Spring Position Preview: Specialists

While return man David Gilreath provides the stability among the specialists, the matter of replacing a kicker and punter provides the nervousness.

Starters returning: Sophomore David Gilreath

Other key returnees: Sophomore Maurice Moore

Starters departed: Ken DeBauche and Taylor Mehlhaff

Injured Players: None

2008 position coach: Bret Bielema

Spring storylines:

After four years of being spoiled with an All-American kicker and a school record-breaking punter, its time to face facts.

The kicking and punting positions for the University of Wisconsin are no longer secure; a thought that could make many a fan quite queasy.

And rightful so, as Wisconsin fans had little concern about the outstanding duo holding down the duties.

Kicker Taylor Mehlhaff, who earned All-American status from the American Football Coaches Association, leaves the Badgers second on the school's career scoring list (295), tied for second on career field goals list with 49 and second on school's career list for field goal percentage (.769).

While not earning as many accolades, Ken DeBauche still was a model of consistency punting the football. He broke former punter Kevin Stemke's punting averaging with a 44.8-yard average in 2005. He finished his career with the second-best average in school history and 9,975 punting yards (third place in school history).

Now the two kicking positions are going to be in the hands of two inexperienced players, no matter who wins the job.

Listed first on the depth chart is freshman Philip Welch, who used his redshirt season last year being the third kicker on the depth chart. A first-team EA Sports All-American and the 21st-ranked kicker in the nation according to Scout.com, Welch shattered the Colorado High School field goal record (15) and points (96) when he finished his season with 19 field goals and 106 points.

The 6-foot-3 187-pound Welch finished his senior season 19 of 22 on the year with a long of 56 yards, converted on 49 of 52 extra points with all three misses being blocks and 85 percent of his kickoffs resulting in touchbacks, drawing some comparison to Mehlhaff.

Backing up Mehlhaff the past two seasons, however, was junior kicker Matt Fischer, who walked on in 2006 to provide security for the Badgers should something happen to Mehlhaff. Fischer was a honorable mention all-state selection at Appleton East High School, making 7-of-10 field goals his senior season, including long of 46 yards.

Even though Ken DeBauche has graduated, the punting duties, for now, are going to stay within the family. Walking on to the team in fall 2007, Brad DeBauche is the only true punter currently in camp. A first-team all-conference selection as a junior and member of the second-team as a senior, Brad averaged over 37 yds per punt his final two seasons at Bay Port H.S. in northeast Wisconsin and has been solely handling the punting duties on special teams during spring camp.

While the kicking game currently is up for grabs, the return game is in the safe hands of sophomore David Gilreath.

Gilreath has a standout season returning both kickoffs and punts for Wisconsin. Played in all 12 games at WR and in return game and a first-team freshman Scout.com, Gilreath is the new proud owner of UW records for kickoff return yards in a season (962 and already ranks ninth on career list) and in a game (189 vs. Michigan State). Gilreath broke the record for kickoff return yards in just the team's ninth game.

Fielding punts, Gilreath lead the Big Ten with a 14-yard punt return average (fourth-best season average in UW history) and is without question, the return man for the Badgers.

While the Badgers are having Gilreath focus on wide receiver duties for the most part in spring camp, other Badgers catching punts have been sophomores Niles Brinkley, Daven Jones and Maurice Moore, although the team has yet to work extensively on returning kicks.


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