Photo Credit: Nebraska Athletics

What Nebraska Football Coaches Said This Week, Part Two

July 23, 2022

It’s the last official week of summer for the Nebraska football program. As a result, four more Nebraska football coaches made appearances on Sports Nightly this week. With fall camp practices slated to kick off Wednesday, July 27—the Huskers officially report the day before—there’s no better time than now to check in.

While each had a number of topics to cover, here’s an overview of some of the bigger points that were made this week. And in case you missed it, here’s last week’s edition too.

Special Teams Coordinator Bill Busch

“Accuracy. Period.”

When it comes to what Bill Busch looks for in a kicker, it’s that. Simple enough.

More specifically, though, there should be no question over whether or not a drive ends in points once the ball gets to the 28-yard-line. That’s where the accuracy part comes in.

“It’s not, boy, he’s hit one from 66 or one from 64,” Busch said on Monday. “Those are great, but that doesn’t come up a lot in real life. In real life what happens, can we make kicks that we need to have made and can we have accuracy?”

And kicker Timmy Bleekrode has that accuracy. He spent three years at Furman before arriving at Nebraska, where he was the starting punter and place-kicker in both 2020 and 2021. In his Furman career, Bleekrode was 21-of-25 on field goals and averaged 42.9 yards on 91 punts. He was also 30-of-32 on PATs.

Brian Buschini remains Nebraska’s No. 1 punter, but that’s not a bad thing. Busch sees it as an opportunity for Bleekrode to focus.

“He has one job and that is to make field goals, make extra points,” Busch said.

As for others on special teams, Brendan Franke remains the clear No. 1 as a kickoff specialist. Trey Palmer, on the other hand, is the leading candidate at punt returner.

“Trey has natural ability to track the ball,” Busch said.

He also expects running back Anthony Grant to do a “very good job” at kick returner, while Zach Weinmaster and Brody Belt are the favorites for the off returner.

Running Backs Coach Bryan Applewhite

Speaking of special teams, the topic carried over into Bryan Applewhite’s time on Sports Nightly too. For him, he wants a room full of leaders and stepping up on special teams is part of that. Grant, for example, might be a frontrunner at kick returner . . .

“But they’re all going to be on special teams,” Applewhite said. “I look at the running backs position, we’re the best athletes on the field in my opinion and those athletes need to show up on special teams. We’ve got to make a difference on special teams.”

He also expects his room to be vocal leaders.

“Because that’s effort. I expect that,” he said. “Get comfortable holding people uncomfortable and hold people accountable. Use your words.”

From the sounds of it, Applewhite’s room has a lot of potential. Rahmir Johnson has “extremely good vision” and that’s only improved since spring. Jaquez Yant has continued to work on his physical shape and is consistently meeting with Applewhite to meet his goals. Gabe Ervin is back from an injury and his attention to detail is strong. And then there’s Grant, who is “everything that I saw on film before I came to Nebraska when I was at TCU.”

There is a lot yet to be determined about Nebraska’s run game, but Applewhite seems to be pleased with the direction his room is heading. Now it’s just building on the momentum from spring and taking it right into fall camp.

Inside Linebackers Coach Barrett Ruud

There is a lot of depth in the inside linebacker room. That’s not a bad thing, but it means a guy like Ernest Hausmann might not slot in higher than fourth on the depth chart right now. That doesn’t mean he won’t see playing time, as Barrett Ruud pointed out during his visit with Sports Nightly.

In fact, Hausmann has been able to work on special teams while benefitting from reps at inside linebacker. That’ll likely put Hausmann on the travel roster this fall, and you may even see him get an opportunity in some games here and there.

“He’s been what we anticipated,” Ruud said about Hausmann. “I think the fact he got here early and got that spring ball in is going to be huge for him possibly having an opportunity to play and contribute real minutes in the fall. He was able to learn and make his mistakes throughout spring.”

Ruud noted that something seemed to click for Hausmann several practices into spring ball. He said the freshman made a big jump “in probably practice 10 or 11 to 12 and 13.” It was exactly what Ruud hoped he would see.

“That’s always what you look for in young guys. When does it start kind of clicking in?” Ruud said. “I’m excited to see how well he progresses in the fall.”

Hausmann, Garrett Snodgrass and Eteva Mauga-Clements will provide depth alongside returners Luke Reimer and Nick Henrich. In 2021, Reimer led Nebraska with 108 tackles. Henrich followed right behind with 99.

“I think (Eteva) along with Ernest Hausmann probably benefited from the spring more than anyone else,” Ruud said.

Offensive Line Coach Donovan Raiola 

It’s all about the buy-in for Nebraska’s offensive line.

On Thursday, Raiola mentioned that he brought his own technique with him to Nebraska. It’s developed from his time at the Chicago Bears and at Notre Dame, which means it’s different from what the offensive line room was used to under the direction of former coach Greg Austin.

“We’ve got a great room of great guys who have all bought in to a little different style and I’m lucky for that,” Raiola said.

But there isn’t a settled depth chart yet. Part of that is because starting tackles Teddy Prochazka and Turner Corcoran missed spring ball with injuries. They’ll work to get up to speed through fall camp, but Raiola specifically mentioned the appreciation he has for Corcoran’s attitude and energy.

As for the center spot left by Cam Jurgens, senior Trent Hixson was the man in the middle this spring. Raiola said he did an “awesome job” filling the spot.

“I didn’t realize he was a walk-on,” Raiola said. “He’s really done a great job taking ownership of that role and being more of a voice in the that room.”

Here’s where the depth chart sits: While Hixson was in the starting center spot through spring, Ethan Piper and Ian Boerkircher took snaps at backup center. Piper and Hixson could also play at guard too, while Brant Banks, Kevin Williams and Boerkircher took reps at left tackle with Prochazka out. Bryce Benhart got better through spring at right tackle, per Raiola, and Broc Bando and Henry Lutovsky appear to be the top two at right guard.

The depth chart may not be settled, but it sounds like things are coming together. Fall camp will solidify things more, but Raiola is pleased for now with the buy-in.

You have to start somewhere.

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