawja

Wan’Dale Robinson

Projected Starters:

Place Kicker – Connor Culp

Punter – Daniel Cerni/William Przystup

Long Snapper (Kicking) – Cameron Pieper

Long Snapper (Punting) – Cade Mueller

Kickoffs – Connor Culp

Kick Returner – Alante Brown

Punt Returner – Cam Taylor-Britt

Holder – Tyler Crawford

Overview:

In an attempt to improve Nebraska’s struggling special teams play, head coach Scott Frost has decided to replace former Senior Special Teams Analyst Jonathan Rutledge with current Cornhusker outside linebackers coach Mike Dawson. Of course, Dawson, who once was the Special Teams Coordinator at Boston College, won’t go it alone this fall. Other Nebraska assistant coaches will be expected to dig in and get their hands dirty on special teams.

Dawson and company will have their work cut out for them too – especially when it comes to kickoff return defense (22.64 yards per attempt), kickoff returns (18.27 yards per attempt) and punt return defense (12.17 yards per attempt). Nebraska ranked 87th, 96th and 105th nationally in those three categories last fall.

But it wasn’t all bad for the Cornhusker special teams units a year ago. Nebraska ranked 14th nationally after averaging 13.33 yards per punt return and LSU transfer Connor Culp (5-10, 190, Sr.) brought some much needed consistency to the kicking game after Frost had to call on six different place kickers in 2019.

Culp, who was named the Big Ten’s 2020 Baaken-Andersen Kicker of the Year, gives Nebraska another much needed weapon on the scoreboard after he made 13 of 15 field goals and all 20 extra point kicks a year ago. A huge turnaround from Nebraska’s 12 of 20 field goal effort in 2019. The Phoenix native also averaged 56 yards on 40 kickoffs with 12 touchbacks.

Battling for backup duties will be Chase Contreraz (6-1, 180, So.), Tyler Crawford (5-10, 175, Fr.), Gabe Heins (6-0, 185, R-Fr.), Ryan Novosel (6-0, 160, Fr.) and Ord, Nebraska’s Kelen Meyer (6-3, 190, Fr.) who booted a 58-yard field goal as a high school senior, tying the Chanticleer for the second longest field goal in Nebraska prep history.

Will Przystup (6-4, 250, So.) returns after handling most of the punting duties a year ago. Averaging 41.29 yards on 24 punts, Przystup placed seven boots inside the 20-yard line and drilled five punts of 50 yards or longer. Prokick Australia product Daniel Cerni (6-4, 220, Fr.) is set to push and probably surpass Przystup after recovering from a season-ending injury a year ago. Grant Detlefsen (6-3, 210, R-Fr.) is ready to step in for Frost and Dawson should he be called on.

Since joining the B1G in 2011, Nebraska has had four different returners score on punt returns, kick returns, or both. JD Spielman was the last to do it when he took a punt 76 yards to the house against South Alabama in 2019. Spielman also scored on a 77-yard punt return against Bethune Cookman in 2018 and a 99-yard kick return versus Arkansas State in 2017.

Nebraska, however, has not returned a kick or punt for a score against a Power 5 opponent since De’Mornay Pierson-El scampered to pay dirt on punt returns of 62 and 80 yards against Michigan State and Iowa respectively in 2014. The Nebraska coaching staff hopes to find the athletes with the ability to join Ameer Abdullah, Kenny Bell, Pierson-El and Spielman as scoring threats in the return game next fall.

Senior Cam Taylor-Britt (6-0, 205, Jr.) is set to take a crack at stifling Nebraska’s scoring dry spell in the punt return game. A year ago, he reeled in six of Nebraska’s nine punt returns and averaged 13.17 yards per return to help guide Nebraska to its Top 15 national ranking. Receiver Levi Falck (6-2, 205, Sr.) returns after racing 39 yards with his only punt return while Oliver Martin (6-1, 200, Jr.) gained seven yards on one return a year ago.

Alante Brown (5-11, 190, Fr.) is ready to shake and bake in the kick return game after leading Nebraska with 196 yards on 10 returns last fall. Rahmir Johnson (5-10, 185, R-Fr.) and Brody Belt (5-8, 185, So.) should get their share of kick return touches after returning five kicks between them a year ago.

Cameron Pieper (6-3, 250, So.) and Cade Mueller (6-0, 215, So.) return to handle the punt and kick long snapping duties respectively while Brig Banks (6-3, 245, Jr.) and Camden Witucki (6-3, 220, Fr.) are working hard in preparation for their opportunity to get out on the field.

Nebraska Special Teams Roster

No. Name Pos. Ht. Wt. Year Hometown / Previous School
No. Name Pos. Ht. Wt. Year Hometown / Previous School
55 Brig Banks LS 6-3 245 Jr. Houston, Texas / St. Thomas HS/Henderson State
40 Daniel Cerni P 6-4 220 Fr. Canberra, Australia / Prokick Australia
36 Chase Contreraz PK 6-1 180 So. Missouri Valley, Iowa / Missouri Valley HS/Iowa Western CC
96 Tyler Crawford PK 5-10 175 Fr. Broken Arrow, Okla. / Broken Arrow
33 Connor Culp PK 5-10 190 Sr. Phoenix, Ariz. / Desert Vista HS/LSU
95 Grant Detlefsen P 6-3 210 R-Fr. Lincoln, Neb. / Southeast
93 Gabe Heins PK 6-0 185 R-Fr. Kearney, Neb. / Kearney
2 Kelen Meyer PK 6-3 190 Fr. Ord, Neb. / Ord
94 Cade Mueller LS 6-0 215 So. Gretna, Neb. / Gretna
32 Ryan Novosel PK 6-0 160 Fr. Wilmette, Ill. / New Trier Township
91 Cameron Pieper LS 6-3 250 So. Lincoln, Neb. / Southwest
90 William Przystup P 6-4 250 So. Oviedo, Fla. / Oviedo HS/Michigan State
96 Camden Witucki LS 6-3 220 Fr. Grand Blanc, Mich. / Grand Blanc Community
5 Cam Taylor-Britt CB 6-0 205 Jr. Montgomery, Ala. / Park Crossing
89 Oliver Martin WR 6-1 200 Jr. Coralville, Iowa / Iowa City West/Michigan/Iowa
4 Alante Brown WR 5-11 190 Fr. Chicago, Ill. / Simeon HS/St. Thomas More (Conn.) Prep
14 Rahmir Johnson RB 5-10 185 R-Fr. Oradell, N.J. / Bergen Catholic
38 Brody Belt WR 5-8 185 So. Omaha, Neb. / Millard West
88 Levi Falck WR 6-2 205 Sr. Circle Pines, Minn. / Centennial HS/South Dakota