Spring Game Analysis: Specialists

With head coach Bret Bielema giving the kickers plenty of opportunities to get a leg up on the starting job, both the kickers and punters in camp show coaches and fans that something needs to get fixed.

MADISON – If this is what life after Taylor Mehlhaff and Ken DeBauche is going to be like, Wisconsin fans are going to be in for a long, frustrating and stressful season.

With the Badgers seeking a suitable replacement to fill the kicking shoes of the All-American kicker, junior Matt Fischer and freshman Phil Welch have waited for their opportunity to show that they're the guy the Badgers are looking for.

Although both consistent throughout camp kicking field goals indoors, the transition to the outdoors wasn't as smooth as probably either would have hoped for.

Kicking from distances ranging from extra points to 40-plus yards, Fischer went 5-for-9 kicking field goals and Welch went 6-for-10, making a long of 48 yards, on Saturday in only the third practice Wisconsin has had outdoors this season.

"I have a pretty good idea what I did wrong," Fischer said. "I misplaced my plant foot and was doing something with my steps that was messing me up a little big. I am making a few changes with my mechanics and now it's about repetitions."

With Bret Bielema wanting to give both Fischer and Welch a dose of game experience, Wisconsin gave each kicker for field-goal attempts at the start of the second and fourth quarter, giving them a feel of kicking in a stadium occupied with fans and fans will get their first look at what is to come.

Kicking from the each hash and the center of the field, Fischer made two kicks from 25 yards and one each from 19 and 35 yards while Welch made kicks from 22, 25, 35 and 48 yards.

After kicking only a handful of times in the last two spring games, Fischer easily tripled his kicking output while Welch got his first stadium experience, as both were big proponents of Bielema's idea to involve the kickers more.

"I think that was great," Fischer said. "The previous two spring games I kicked only twice. It makes it a lot more interesting and it's a better body of work to look at for the coaches."

During the course of the game, Fischer missed his first attempt (35 yards) with the second unit after a high snap forced him to shorten his steps before following through. He came back strong and hit a 26 yarder in the fourth quarter.

"You can't fault anyone," Fischer said. "Everybody's out there trying as hard as they can."

Welch made a 22- and 40-yard field goal during game action but during the second set of rapid-fire field goals, Welch badly missed his last three field goals attempts wide left, with one of his attempts landing in the first row of students.

While the kicking wasn't as successful as he hoped Saturday, Bielema has liked what both kickers have done in the 14 practices leading up to the spring game.

"It was the first time all eyes were on them and ironically, I think the first segment went better than the second," Bielema said. "I don't know if it those guys had more time to think about it. We're going to settle in on that situation so those guys can work together throughout the summer. We've got to continue to move forward. It's a new kicker and punter just like we're getting a new quarterback."

Moreover when Bielema was asked what play stood out to him, he was quick to mention Ken DeBauche's punt to a UW Student, who caught the punt and won season tickets to every UW sporting event next season. Yep, the punting game left much to be desired.

Ironically, it was Ken's little brother Brad that caused the coach's headaches.

Punting five times, DeBauche only averaged 35.4 yards per punts with a long of 55 yards and a short of 23.

"Obviously the punting game, if we had to punt out there today, it's something that wouldn't be very positive for us right now," Bielema said. "Brad for us at times as turned the ball very well and executed for us over the course of the spring. If you drop the ball the way he was today, you're not going to have much production."

Bielema was also quick to chime in about his excitement on Brookfield Central Brad Nortman joining the team in the June, which shows that DeBauche's days could be numbered. The fourth-best punter in the country according to Scout, it seems that if Nortman performs halfway decent, he'll be the guy.

"We're excited about the opportunity of Brad Nortman," Bielema said. "He's a guy that we signed to come in and see what he brings to the table."

Hopefully between now and August, things will get straighten out in the kicking game or Bielema and the Badgers might be looking at more fourth-down conversions attempts than they would care to have.

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