Spielman: 'Now I Know Not to Point'
Photo Credit: Aaron Babcock

JD Spielman Talks Tavon Austin, Returning Kicks and Bomb Squad

August 30, 2017

Maybe it’s the NFL GM spilling over from his father, but when redshirt freshman JD Spielman talks, he says a lot.

After the Huskers closed up practice Tuesday, Spielman fielded questions from the media for a while. He talked about being named the starting kick returner for Nebraska, and being the man in the slot for week one against Arkansas State.

He said he first started fielding kicks when he was in second grade, but he stuck to kickoffs. No punts. “You gotta be nuts” to field punts, Spielman said.

“I’ve got to give a lot of credit to [punt returner De’Mornay Pierson-El] because that ball is up there for a while,” he said. “Kick return, not so much, but it still takes some skill to get back there.”

Spielman has gotten comparisons to another former Riley product, former Oregon State receiver James Rodgers, who returned kicks and punts during his time in Corvallis, Oregon. Rodgers is now on staff with the Huskers, and Spielman has gained the nickname “James Jr.,” but it’s another speedster that Spielman watched growing up that he wants to try and emulate.

“When I think of slot receiver, I think of Tavon Austin,” he said.

During his last two seasons at West Virginia in 2011 and 2012, Austin was a nightmare for other teams. Over those two years, Austin accumulated 2,475 receiving yards, 2,184 return yards, 825 rushing yards and 28 total touchdowns. Austin also lit the Oklahoma Sooners up for 572 all-purpose yards in a video game-like performance his senior season.

“A lot of the stuff that he brings is just natural talent that he was born with,” Spielman said. “You can’t really teach a lot of stuff he does, that’s Tavon Austin.”

But Spielman thinks he has some of that natural talent. He certainly fits the profile, a smaller (Spielman stands just 5-foot-9) quick player that will try to find a home at slot receiver for Nebraska. When people think slot, they usually picture a guy like Spielman, but he said there’s more to the position than just speed.

“I think the thing about slot, you don’t really have to be fast or quick to play it, you’ve just got to be able to read the defense well and have a bit of finesse with it,” he said. “Some teams have their fastest guy on the outside as vertical threats. Other teams put them on the inside.”

Spielman also had praise for new special teams coach Scott Booker. He said guys “actually want to be on special teams” now and that’s because of the passion and intensity Booker brings to the room each day. When he first took over the job, Spielman said Booker showed the team video clips from different military movies, a different one for each unit.

“Our special teams have certain names that go with certain military personnel, so I remember him showing a bunch of clips from war movies and stuff like that so that really hyped up a lot of players on the team,” Spielman said.

Spielman is on “Bomb Squad.” That’s the kickoff return team. Then there’s “Rangers,” the punt return unit, “SEALS,” the punting unit and “Search and Destroy,” the kickoff coverage squad.

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