Tuesday’s weather in Lincoln, Nebraska, wasn’t the best. There were overcast gray skies while it rained and even flurried on and off. Oh, and the wind. There was a lot of that.
Yet, Nebraska special teams coordinator Bill Busch had his kickers and punters outside in the elements working through it. He got the idea from golfers.
“We’re talking about the weather situation we had today, so obviously I’ve learned that from golfers,” Busch said. “Golfers are always talking about, if you get a rainy day, get out there and play. So any sort of weather we get, you can’t be like, ‘Well we’d like to work in the wind, but we don’t have a wind machine.’ So today we had moisture, we had real high winds. It was probably a little harder on them because we did it on the practice field so there’s no stadium blocking the stuff.”
Busch had his special teams units working on kickoffs, punts ands extra points into the wind and cold and, at times, even snow. Busch likes challenging his players, and Mother Nature provided a great opportunity for that on Tuesday.
Of the many on-going position battles on special teams this spring, maybe the most intriguing is at punter and returner, both on kickoffs and punts. Busch said that the addition of two transfers to the team—Trey Palmer from LSU and Tommi Hill from Arizona State—have impressed.
Palmer, whom Busch knew well from his coaching days at LSU, is a “big plus for us,” while Hill is “a natural”. Palmer returned 15 punts for 394 yards and one touchdown in three seasons with the Tigers. He also returned 23 punts for 188 yards and one score. In Hill’s one season with the Sun Devils, he returned four kickoffs for a total of 79 yards.
Another player that will get an opportunity in the return game is Brody Belt, an in-state walk-on from Millard West High School who’s in his fifth season in the program. Belt has returned five kickoffs for 73 yards in his career.
“I challenged Brody Belt really hard. Brody had an OK year with it last year, and I felt he could be better in some spots. So I really challenged him. Brody is a really good player, he’s a natural punt returner, a natural kick returner and off returner. So he’s done a really good job in that phase for us right there. So I really like where those three guys are at.”
Busch also highlighted how well of a job Zach Weinmaster is doing as the off returner in the Huskers’ kick return. The off returner is the one who lines up next to the returner and is looking to be the lead blocker.
“He’s got to make critical blocks on who’s hot. His job is to put his face on somebody. He’s a pulling guard, is what he is. He’s not back there to lead up and not block anybody,” Busch said.
At punter, Nebraska is hoping the addition of Brian Buschini pays off. Buschini was the FCS Punter of the Year last season at Montana. Buschini averaged 46 yards per punt in 2021 with the Griz, which tied for third in the FCS ranks. The specialist had 28 punts that went for more than 50 yards and also pinned 30 of his 69 punts inside the opponent’s 20-yard line.
Busch has been impressed with Buschini’s mental makeup. The coaches gave Buschini a routine, and he attacked it with great diligence, Busch said. Over spring break, Buschini went to work with his former punting coach in an effort to keep improving.
“He’s got a very good, even demeanor, which you have to have because not every punt is perfect, not every kick is perfect, so you have to be able to have a short memory, but also a good demeanor on how you handle things,” Busch said. “He’s done a great job with that so far, so very impressed with his work ethic.”
More news and notes:
>> With a new offense under offensive coordinator Mark Whipple and a potential new quarterback operating it in Casey Thompson, a transfer from Texas, the Huskers’ receivers have been trying to get as much work and reps in as possible this spring. Omar Manning and Alante Brown each noted that they’ve been trying to catch 5,000 passes.
The 5,000 catches is something that their position coach, Mickey Joseph, wanted them to accomplish.
“No, they are not going to come up with that. Not them. We did it at LSU,” Joseph said. “At the end of spring ball to fall ball, we did 10,000. When I got here I wanted to make sure that they would work and if they’d work on their own. If I had to push them to work. I said, ‘OK lets see if we can catch 5,000 balls by spring football.’ They all did it. One or two of them got to 5,000 but the rest of them were above 5,000. They really pushed themselves so I was really excited about that.”
>> Ernest Hausmann is an early enrollee, so the true freshman from Columbus, Nebraska, is learning the playbook and getting reps. Huskers’ starting linebacker Luke Reimer is out this spring as he rehabs an injury, so Hausmann, as well as other linebackers, are getting plenty of reps.
“It’s fortunate for us and for him, I think, that he’s a mid-year guy,” NU inside linebackers coach Barrett Ruud said, “so he gets this extra spring ball, so he’ll be way ahead of the curve when it does come around for fall camp.”