August 17 report, part 2

With less than two weeks before the season opener against West Virginia and less than one week of fall camp remaining, Badger Nation takes a look at five questions the Badgers will look to answer in the coming weeks.

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1.      Who will be punting?—The good news is that Wisconsin's punters have received positive reviews from coach Barry Alvarez. The question remains whether incumbent R.J. Morse or freshman Kenneth DeBauche will assume the punting duties this season. Morse certainly has the leg strength but was unproductive last season. The special teams should be quite good this season if the punting game can achieve some semblance of respectability.


2.      What form will the offense take?­—With so much talent the Badgers' options are virtually limitless. Wisconsin has the talent to become a pass-happy team, spreading the field with three or four receivers. Or the Badgers could just as easily line up with two tight ends and two backs, letting the road grinders up front lead the way for Wisconsin's fleet-footed running backs. The Badgers were willing to mix it up between these two extremes last year but the possibilities are far more varied this year. Dwayne Smith has a year under his belt and should be able to give Anthony Davis plenty of rest if the team chooses to pound it out. The receiving corps is deeper than a year ago and quarterback Jim Sorgi is more likely to stretch the field. It is mind-boggling how many different forms this offense could take. Last spring, the Badgers even instilled a two halfback set that puts Smith and Davis on the field together. Wisconsin will certainly make every effort to employ all its weapons, but what becomes the focus, and who becomes the go-to guy will have a huge bearing on the season. The cornucopia of opportunity, however, is a nice problem to have.


3.      Will the tight end position produce?—The Badgers lost probably their most talented tight end when Bob Docherty left the team this week. But Docherty had done little to realize that talent and appeared to have fallen to No. 3 on the depth chart. The top three tight ends now—junior Tony Paciotti, sophomore Jason Pociask and junior Mark Bell—have caught a total of one pass in their careers. They have played well this fall and have shown a variety of skills. It will remain to be seen, however, whether the position becomes more than a sixth linemen in the Badgers offense this season.


4.      Who has the kicks?—Wisconsin would like to take Jim Leonhard off punt return duties and would probably like to remove Brandon Williams as the primary kick returner. Both were extremely productive last season, but their talents are better used focusing at free safety and wide receiver, respectively. There is plenty of talent to use in the return positions, but who and when? Freshman Ernest Mason seems the most likely candidate on each accord. He is a burner with great hands and the quickness and vision necessary to find running lanes. Junior reserve running back Jerone Pettus has 12 career kick returns for 233 yards to his credit. Also in the mix for kick return duties are running backs Booker Stanley and Dwayne Smith.


5.      Which freshmen will contribute and who will redshirt?—A favorite quandary and subject of conjecture at this point in the preseason. Wisconsin is expected to make decisions on this mater next weekend. It appears thus far that the following freshmen are in the depth to an extent that it would make it unlikely for them to redshirt: LT Joe Thomas; WR/KR/PR Ernest Mason; P Ken DeBauche; LB Steven Johnson, who has worked out at long snapper; DE Justin Ostrowski. Still, it remains to be seen how much any of the above players will see the field in 2003 or whether any of their classmates will join them.

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