Nebraska football fans have been freaking out a little about injuries, and rightfully so. Over the course of the last week, Nebraska lost a likely starting nickel (Charles Jackson), "Mike" linebacker (Michael Rose) and backup I-back (Adam Taylor) to injury.
In addition, the Cornhuskers saw likely starting safety LeRoy Alexander suspended for the entire 2014 season.
The reaction was predictable:
These Nebraska football injuries need to stop, holy moly. Feel for the guys #huskers— Brian McMahon (@B_MacMan) August 9, 2014
.@Pontifex Do you have any blessings that you can say for the Nebraska football team? Something for injuries would be best.— Bo's cat Bo Purrini (@boshuskercat) August 9, 2014
Those losses are all important and could impact Nebraska significantly in 2014. However, there is one loss to injury that hasn’t gotten nearly enough attention—one that could cost Nebraska wins.
That’s bad news for a special teams department that should terrify Nebraska fans at almost every level.
About the only area where Nebraska excelled last season was on kickoffs courtesy of Mauro Bondi. Nebraska finished No. 10 nationally in touchback percentage on kickoffs at 61.54 percent. Nebraska was fairly average on kickoff returns (No. 41), opponents' kick returns (No. 41) and opponents' punt returns (No. 68).
And we know how disastrous Nebraska was at punt returns, where NU was No. 123 (!) nationally with 3.04 yards per return.
So has this guy, but who has time for that?
The place-kicking job was already a huge worry. Nebraska coaches clearly did not have enough confidence in scholarship kicker Bondi, as they brought in transfer Pat Smith in 2013. He won the job—and ultimately the game for Nebraska at Penn State.
This year, the team has brought in another kicker in true freshman Drew Brown. While nothing has been announced yet, it’s hard not to see Brown having every chance to win the starting job.
That would mean Nebraska would be rolling into the 2014 season with a true freshman as a place-kicker. We saw last year how a win in overtime in a hostile environment rested on the foot of a kicker.
How much harder will that be if the kicker is less than a year removed from his high school senior prom—and with questions at long snapper to get him the ball in the first place?
So, let’s assess. Awesome at getting touchbacks on kickoffs. Average at best in other areas. Massive questions at place-kicker—either a true freshman or second-choice kicker and an untested long snapper—the one area where stability and confidence is desperately needed. Tack on a punt return game that was an unmitigated disaster last year.
Forget about worries in the secondary. If Nebraska fans are going to panic about something, panic about special teams.
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