Read updates special teams competitions
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[rl]Nebraska's punt returns were a laughingstock in 2013 before De'Mornay Pierson-El arrived last season and not only improved the unit, but made it one of the best in the country.
The sophomore was lost for six to eight weeks with a broken foot Tuesday, but the Huskers have no plans of watching the punt-return unit revert to its unproductive ways. Special teams coordinator Bruce Read was resolute when asked who takes over as the team's top return man.
"Jordan Westerkamp," he said. "He's got sure hands and he's been under the lights and under the pressure."
Westerkamp's first go-around as the team's punt returner didn't go so well - he gained just 51 yards on 19 returns (2.7 average) in 2013. But he was often surrounded as soon as he caught the ball that season and wasn't the beneficiary of the blocking Pierson-El got last year. Read figures things will go better this time around.
Also in the mix at punt returner are Stanley Morgan, Avery Anderson, Charles Jackson and Jamal Turner, though Read indicated there is a clear difference between that group and Westerkamp.
"I felt like we had two really solid kids and now we have one," Read said. "We're developing and it's really important that we keep him healthy and keep him back there so it can look like football."
Things are much more fluid at kick returner, where Read said the Huskers are working in a number of players but named only Terrell Newby specifically.
If there ever was a true battle at kicker, it appears Drew Brown has won it over JUCO transfer Jamie Sutcliffe. The sophomore, who made 14 of 21 attempts as NU's starter last year, has created some distance recently.
"Drew has really come on the last week," Read said. "He's very impressive. It's been nice. He had a really nice scrimmage the other day, hit it clean. I think there's a nice operation between (Jordan) Ober and (Sam) Foltz and him. I like the way it's going. It appears to be improving with consistency."
Brown and Sutcliffe are still battling neck and neck for the kickoff specialist position. Read said Brown is a little more polished right now and travel considerations might come into effect, giving the sophomore the slight edge.
One special teams position Nebraska doesn't have to worry about is punter. Sam Foltz was an honorable All-Big Ten pick last year and appears ready to ascend even further this season after working with former Husker Sam Koch in the summer.
The strong-legged junior has impressed Read, who says Foltz isn't a finished product but simply continues to get better.
"Sam's got his strengths and weaknesses," Read said. "He'll punt it better one way than he does the other way, so we need to work on things that way. But the kid is a fantastic talent. I think we always want to use the boundary as a 12th man and directional kick.
"Sam's got the range and the field just looks small when he's punting. It's like, dang, he punts it 65 yards. If you're going to get the ball that far out, you need placement."
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