Nebraska special teams coordinator John Papuchis indicated yesterday the three, Aaron Green, Braylon Heard, and Ameer Abdullah, are in a battle for the top kick and punt return spot. The trio is competing with senior Brandon Kinnie, junior Tim Marlowe, freshman Jamal Turner, and red-shirt freshman Kenny Bell. Junior running back Rex Burkhead, who has experience in the return game, could also be in the mix down the road.
"We are just evaluating their reps on tape right now and will make a decision next week on who the guy is. They are all talented and are all getting equal opportunities," said Papuchis.
"I think all those guys (the trio of freshman) are talented. At the end of the day I think it just gives them an opportunity to get the ball in their hands one more time. Get their feet wet and get some game time experience. I'm excited to see them out there."
The three all have experience returning in high school with the Alabama product Ameer Abdullah maybe being the most prolific. Abdullah received a national reputation as a special teams star last season, returning four punts returns for touchdowns in Alabama 6A football. Throw in freshman wide receiver Jamal Turner, who showed in the Red-White Spring Game he can be a prolific return guy, and Nebraska might have a weapon the Huskers have not had in the Pelini era.
"I don't think we have had that quick strike guy since we have been here," said Papuchis. "I think Niles was a good returner, obviously he had some great returns for us, but I don't know if we have had a guy who is a threat to take it the distance every time he touches the ball. I think potentially we have some guys who could do that, but they have to prove it on Saturday before I get too excited about it."
It's the hope of the coaching staff a freshman can step up and prove to handle the position. Last season, Rex Burkhead was forced to play the position at times – something they would like to avoid with the extra carries he now has a the team's starting running back.
"I would like to take some of the load off of Rex, but we are going to put the best players back there," said Coach Papuchis.
Mauro Bondi #37 (Picture By: Josh Harvey)
The kicking battle
Also not decided is who will be handling kickoffs, punting, and field goals. The battle between Brett Maher and incoming freshman Mauro Bondi is heating up.
"We are still evaluating it, I think both guys are hitting the ball well. Obviously Brett is a little more experienced, but Mauro is really starting to hit the ball well the last week and a half or so," said Papuchis. "We will make a determination on that sometime early next week going into the game I would think. But that is on Coach Pelini's timetable on how that will be announced. At this point though, they are both kicking the ball really well."
Maher played a role in special teams the last two seasons, holding on extra points and field goals for Alex Henery. In the spring, he showed a strong leg and kicked the winning field goal in the Red-White game.
Bondi connected on 7-11 field goals for West Boca Raton HS last season. He also booted 45 of 55 kick returns for touchbacks.
"I would like to have someone locked in, but it could change week to week like any position," said Papuchis when answering if the battle could be extended into the season. "If somebody is playing better, just because they start the opener doesn't mean they are starting at the end of the year."