The 2019 season has officially come to an end, which means its time to turn our sights toward 2020. With Nebraska locking in the vast majority of its recruiting class during the early signing period, now is a good time to take stock of where the roster stands.
We’ve already ran through each position on offense and defense, so all that’s left is the special teams units.
Offense: Backfield | Pass-Catchers | Offensive Line
Defense: Line | Linebackers | Secondary
Kickers (1 Scholarship, 4 Walk-On)
Returners: SO Barret Pickering, JR Matt Waldoch (walk-on), rFR Gabe Heins (walk-on)
Newcomers: SO Chase Contreraz (walk-on), FR Tyler Conway (walk-on)
Departures: Harrison Martin (walk-on), Dylan Jorgensen (walk-on)
The kicking position was an unmitigated disaster in 2019. Seven different players attempted a kick or kickoff for the Huskers as they dealt with injuries and inconsistencies throughout that room. Among the seven were two punters, a safety, a club soccer player and another regular student who had kicked in high school; the last two of those players joined the team midseason.
Nebraska put some effort into bolstering that room in the 2020 recruiting cycle, but the coaches did so without putting any scholarship money out there which appears to be how Scott Frost wants to handle the position.
Barret Pickering, the only specialists on scholarship, is heading into his redshirt sophomore season after a mysterious preseason injury knocked him out of the lineup for the first seven games of the season. He played in four of the last five games, allowing him to take 2019 as a redshirt year, but was a shell of himself, missing two of his five kicks and failing to record a touchback on any of his nine kickoffs.
Can Pickering get back to being the player we saw in the second half of his freshman season? If so, he’s probably the frontrunner to win back his starting spot. Or do the struggles continue, whether it be for physical or mental reasons? Does he seek out a fresh start at some point? I guess we’ll see how spring ball plays out.
Lane McCallum is back at safety after filling in at place-kicker, but Frost asked Matt Waldoch, the former club soccer player, to stay on the team after he went 4-for-4 on field goals (all short range) and 9-for-9 on extra points. The only other returner is Gabe Heins, a redshirt freshman from Kearney who did not see the field in 2019.
The coaching staff first went to the junior college ranks to add talent to the kicking room, landing Chase Contreraz after a second-team All-America season at Iowa Western where he connected on 15 of his 18 field goal attempts with along of 47 yards and 44 of his 46 extra-point attempts. He’s already on campus and will have three seasons of eligibility at Nebraska.
The other newcomer just joined the fold on Sunday as Tyler Crawford, a kicker and punter from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, committed to Nebraska as a preferred walk-on. He’ll compete at both spots.
A day after Crawford committed, Lincoln Southwest product Dylan Jorgensen entered his name into the NCAA Transfer Portal. With Pickering on the shelf, Jorgensen became the first true freshman walk-on to start a game at Nebraska since Andy Janovich in 2012, making all four of his extra-point attempts and recording six kickoffs with one touchback. He got his only field goal attempt blocked, however. He kicked off twice — both touchbacks — in week two against Colorado but suffered his own injury and did not play again.
The other departure is Harrison Martin, the student who joined the team midseason and who made his only field goal attempt against Maryland.
Punters (2 Walk-On)
Returners: SO William Przystup (walk-on), rFR Grant Detlefsen (walk-on)
Departures: Isaac Armstrong (walk-on), Jackson Walker (walk-on)
Isaac Armstrong won the starting punter job from Caleb Lightbourn midway through Frost’s first season in Lincoln and then held off Michigan State transfer William Przystup in 2019 to retain the job. He was the only Husker to attempt a punt last season, averring 40.9 yards per attempt, and he also handled kicking duties early in the season.
NCAA rule changes meant Przystup was immediately eligible as a walk-on transfer and he settled in as Nebraska’s primary kickoff guy, leading the team in attempts, average and touchbacks, though he only reached the end zone on about a third of his kicks. He looks like the frontrunner to step in for Armstrong as the team’s starting punter. In four games as the starting punter for the Spartans, he averaged 40.6 yards per punt with nine of his 27 punts leading to touchbacks.
The only other pure punter on the roster is Grant Detlefsen, a Lincoln Southeast product. He redshirted his first year on campus. As a Knight, Detlefsen averaged 42.4 yards per punt as a sophomore, 42.9 as a junior and 29.5 as a senior.
Crawford could factor in at punter as well.
Jackson Walker, the other departure, did not appear in a game during his three years as a Husker.
Long-Snapper (4 Walk-On)
Returners: JR Brig Banks (walk-on), SO Cade Mueller (walk-on), SO Cameron Pieper (walk-on)
Newcomers: FR Camden Witucki (walk-on)
Departures: Chase Urbach (walk-on)
Nebraska will have a new snapper in 2020. Chase Ubach handled those duties for the last year-and-a-half but is eligibility is up. The Huskers have four players listed as long-snappers on the roster, though a player at another position could impact this position battle.
Brig Banks (6-foot-3, 215 pounds), the older brother of 2019 offensive lineman signee Brant Banks, quietly transferred to Nebraska last season after playing defensive line at Henderson State for two years including redshirt season.
Gretna’s Cade Mueller (6-foot, 230 pounds) and Lincoln Southwest’s Cameron Pieper (6-foot-3, 250 pounds) are two in-state products that are heading into their third year in the program and will look to compete for the starting job. The newcomer to the room is Camden Witucki, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound freshman from Grand Blanc, Michigan.
The wildcard in this battle is walk-on defensive end and former Navy SEAL Damian Jackson. He was listed as Urbach’s back-up on Nebraska’s final depth chart of the 2019 season (with Mueller being him). Nebraska switched from Jordan Ober to Urbach in 2018 because of Urbach’s ability to get downfield in kick coverage, and Jackson is a much larger player at 6-foot-2 and 275 pounds, but if he’s the best man for the job I’m sure Nebraska will adjust as needed.
Roster Overview (84 Scholarship, 74 Walk-on, 158 Total)
- Quarterback: 6 (4 scholarship, 2 walk-on)
- Running Back: 11 (5 scholarship, 6 walk-on)
- Wide Receiver: 20 (11 scholarship, 9 walk-on)
- Tight End: 9 (5 scholarship, 4 walk-on)
- Offensive Line: 29 (17 scholarship, 12 walk-on)
- Defensive Line: 21 (13 scholarship, 8 walk-on)
- Inside Linebacker: 16 (7 scholarship, 9 walk-on)
- Outside Linebacker: 13 (8 scholarship, 5 walk-on)
- Cornerbacks: 10 (8 scholarship, 2 walk-on)
- Safety: 11 (5 scholarship, 6 walk-on)
- Place Kicker: 5 (1 scholarship, 4 walk-on)
- Punter: 2 (2 walk-on)
- Long Snapper: 4 (4 walk-on)