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Photo Credit: John S. Peterson.

Nebraska 2023 Fall Camp Preview: Specialists

July 26, 2023

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. 

The new Nebraska coaching staff is putting an emphasis on special teams. Special teams coordinator Ed Foley holds the trust of head coach Matt Rhule and publicly stated the importance of special teams. At some point, the Huskers will need a big punt to flip the field or a field goal to secure three points. It takes a complete team effort to ensure the Huskers can do both of them. And they’ve gone to work this summer to do just that, Foley said.

First and foremost, Nebraska retains the steady foot of Brian Buschini. He transferred from Montana ahead of last season and became one of the best punters in the punter-heavy Big Ten. Buschini toughened through nagging injuries while the Huskers’ feast-or-famine offense stalled. He averaged 44.0 yards per punt last season, which tied him for seventh in the conference. Sixteen of his punts surpassed 50 yards but just 14 of his punts went inside the 20. That’s a testament to the Huskers’ offense inability to move chains and put Buschini in a position to pin opponents.

Former Nebraska Wesleyan punter Jacob Hohl is second to Buschini. Foley admitted Buschini is much further ahead between the two and is the starter at this point. He’s heavily complimented Buschini’s work ethic and the fine points of kicking he’s studying.

The kicker competition is far more interesting. Timmy Bleekrode is back after finishing 12th in the conference with a 75% conversion rate. Bleekrode was 9-of-12 with a long of 46 yards last fall. He was just 1-of-3 in the spring game. Foley said Bleekrode needs to be more consistent while acknowledging the team could have done better getting in position on those field goals. Sure, there’s pressure on Bleekrode, especially considering that spring performance. But Foley also said the staff doesn’t need to pressure the kicker, he already puts immense pressure on himself. There’s competition at kicker this fall because of the arrival of Omaha Westside kicker Tristan Alvano. He hit all five of his field goals the last time he played at Memorial Stadium, including the game-winning field goal as time expired. If he can adapt to the college game, the homegrown Husker could kick this fall.

Sophomore Spencer Pankratz is a name on the outside of that competition. He transferred to Nebraska along with Bleekrode ahead of last season. Pankratz is originally from Nebraska and his father played at Hastings College.

Quiet among the noise was transfer arrival Marco Ortiz. The former Florida Gator brings years of long snapping experience to the team, a steady hand that can streamline the Huskers’ special teams operations. Foley is happy with Ortiz’s progress thus far and likes how he’s integrated himself among the team. Omaha Westside graduate Will DePooter was the long snapper for the Warriors. He decided to walk on at Nebraska this upcoming fall.

Rhule wants Nebraska to scrap and fight this fall. Part of that fight involves utilizing all three phases to play the long game. This staff worked with some of the NFL’s best specialists for over three seasons. They now return to the college game ready to put a few more in the league.

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