LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) It might take longer than originally expected for Nebraska return specialist De'Mornay Pierson-El to return from his broken right foot, coach Mike Riley said Thursday.
Pierson-El broke the foot while making a cut during practice this week, and Riley announced Wednesday he would be out six to eight weeks. That would have set up a possible return for the Big Ten opener at Illinois or the key Oct. 10 home game against Wisconsin.
After Thursday's practice, Riley backed off on that timetable.
''Our goal is for him to return and play this year. How soon, I hesitate to say because I don't want to put anything on him,'' Riley said. ''Nobody knows. They initially said six to eight. It's all biology. It's one thing about being healed. It's another being ready to play.''
If Pierson-El progresses well, Riley said, he should play ''a good portion of this season.''
The loss of the sophomore from Alexandria, Virginia, is a major blow on two fronts.
He is among eight receivers who have missed time on the practice field because of injuries. Pierson-El was the team's third-leading receiver in 2014, with 23 catches for 321 yards and four touchdowns. He also is a threat on jet sweep plays.
His biggest contributions came as a punt returner. His 17.5-yard average on 34 returns ranked third in the nation, and his three returns for touchdowns were tied for the national lead.
Jordan Westerkamp, who was the primary punt returner two seasons ago, will move back into that role in Pierson-El's absence.
''He's solid, real good. I'm very happy with him,'' special teams coordinator Bruce Read said. ''I felt like we had two solid ones, and now we've got one. It's important to keep him healthy and keep him back there.''
Westerkamp, Alonzo Moore and Lane Hovey are receivers who have returned to practice this week, and Riley said he hopes to have Brandon Reilly back on Monday.
''Then we'll have a pretty good crew of two-deep that I'll really like,'' Riley said. ''I'm not downplaying De'Mornay's loss. He's a very special athlete in a lot of different areas, and there are a lot of different things we can do with him. We have people who can do that stuff. They'll have to share it.''