This is a series taking a look at each position on Nebraska’s 2023 roster. It’s a brief glimpse on the most intriguing aspects of each position.
Nebraska special teams coordinator Ed Foley affirmed the importance of a strong return game in football this winter. He pointed to the most recent AFC Championship Game as a prime example. Skyy Moore caught a punt at his own 18 with 41 seconds left. He found an opening and exploded forward for 29 yards, allowing Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs to start their potential game-winning drive near midfield. Four plays and 27 seconds later, the Chiefs hit the winning field goal and were off to the Super Bowl.
The Huskers want an explosive return game. Not just in cases like Moore but in smaller 8-to-10-yard returns. A 10-yard return is, essentially, a first first down for the offense, Foley explained. Coaches want to scheme effective blocking patterns to spring the incredible speed Matt Rhule and his staff heavily recruit. And the Huskers will certainly have some exceptional athletes back there this fall.
Billy Kemp IV, Zavier Betts, Joshua Fleeks and Elliott Brown all returned kicks in Nebraska’s 2023 spring game. Kemp was a reliable return man at Virginia and gives the Huskers some explosion in the return game. Husker fans are well aware of the exceptional athleticism Betts brings to the room. He’s also earned the respect of this coaching staff in getting himself ready and eligible this fall. Fleeks played a role in the Baylor return game for Rhule’s staff in Waco and finds himself back in that role for a final year of college football. Brown, a homegrown Husker, tallied the most kickoff returns (three) of anyone in the Red-White Game.
Then there’s some exceptional athletes beyond that group. Foley mentioned Tommi Hill by name this summer as someone he likes in the return game. Hill tested well in winter workouts, charting some of the fastest speeds on the team. He aligned to return punt and kicks last season but, like everyone else, did not do much.
Rhule and his staff’s concentration on recruiting speed could also pay off. Lincoln East graduate Malachi Coleman made some explosive returns for the Spartans and could provide depth doing just that at Memorial Stadium. Omaha Westside graduate Jaylen Lloyd comes with accolades and will compete on the Nebraska track team. While it might take a bit to make him college ready, his skillset could make him a fit on special teams. The same could be said for Bay City, Texas, speedster Brice Turner, who will also run on the Husker track team. He’s a sprinter who’s clearly bought into Rhule’s vision for him, as he was the first to commit to Rhule at Nebraska. Jaidyn Doss and Jeremiah Charles are two brand-new contenders in the return game.
It’s worth noting coaches overseeing special teams outside of Foley. Josh Martin was a special teams analyst before taking over tight end coaching duties following the departure of Bob Wager. Martin is the son of respected Texas high school coach Joe Martin. He was previously a full-time assistant at SMU and Arizona State. Among his responsibilities, Martin was the special teams coordinator for two years at SMU.
There’s a clear intention to make special teams and the return game a potential game-breaking phase for the Huskers this fall. They’ve got the athletes to make it happen but how will it all come together?