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Looking ahead to the 2022 Nebraska football season, we’re rounding up all of the departures, newcomers and returners in a summer position-by-position breakdown series.

If you want to also consume this content in radio form, check out the KLIN Husker Hour podcast here.

Special teams

Departures

  • K - Connor Culp (Sr)
  • P - William Przystup (So, transfer)
  • P - Daniel Cerni (Fr, transfer)

Newcomers

  • K - Timmy Bleekrode (So, transfer, Furman)
  • P - Brian Buschini (So, transfer, Montana)
  • LS - Brady Weas (Sr, transfer, Georgetown)

Returners

  • K - Chase Contreraz (Jr)
  • KO - Brendan Franke (So)
  • LS - Cade Mueller (Jr)
  • LS - Cameron Pieper (Jr)

With all the turnover this offseason, it’s easy to forget that the most influential member of the 2022 Nebraska football program may very well be new special teams coordinator Bill Busch. He’ll lead a bunch of returning Huskers and a new crop of transfers and incoming freshmen tasked with a sacred mission: at least be average, and don’t screw it up!

Busch has had stops at LSU, Rutgers, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Utah State, and was a part of Bill Callahan’s staff at Nebraska. His reputation as an ace recruiter is well known, as is his focus on special teams throughout his career.

The Pender, NE, native was brought back to Lincoln from LSU in 2021 as a defensive analyst. Even before Scott Frost announced Busch’s promotion on Jan. 10 following last year’s 3-9 season, Busch had been scouting the transfer portal, looking for solutions.

Out are Connor Culp, William Przystup, and Daniel Cerni. Now, a pair of FCS transfers are the leading candidates to be the next Husker kicker and punter.

The presumed starter at kicker is Timmy Bleekrode. The Furman transfer has converted 21-of-25 field goals, including 15-of-18 in 2021. His career-long of 51 yards came against Tennessee Tech last year. Bleekrode hit on 66-of-70 extra point attempts as well. In addition to his kicking, he  started at punter for the Palladins each of the last two seasons, earning second-team all-Southern-Conference in 2020 for his punting.

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Chase Contreraz started four games at kicker last season and remains on the roster for 2022. The Iowa Western product hit 2-of-4 field goals and nailed all 11 of his extra points.

Bleekrode won’t be asked to punt for Nebraska – that role looks to be filled by the 2021 FCS Punter of the Year. Brian Buschini owns a 45.8-yard average on 75 career punts at Montana. In 15 games with the Grizzlies, he placed 35 punts inside the 20, and bombed 30 punts at least 50 yards. His contributions led Montana to the top spot nationally in net punting average last year. Buschini wowed the spring game crowd with a 63-yarder among his seven punts in a Husker (practice) jersey.

Not resting with Bleekrode and Buschini, NU also found a grad transfer long snapper in Brady Weas. The senior from Georgetown has 31 games of experience over three seasons with the Hoyas. Weas will compete with Mueller and Pieper for the starting job, both of whom dealt with injuries last year.

Kickoffs were a rare special teams bright spot in 2021, and from an unlikely source – Morningside transfer and Gretna native Brendan Franke. While he did not play football for the Dragons in high school, he sent 35 of his 59 kickoffs for touchbacks at Morningside in 2020. He basically mirrored that performance for NU, with 38 touchbacks out of 62 kickoffs last year. Buschini may contend here, too, having boomed 35 touchbacks in his 15 games at Montana.

Part of special teams is kick and punt coverage, which were unmitigated disasters in 2021. While the Huskers only averaged 15.58 yards per KR, they allowed 24 yards on average to their opponents. Punt returns were even worse, as they gained just 2.7 yards per PR while giving up an average of 9.36 yards to the opposition. The likely changes here are a combination of scheme, personnel and on-field coaching, all things coordinator Busch hopes to tackle in fall camp.

In the return game, five Huskers returned at least one punt or kickoff last season – Oliver Martin and Brody Belt handled punts, and Alante Brown, Rahmir Johnson and Zach Weinmaster fielded kickoffs.

Newcomers who could step into punt and kick returner roles include transfers Tommi Hill and Trey Palmer, as well as true freshmen Ajay Allen, Janiran Bonner, Decoldest Crawford, Malcolm Hartzog and Emmett Johnson.

There are also walk-ons who earn their stripes on coverage units, some who make a name for themselves along the way. John Bullock and Phalen Sanford are among those to watch.

Entering 2021, Nebraska boasted the reigning Big Ten Kicker of the Year and a new Aussie punter. Mike Dawson, then outside linebackers coach, was the guy to lead special teams, having taken over from analyst Jonathan Rutledge. It did not go well. NU finished 128th out of 130 FBS teams in ESPN’s special teams efficiency rankings. Special teams busts directly impacted close losses to Illinois, Oklahoma, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Iowa.

There is nowhere to go but up.