Arkansas State vs. Nebraska, 9/2/17

Nebraska's JD Spielman points to the student section as he returns a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter against Arkansas State in Nebraska's season-opening win in 2017.

Jovan Dewitt has likely handled more difficult math problems, but he’s certainly got a complex numbers game on his hands as Nebraska’s preseason camp nears its end.

The Huskers’ special teams coordinator — and physics/mathematics major at Northern Michigan back in the 1990s — is supervising not only who will handle the kicking and returning for NU, but also how the full coverage and return units take shape.

“It’s insanely complicated,” he said Monday. “Every rep it changes. This guy’s down, this guy’s up. It’s a domino effect. One guy goes down in one spot and you have to move three or four guys around. It’s a constant juggle between coaching the outside backers and then managing the special teams throughout the course of a game.”

At the same time, though, Dewitt has the full support of his fellow coaches. Not only has he said that head coach Scott Frost gives him however much time he feels he needs for special teams periods, but all of the coaches also know the drill: Nobody is immune from being selected for duty.

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“We need our starters to play on one or two special teams to understand the importance of it,” Frost said Friday.

The reasoning for that is simple in Dewitt’s eyes.

“Starters are going to play on special teams. That’s just period,” he said. “It doesn’t make any sense to have a play that covers 40-50 yards of space and not have your best players out there. To me that’s just insanity.

“We want to get a good combination of older guys, veteran guys and young guys in there that we feel can handle it."

In fact, several players who are expected to be either starters or at least major contributors have talked about the importance of participating heavily.

Central Florida graduate transfer safety Tre Neal called Dewitt right away upon his decision to transfer and requested to play them all. Breon Dixon said he plans on being a difference-maker wherever Dewitt wants him to play. Collin Miller is expected to be a core piece, maybe on all four units.

“I feel really good about some of the units we’ve got,” Dewitt said. “The good thing is everybody is really bought into having a role on special teams.”

Putting together those units and managing them through a season is more involved than ever, though, with the introduction of the rule that allows freshmen to play in up to four games and still redshirt. NU will try to use special teams as part of that equation, but that makes for even more juggling for Dewitt.

“We’re going to have to manage it in terms of participation reports and what we’re doing, but, especially if we can involve those guys in on special teams and get them some game reps that way, I really love the rule,” he said.

In the kicking game, freshman Barret Pickering is the favorite to earn placekicking duties over walk-on Cole Frahm, while junior Caleb Lightbourn will handle punting and likely kickoffs.

NU has options in the return departments. JD Spielman is probably the favorite to return kickoffs, considering he averaged 24.8 per return as a redshirt freshman and logged a 99-yard touchdown against Arkansas State.

Spielman also has stated that he’ll try to win the punt return job.

“Watching JD, he’s really good,” Dewitt said. “Stanley (Morgan) is really good back there, Tyjon (Lindsey)’s got some abilities back there, Maurice Washington brings some things to the table. Miles Jones does some really good things when he’s got the ball in his hands.

“It’s a gluttony of spoils to a certain degree.”

Contact the writer at pgabriel@journalstar.com or 402-473-7439. On Twitter @HuskerExtraPG.


Sports writer

Parker joined the Journal Star as the University of Nebraska football beat writer in August 2017. He previously covered Montana State athletics for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 2012.

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