Nebraska’s new coaching staff is getting back to basics. Players of every position participated in winter workouts and, now in spring practice, continue fine-tuning details. That includes the special teams unit.
Special teams coordinator Ed Foley mentioned after Tuesday’s practice that kickers and punters in the NFL maintain a sharp eye. They’re running through drills when not kicking to replicate kicks as much as possible without putting repeated strain on legs. They mentally prepare in each rep, focusing their aim whether they kick the ball or not. Foley calls it a competitive mindset. That’s helping both Timmy Bleekrode and Brian Buschini invest now into the coaching with eyes on a professional future.
“He always says his attention to detail and everything he does, he always tells the kicker you have to have a spot you’re aiming at beyond the end zone,” Bleekrode said of Foley. “And that’s one of the things I can tell with Brian, the attention to detail. Rather than just going through the motions.”
Bleekrode explained the importance of repetitions to maintain that competitive mindset. None of the kickers have taken a lot of kickoff reps, because it’s so taxing on the leg to repeatedly do. He’s excited to kick more this summer and even compete for that specific job. Meanwhile, he’s getting back to basics on field goal kicking in Lincoln. There are differences between kickoffs and field goals, so he’s focused on bettering himself at both.
“Just like any kicking or punting, it’s about repetition,” Bleekrode said. “The swing is slightly different off a field goal because it’s off a 1 inch tee and not off the ground like field goals. And then your form is a little different if you want to get your knee drive through the ball to get more power on it to drive it further. You are looking to get height and hang time but on field goals you want to get height on it to get it over the defensive line. It’s just slightly different but pretty much similar to a field goal, swing. You’re also landing on your kicking foot on a kickoff to get more drive and power through it, field goal you’re landing on your plant foot.”
At the same time, Buschini is excited to work more on directional punting with Foley. The special teams coach often references Johnny Hekker, the punter he coached at the Carolina Panthers. Buschini sees him as a role model—the best to ever punt, even. Punters in the NFL are superb at directional punting in order to limit explosive returns. Foley stresses that and being committed to a routine. Great punters can do something exceptional but the greatest punters sustain it. Buschini admitted it’s a high standard but there’s a reason they’re reverting back to fundamentals now in order to meet the ultimate goal.
“Punting and kicking are technical positions. Fundamentals are huge for us,” Buschini said. “We have a process that we go through every day in our practice now. It’s really structured, we go through technique, warmup, our drops, situations when the wind comes up, different types of punts in different positions. There’s just a bunch of different technical things that we’re going to use to our advantage here. We’ve got a lot of good returners to face here in the Big Ten.
“Ultimately, my goal is to hopefully go to the NFL. So if I can work harder on that right now in the technical things and help my team out as best I can this year, I think that will help out my ability in the long run to hopefully make a run.”
That run requires player buy in and repetition. But it’s not only on the players. Matt Rhule pushed for the administrative staff and resources within the strength and conditioning staff because it benefits the players. If the Huskers are bought in on the field, they need to trust the institutional buy in.
“It’s a process,” Buschini said. “Come in each and every day, do the same warmup, doing a nutrition plan, building a strength program, finding good recovery methods that work for our bodies. All sorts of different things that the pros do, we’re trying to build that in our team. And that’s something coach Foley learned in his time at the NFL.”