Who is Nebraska's kicker? A month into the season, NU still hasn't fully decided.
At Friday's Big Red Breakfast NU assistant coach Ross Els referred to NU's merry-go-round at the position as “a little goofy.”
Nebraska has tried just two field goals through four games — neither at crunch time — so it remains unclear whether sophomore Mauro Bondi or senior Pat Smith would get the call if the Huskers needed a clutch three points.
In essence, Els said the evaluation goes on as Nebraska starts Big Ten play Saturday at home against Illinois.
“There is not a lot of difference between those two, and we chart everything,” said Els, who coordinates the Huskers' special teams.
Both Bondi and Smith have made one field goal so far, and Smith has attempted 18 of the 24 extra points. Bondi has handled all 29 kickoffs.
It's similar to the situation Nebraska experienced with its place-kicking duties during the 2004 season when Sandro DeAngelis and David Dyches fought for separation. There also was some uncertainty starting the 2007 season with Alex Henery and Adi Kunalic before Henery ultimately won the place-kicking job and Kunalic handled kickoffs.
Els basically has been saying since the start of preseason practice that the Bondi-Smith competition has been too close to call.
“We're going to keep rotating those guys, I think,” he said. “I don't know, maybe that'll change — maybe we'll settle on one — but statistically there's not a big difference, so we want to keep both guys ready to go.”
How hard are they making the evaluations? Els told a crowd of 150 at the Ramada Plaza Omaha Hotel and Convention Center that Bondi might have the better leg, but Smith is actually better on the longer field goals and Bondi more efficient from close up.
Smith graduated last May from Western Illinois and transferred over the summer. Els said Smith first sent a DVD to the NU football office, and the timing was right as the Huskers were looking for somebody to compete with Bondi after losing All-Big Ten kicker and punter Brett Maher.
“So we said, 'OK, let's take a look at it,' ” Els said.
Els said Bondi has been effective on kickoffs, notching a Big Ten-best 20 touchbacks (on 29 kicks). Els said the Huskers' preference is to take the touchback and force teams to start at the 25-yard line rather than test the risk/reward of a return.
“Kickoff team has been kind of boring, and I love it,” he said.
Some other breakfast items Friday:
Ľ The Nebraska staff got its first glimpse of punter Sam Foltz last season when the redshirt freshman was on the scout team. Els said Foltz was awkward and not very fundamentally sound, “but, man, could he hit it when he hit it right.”
Ľ Redshirt freshman receiver Jordan Westerkamp was back on punt returns in the South Dakota State game and will be there again Saturday.
Ľ Els said the NU special teams will have their antenna up against Illinois. “These guys are nuts. We'll see a fake on Saturday.”
Ľ There's plenty left to shake out at linebacker, but Els said his position is well-stocked with David Santos, Zaire Anderson, Josh Banderas, Nathan Gerry, Michael Rose and Jared Afalava (not to mention redshirts): “You'll probably continue to see all six guys. I love the depth. I did not like last year where Compton, Whaley and Fisher had to play every single snap. If the same people are taking 60, 70 snaps a game, that's too many.”
Ľ Els said the defense can't use youth as an excuse anymore: “It's conference season … your baptism is over.”
Ľ Communication continues to be a focal point, Els said, and was an emphasis during the bye week. “Talk it out. Talk. Quit assuming the guy next to you knows what to do.”