Fall Camp Preview: Special Teams

After being spoiled over the last four years with a reliable kicker and punter, Wisconsin will need to break in two new specialists for the 2012 season.

This is the eighth in a series of eight previews leading up to the Wisconsin football team's Aug. 6 start of practice.

July 30: Quarterbacks

July 31: Running backs

Aug 1: Receivers

Aug 2: Offensive linemen

Aug. 3: Defensive linemen

Aug. 3: Defensive linemen

Aug. 4: Linebackers

Aug. 5: Defensive backs

Aug. 6: Specialists

Projected starters: Kicker Kyle French (redshirt sophomore), punter Drew Meyer (redshirt freshman), kick returner James White (junior), punt returner Jared Abbrederis (redshirt junior).

Key backups: Kicker Jack Russell (freshman), punter Matt Salerno (freshman), kick returner Kenzel Doe (sophomore).

The breakdown:

After four years of suitable comfort, Wisconsin will have to break in a new kicker and punter for the 2012 season. That will be easier said than done.

During his career, kicker Phillip Welch made 59 of 76 field goal attempts (77.6 percent) and 207 of 211 extra points (98.1 percent). He left the school ranked second in career field goals made, and his 384 career points were the second most by a kicker in the Big Ten. Punter Brad Nortman was equally impressive in his 52 career games, ranking third in school history with a career punting average of 42.1 yards and fifth with 199 punts.

French got his first taste of action at the beginning of last season when Welch was nursing a leg injury. Playing in seven games throughout the season, French went 3-for-5 on his field goal attempts and 26-for-27 on his extra point attempts. He was just as impressive in the spring game, hitting eight of nine attempts.

"I knew that I was going to be the only kicker coming into this spring after Alec told us he was leaving the program," French said after the spring game. "I just wanted to focus on the mental side of kicking and a couple mechanics here and there."

The main mechanics were with his leg strength, which French said is a lot stronger after working with assistant strength coach Brian Bott. Doing a lot of quick muscle drills, French said he added to 3-to-4 yards on his attempts and had a comfortable range of 55 yards.

"You rather have a nice warm day with no wind, but the mental side of kicking makes you try and push that aside," said French. "You can't worry about the conditions around you."

He also can't worry about the new kicker that is aiming to take his job as a true freshman. Russell was impressive during the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association all-star game this summer at UW-Oshkosh, booting seven of his eight kickoffs into the end zone, made all four extra points and drilled field goals of 36, 29 and 49 yards.

Wisconsin could go the same route with him that they did when Taylor Mehlhaff was a true freshman – assigning him to kickoffs only and having him work into the field goal position.

Meyer was primarily a kicker coming out of Hartland (Wis.) Arrowhead where he went 16-for-28 on field goals in his career with a long of 50 yards and was 74-of-76 on extra points. He redshirted last season and averaged 35.9 yards on eight punts during the spring game, hardly impressive numbers on what was a windy, rainy day.

"We're working together for the first time," French said of Meyer (his holder) and James McGuire (the new long snapper). "We all feel very confident in our abilities, so now it's a matter of putting it all together."

While the kicking game is in flux, the Badgers should be set with their returns, especially with Jared Abbrederis back and healthy. Abbrederis averaged 24.6 yards per kickoff return and 15.8 yards on punt returns, which ranked third nationally, and brought one kick back for a touchdown. Abbrederis' career averages for kickoff returns (25.8) and punt returns (14.1) are both school records.

Depending on the status of Montee Ball, running back James White could be back handling kick returns as well. Last season, he returned 15 kickoffs for an average of 21.0 yards.


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