Spring Grades - Specialists

With the spring game now in their review mirror, the Wisconsin Badgers turn their focus to their 2009 season opener against Northern Illinois, which is just over 135 short days away. After letting the dust settle, Badger Nation publisher Benjamin Worgull breaks down the positions post spring.

MADISON - A year ago, head coach Bret Bielema didn't mince words when he said that Wisconsin was searching for a consistent punter and kicker to step out before the start of the 2008 season.

Times have certainly changed, as the Badgers have little to worry about when it comes to the kicking game and sophomore kicker Phil Welch and punter Bradley Nortman in 2009.

After beating out now-departed Matt Fisher last season for the field goal and kickoff position, Welch was pretty solid all year long, connecting on 20-of-24 field goals and being named a first-team Freshman All-American.

In the spring game, Welch missed his only field goal attempt when his 51-yard try from the middle of the field fell just short.

During Wisconsin's rapid-fire kicking segment, however, Welch went 7-for-8, missing a 47 yarder from the left hash but making a 55-yard boot from the same side of the field.

"Phil lacks no confidence," Bielema said. "I asked him where he was good from and he said 60 both ways. He's stroking the ball well."

The one area that Bielema wants to see improvement from Welch is the kickoff game. Unlike his predecessor, Taylor Mehlhaff, Welch does not have success when he puts all his strength and trying to boot it as far as he can in his kickoff attempts.

Averaging 30.4 yards on his attempts with no touchbacks, Bielema wants to see Welch hold back a little bit in order to have more control and more strength.

"The one area I need to see him improve to help us is the kickoff game," Bielema said. "Phil is very confident and we're in the process of trying to find out how we can use him best in the kickoff regime."

With Fischer choosing to leave the program to pursue a degree at Cornell, the Badgers added kicker Pat Hughes from Marquette (Wis.) high school to the roster to back up Welch.

Hughes didn't attempt a field goal and attempted only one kickoff (40 yards), but had eight chances in the rapid-fire kicking game. Hughes, who contacted UW a year ago in hopes of walking on to the team, still looks a little rusty. He went 6-for-8, didn't attempt a field goal longer than 32 yards and his two misses were awful shanks from 25 yards out.

After Ken DeBauche graduated and his younger brother Brad didn't work, Nortman basically earned the starting role before he even stepped on campus. Hailing from Brookfield (Wis.) and possessing a solid leg, Nortman did above average in his first year, averaging 42.4 yards per punt and knocking 16 punts inside the 20-yard line.

"Brad has tremendous strength and you can see that with the way the ball pops off his foot," Bielema said. "He's got to get more consistent and that comes from getting better mentally. He's got to be able to focus in on the detail. Once you do it once you should be able to do every time."

David Gilreath is all set to return kicks and punts for his third season. Gilreath has yet to return a kick for a touchdown, but the junior's 1,751 kickoff return yards rank third all-time in school history.

Projected Depth Chart

Kicker

1) Philip Welch, Sophomore

2) Pat Hughes, Freshman

Punter

1) Brad Nortman, Sophomore

2) Ryan Wickesberg, Freshman

Long Snapper

1) Drew Woodward, Senior

2) Kyle Wojta, Sophomore

Holder

1) Chris Maragos, Senior

2) Brad Nortman, Sophomore

Returners

1) David Gilreath, Junior

2) Isaac Anderson, Junior


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