Fall Camp Guide: special teams

Starters return across the board but that will not eliminate competition

Starters returning – punt returner Jim Leonhard, 5-8, 183, Sr. (904 career yards, 12.9 average, three touchdowns); kick returner Brandon Williams, 5-11, 175, Jr. (1,296 yards, 21.2 per attempt average); punter/holder R.J. Morse, 6-1, 246, Sr. (39.3-yard career average); place kicker Mike Allen, 6-2, 182, Sr. (151 career points. 70-for-74 on extra points, 27-for-40 field goals); long snapper Matt Katula, 6-6, 281, Sr.

More key returnees – punter Ken DeBauche, 6-2, 209, R-Fr.

Also in the mix – punter/holder Paul Standring, 6-1, 206, R-Fr.; holder Tyler Donovan, 6-1, 185, R-Fr.; kick returner Booker Stanley, 5-10, 206, So.; kick returner Zach Hampton, 5-10, 170, So.; kick returner Scott Starks, 5-10, 176, Sr.; long snapper Steve Johnson, 6-3, 242, R-Fr.

Newcomers – kicker Taylor Mehlhaff, 5-11, 180, Fr.; punter/kicker Adam Schober, 5-11, 180, Fr.; kick and punt returner Marcus Randle El, 5-10, 180, Fr.; punt returner Antonio Freeman, 6-0, 185, Fr.; long snapper Dave Peck, 6-5, 225, Fr.

Departures – kicker Scott Campbell, holder Matt Schabert, kick returner Ernest Mason.

Top marks in 2003 – Leonhard (470 yards, 13.8 average, 2 touchdowns); Williams (626 yards, 21.6); Morse (40.7 average, 15 inside 20) and Allen (9-for-12 field goals; 32-for-34 extra points).

Reasons to be excited – There is depth, experience and competition for kicking positions. R.J. Morse improved significantly last season but will have to work hard to keep Ken DeBauche and Adam Schober off the field. Mike Allen is healthy after being nagged by injuries last year. Jim Leonhard is quite possibly the best punt returner in the country and Brandon Williams can be explosive as a kick returner. Taylor Mehlhaff is expected to take over as the kickoff specialist and has a reputation for booming kicks.

Cause for trepidation – The kicking game has found a way to be mediocre at best in recent seasons. Wisconsin's coverage units were a sieve early last season. Morse missed all of spring workouts with an undisclosed injury. Mehlhaff is only a freshman. There is little developed depth at kick and punt returner.

Camp questions – Who wins the punting job? This will be ongoing throughout camp.

Who backs up for Leonhard and Williams as returners? Currently, Marcus Randle El is No. 2 at both positions, with Antonio Freeman also fielding punts. In addition, Scott Starks, Booker Stanley and Zach Hampton have been working out at kick returner.

How confidant will the Badgers be in their place kicking come Sept. 4? Mike Allen is good from within 40 yards. But Wisconsin is short of options from longer range.

Player on the rise – DeBauche. He had a very good spring while Morse was out and he should push for the top job.

Player on the spot – Morse. Despite showing improvement last year he has not beaten back DeBauche's challenge completely. Morse is still inconsistent in practice, which could cost him his job in his final season.

Forecast – Mike Allen will be Mike Allen. A dependable short-range and medium-range kicker who is limited on long-distance kicks. The Badgers will likely give kickoff specialist Mehlhaff a chance on long kicks. DeBauche will push Morse to the brink in camp but the senior will keep his job in the end. Leonhard and Williams will continue to lead an outstanding return game.

BadgerNation.com projected depth chart

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