It’s different when the special teams coordinator doesn’t have to coach a position.
So says Nebraska inside linebacker Luke Reimer, who said Thursday he’s come to enjoy the feistiness of Bill Busch, NU’s fourth special teams guy in as many years. Unlike Jovan Dewitt and Mike Dawson, Busch doesn’t coach a position on the field. And unlike Jonathan Rutledge, Busch is not an analyst.
He’s a coach of the third phase, and he’s fired up.
“Coach Busch has definitely put a great edge on the special teams,” Reimer said. “He comes into meetings every morning firing guys up. Coach Busch has definitely put a new spin on special teams. The collective group has worked extremely hard in drills.”
Among the hardest workers, according to Busch: Husker running backs. He’s putting them in several spots all over the units, including Rahmir Johnson as part of the front line on kickoff return.
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“Some wouldn’t think this, but when he got moved from returner to front line, that’s a promotion,” Busch said. “That’s what you think of somebody, when you move them up there.”
Nebraska usually has four reps of each group. Johnson, Busch said, is a “4-for-4” guy who does the right thing every time.
Gabe Ervin, Busch said, is also doing well.
“You keep hearing running back names,” Busch said. “They’re covering kicks, they’re blocking for people, they’re also running, they’re doing all phases.”
Busch has been tapped to overhaul a unit that, according to two different metrics, rated among the worst in the nation last season. Football Outsiders ranked NU 129th out of 130; ESPN ranked the Huskers 128th.
Nebraska struggled in all four parts of special teams.
The coverage units allowed three touchdowns — one on kickoffs and two on punts. The return units ranked 128th nationally in yards per punt return and 121st on yards per kick return; Cam Taylor-Britt also committed a safety in the season opener against Illinois. NU’s placekicking operation was also a disaster, as kickers missed eight field goals and four extra points, one of which was returned by Oklahoma for a 2-point conversion.
NU will have new specialists, a new punt returner, and potentially a new kick returner.
More Husker notes
* All of NU’s starting linebackers will be starting in special teams in some phase, Busch said.
* Reimer said he’s 100% healthy after getting two surgeries in spring camp for his hip and a sports hernia. He took a lot of wear-and-tear last season, position coach Barrett Ruud said, which points to Ruud needing to rotate his linebackers more.
“To keep those guys fresh throughout the year, you’ve got to take some hits off them,” Ruud said of Reimer and the other starting inside linebacker, Nick Henrich.
The No. 3 guy at the moment appears to be senior Eteva Mauga-Clements, who is in his third year of learning NU’s defense.
“Va has had an extremely impressive camp thus far,” Ruud said. “… I think he’s probably made the biggest jump of anybody in the combination of skill level jumping up and just understanding of the defense.”
Mauga-Clements will be pushed by Garrett Snodgrass and true freshman Ernest Hausmann, a Columbus graduate who enrolled at NU early. Ruud called Hausmann a “shiny car.”
“He’s just really a fluid, explosive athlete,” Ruud said of Hausmann. “Not only is he fast but he moves well side to side. He can flip his hips, similar to the way a pass rusher can flip his hips.”
Hausmann, Ruud said, “has a natural feel” to be a pass rusher.
* Ervin, who tore his ACL last year, is 100%, he said. Running backs coach Bryan Applewhite, excited throughout his chat with the media, said he has an exciting “horse race” to see who NU’s No. 1 back will be.
Watch now: Hear from Husker players and coaches after Thursday’s practice