Huskers continue to cycle special teams personnel, including walk-ons finding playing time

Huskers continue to cycle special teams personnel, including walk-ons finding playing time
Nebraska special teams coach Jovan Dewitt says that special teams personnel has "been in flux a little bite." (CHRIS MACHIAN/THE WORLD-HERALD)

LINCOLN — Jovan Dewitt cut off the question early. Is special teams personnel …

“A flux?” Dewitt responded with a wry smile. “Yeah, it’s been in flux a little bit.”

The special teams coordinator has indeed cycled Huskers on and off special teams on a weekly — and sometimes quarterly — basis. Some changes have come in the wake of injuries, like when true freshman Cam Taylor missed the Purdue game. Other moves have been with the aim of simply finding the best athletes for the job.

“You look for the guys that can run and tackle — I’m going to be honest with you,” Dewitt said. “And what you need to find is guys that, while they have their role either on offense or on defense, that you’re not completely expending them on special teams. … It’s always a fine balancing act.”

Nebraska had already switched from scholarship senior long snapper Jordan Ober to junior walk-on Chase Urbach because of his ability to provide better coverage downfield. Walk-on Isaac Armstrong from Lincoln Southwest took over for scholarship junior Caleb Lightbourn during the Wisconsin game, and kickoff and punt returners have also been changed, with JD Spielman handling punts now and Maurice Washington on kickoffs.

Dewitt said the personnel groupings are complicated this time of year by injuries and depth considerations at various positions. He sees improvement on special teams, but added that he knows there’s a long way to go for a unit that has committed 13 penalties for 107 yards.

“It’s not a question of having enough guys that want to do it,” Dewitt said. “It’s the question of having enough guys that you feel can do it.”

‘More talent across the board’

Nebraska football needs “more talent across the board” to compete with run-heavy, power-laden teams like Michigan and Wisconsin, coach Scott Frost said on Tuesday’s Big Ten teleconference.

The Huskers will work more next spring on preparing for the schemes of teams whose offenses  bear little resemblance to Nebraska’s own up-tempo, spread offense.

“In Year 2 of any program, I think you’re afforded more time in the spring to start working on other peoples’ schemes rather than just try to learn your own,” Frost said.

More notes from Frost’s appearance on the Big Ten teleconference:

» Frost said NU practices at least one trick play “almost every week” and has it ready for a game. Frost, Nebraska’s primary play-caller, said the decision to call a trick play comes down to “feel.” Some are best to call early in games, he said, or on second-and-short, when a team has a down to waste.

“A lot of those plays are better to call when you’re up seven or 10, and you’ve got to be in those situations to run those things,” he said.

» Frost reiterated that he emphasizes winning now and playing the players who can best help achieve that aim.

“We’re certainly never going to sacrifice anything right now for the future,” Frost said in relation to playing younger players over older players. Frost said several younger players — which would include true freshmen — “are hurt and not able to go right now.”

“Several of those guys are done for the year and we’re not going to be able to work with them until the spring,” Frost said.

Freshman defensive end Tate Wildeman from Parker, Colorado, is one player known to be out for the season rehabbing from injury.

Davis credits Duval for tackle

Khalil Davis knew that Wisconsin screen pass was coming. He diagnosed the play before it happened, made sure not to hold the running back coming out for the catch, then ran down the Badger from behind for a short gain.

It was splashy play — perhaps NU’s best on another otherwise rough night.

“That play was made back in December, January and the summer,” Davis said Tuesday. That’s when NU was going through the conditioning program set by strength coach Zach Duval. “That was the hardest summer we’ve been through. I credit that to (Duval) for running me in the summer.”

Five games into the season, Davis and teammate Damion Daniels said, NU’s defensive line is holding up OK. A day off from practicing in pads on Monday — which is usually a padded practice — helped save on the wear and tear.

Daniels, a redshirt freshman nose tackle from Dallas listed at 340 pounds, said he’d still like to lose more weight, reduce his body fat and work more with Duval.

“Last couple weeks, I’ve been running more with Duval,” Daniels said, noting that his running regimen picked up once Mick Stoltenberg got hurt. “He needed me to pick it up a little bit more, running from station to station harder.”

Daniels said he is running “five-and-a-half gassers” after practice.

Quick hits

» Dewitt, also the outside linebackers coach, said junior Tyrin Ferguson is practicing this week after missing the past two games with a tweaked ankle. He started the first three games.

» Lightbourn is “not excited” about his demotion to second string behind Armstrong, Dewitt said. But the junior has been staying after practice putting in extra work in an effort to reclaim the top job.

» Defensive line coach Mike Dawson said Nebraska needs to do a better job of getting into third-down situations that allow the line to get after the quarterback. But he also complimented twins Carlos and Khalil Davis for their QB pressure and clogging running lanes against Wisconsin.

“As crazy as it may sound,” Dawson said, “there were a few good plays and some good things that happened.”

» Running back Devine Ozigbo rushed for a career-best 170 yards on 17 carries against Purdue two games ago. On Saturday at Wisconsin, he had one touch at halftime en route to a five-tote, 29-yard effort. The senior said he believes the early deficit in Madison forced the Huskers to be one-dimensional on offense.

“I was just going with the flow of the game, but you never expect (one carry at halftime),” Ozigbo said. “But it’s just how it played out, so you gotta take it how it comes. It was cool having that game against Purdue. I thought I would get more carries (against Wisconsin), but that’s how the cards fell.”

Nebraska at Northwestern

When: 11 a.m. Saturday (6 a.m. pregame)

Where: Ryan Field – Evanston, Illinois

Radio: 103.1 FM

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