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Wandering through the Corn Maze: Husker Special Teams Edition

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I tackle five questions regarding special teams for the Huskers as they begin spring camp.

Tyler Wieseler

Our first breath of life in the 2022 season.

Helmets are bright white and scuff-free. Uniforms are clean and pressed. The long, hard months of winter conditioning are over. It’s time to see if that offseason progress has yielded results.

Obviously, I’m blowing this massively out of proportion. An entire summer of offseason workouts will follow this spring camp. As well as fall camp, which should truly determine the pecking order of things on the field. But it’s hard not to be intrigued by the storylines spring ball offers.

Shiny, new offensive position coaches. New offense. New players. Returning players. Battles for open positions. Answers to our Special Teams woes. It’s quite interesting.

Coach Scott Frost put all his chips on the table and bet on himself after restructuring his contract with Athletic Director Trev Alberts, hoping some fresh faces and philosophies might quiet the storm brewing over his lack of success on the field. Out with the old. In with the new.

The questions that crop up in spring are numerous and detailed. We know how the game should be played. We are past the point of simple answers to complex questions and are looking for signs of progress, not just lip service.

The Huskers are back on the field for the second practice of fifteen total over spring camp. We should get a chance to hear more from players and coaches as they build up chemistry before the fall season begins.

I’ll end my 3 part series by tackling questions on the special teams of the Cornhuskers. I’ll give you my take, and I hope (like many of you Husker faithful) that we see some signs for optimism in the upcoming season. Not more of the same hair pulling and heartbreak that we’ve endured for the past several.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Was Bill Busch worth a hire at Special Teams Coordinator?

My take? Yep. Many within the staff of Corn Nation writers argued this question prior to the athletic department announcing Coach Busch’s hiring. Many believed that even if a coach should be hired, it shouldn’t be Bill Busch. Sean Snyder’s name came up, along with a few others. Busch spoke openly about wanting to coach at Nebraska. But some felt like if he was part of a staff who worked on that unit last year (albeit in a non coaching position), why didn’t we see better results on the field?

Coach Frost mentioned on Monday that he liked both punt and kickoff units, as a whole, from last year. That, in fact, Coach Busch had a lot to do with the schemes they put together on those units. The plain fact is we were shaky, and often times, dreadful at both kicker and punter positions.

Daniel Cerni is no longer medically fit to play and is off the roster, and William Pryzstup is in the Portal at punter. Former B1G Kicker of the Year Connor Culp dealt with some inner turmoil and was never the player he was in 2020. New faces and a true position coach were brought in to right the ship and return special teams to a reliable piece of the game like Husker fans have been used to seeing in seasons past.

Transfer Brian Buschini at Punter. Is he the real deal?

To be fair, he won the Ray Guy Award as the top punter in FCS for the Montana Grizzlies. Averaged 45.8 per punt on 75 career attempts. Damn near half his kicks were downed inside the 20 yard line. He even handled kickoff duties.

Luckily, Brendan Franke, the Gretna, NE product, was fairly consistent in that department in 2021. Well over 50% in touchback success. But it is nice to know that should he be called upon, Buschini can handle both duties.

I’m not going to automatically hand the job over to him though. It wouldn't fit into the coaching style that the staff is trying to embody. Nebraska Wesleyan transfer Jacob Hohl and sophomore Grant Detlefsen will both get their looks as well. Detlefsen is the last man standing after graduations, transfers, and medical retirements. But he’ll also have some familiarity with Coach Busch.

You don’t use a scholarship on FCS transfer, unless you expect that kid to contribute early and often. Punters included. All in on Brian “Boom Boom” Buschini.

Graduate Transfer, Incoming Freshman, or returning player. Does a name emerge at Kicker?

Furman graduate transfer Timmy Bleekrode and true freshman Charlie Weinrich aren’t on campus yet. Surprisingly, Bleekrode isn’t even listed on the roster. Weinrich is, along with Gage Stenger and other freshman who have yet to enroll. Interesting to keep an eye on.

That leaves a handful of guys who’ve played various roles in special teams, or none up to this point. Sometime 2021 starter Chase Contreraz, Gabe Heins, Josh Jasek, and Franke. Contreraz was up and down, hitting half his kicks at 2 of 4, but was perfect on 11 PATs. Jasek comes from Iowa Western CC, like Contreraz, and did not see action in 2021. Nor did the Kearney native Heins.

My hope is that one of them comes out in front over the spring, to set up a true battle between Bleekrode (hopefully) and Weinrich. My money is on Contreraz with the edge in experience. But Jasek has a big leg, hitting a career long 56 yarder for IWCC.

Does Cade Mueller come back from injury to reclaim his position at Long Snapper?

It’s hard to say. Cade, the junior from Gretna, was a steady force back there for 10 games of 2021. But the coaching staff brings in Georgetown graduate transfer Brady Weas to finish out his last season of eligibility.

I have to assume this injury might take some time to get back from. Cade, in his defense, didn’t seem to do anything wrong. I don’t coach long snappers, so I could be wrong. Punters or kickers might like things a certain way, and he wasn’t doing it. Strange to say, but kickers are a different breed. All about routine and consistency to ensure nothing goes wrong and they don’t get blamed for a miss or a loss.

If Cade is healthy, I look for a spirited battle with Weas to secure the top spot. I’m pulling for a healthy Cade to come out on top. Junior Cameron Pieper and redshirt freshman Camden Witucki probably won’t factor in much, barring injuries to the other two.

Who will be returning punts and kickoffs?

Obvious answer would be Trey Palmer returns everything. But I don’t know that it’s going to be that simple. A healthy Oliver Martin might have something to say about punt return duties. Alante Brown or Zach Weinmaster might have something to say about kickoffs. Or Zavier Betts or dynamic incoming freshman Malcolm Hartzog.

It’s going to be a battle. If an opportunity comes to gain yards through the play of our returners on special teams, we need it. Teams need to game plan for our special teams again, like they did in the days of Demornay Pierson-El. That being said, starters are going to be on these unit.

You’ve heard from Coach Mickey Joseph and others on the staff that to win in all three phases of the game, some first teamers need to be down there covering kicks or opening lanes for the returners. It’s going to be expected and demanded by new members of the coaching staff. Matt Masker, reserve QB, was even seen flying down on a special teams unit on the first day of practice on Monday. I don’t know if he made the tackle, but that’s besides the point. The buy-in. If your coaches believe in it, so will you. Way to go #18, making this state proud.

I like Palmer. No doubt he’s electric with the ball in his hands. Does that electricity work in Lincoln, NE the same way it did in Baton Rouge, LA? Time will tell. But he’ll get his opportunities. As will Brown. As will others. Coach Joseph specifically pointed Brown out as someone whose impressed him since he got here. And if you’re impressing Coach Joseph, with the buzz he’s brought to the state in terms of energy, recruitment of the state, and impressive coaching resume, you’re on your way to big things, young man.

This concludes my 3 Part examination of the Nebraska Cornhuskers Spring Football camp. Be sure to check out Part 1 in which I answer 5 questions about the offense. And Part 2, where I answer 5 questions about our Blackshirts.

I love Spring Ball. I’m eager to hear more from these new coaches and the players. Day 2 will be today, 13 more to go. There is a good buzz coming into the Spring around the team and an entertaining showing on April 9th at Memorial Stadium will give plenty of Husker faithful some hope and optimism going into the 2022 season.

#GBR