March 22, 2011

Spring outlook: Special teams

When David Gilreath stepped foot on the Camp Randall Stadium turf as a freshman it didn't take long for him to become an electrifying kick return specialist. Now, knowing Gilreath has played his final game in the cardinal and white, it seems as though the Badger coaching staff has a sort of replica in mind.

Kenzel Doe, the only scholarship member of the 2011 recruiting class that enrolled early, seems to be making quite the first impression even though he's had an issue with a broken hand.

"He's a guy that was kind of under-recruited," UW head coach Bret Bielema said during his pre-Spring football press conference. "He didn't have a division one offer coming out of high school. He decided to pursue the (Military school) option and it worked out well. He came to our camp and we really fell in love with him and continued to recruit him.

"He's not the tallest guy on campus but he's pretty firmed up. He's got good body weight and physically, some of the stuff he's been able to do this winter conditioning has been off the charts. I'm really excited to see him once we put the pads on."

Even at this early of a juncture, it seems as though Doe is the frontrunner to be the featured kickoff return and punt return man entering August's fall camp. It will be interesting to see how he handles those responsibilities.

Other than that, the key special team areas will likely be pretty set. Philip Welch and punt-fake extraordinaire Brad Nortman are both back for their senior years. Welch, following a somewhat up and down sophomore season, was pretty solid throughout the year.

Though he did have a crucial miss in UW's Rose Bowl loss to TCU, he still set records for extra points attempted and tied the school record for extra point accuracy (100 percent). His 118 points is an all-time high for UW kickers.

He'll be a solid choice for pre-season accolades at least on the conference level, if not nationally.

The same could be said for Nortman. The lanky senior averaged a career best 42.7 yards per punt. Because UW's offense was so successful for so much of the season, Nortman attempted a career low 38 attempts throughout the year. He did pin 14 of those 38 attempts inside the 20 yard line, including one that was blasted for a career-best 76 yards.

Alec Lerner, though he hit a pretty good onside kick late in the Rose Bowl, probably won't see many kicking opportunities next season considering Welch is in front of him. The same could be said for backup Kyle French. Both those guys will likely be competing for the No. 2 spot in the lineup in case something was to sprout up with Welch.

Kyle Wojta will return as UW's go-to long snapper. Wojta did tear his ACL leading into UW's game against Ohio State so he will likely miss time this spring as he recovers from that injury.

In the meantime, expect sophomore James McGuire to get the multitude of reps at the long snapper position.

NEW COACHING RESPONSIBILITIES:

-DeMontie Cross will be the lead coach in two of the four special teams units. The first-year Badger assistant will be in charge of punt return units and kickoff coverage units.

-Charlie Partridge will continue to coach punt coverage.

-Joe Rudolph will continue to coach the kickoff return units.

PROJECTED DEPTH CHART:

Punter:

BRAD NORTMAN - SR

Placekicker and Kickoff Specialist:

PHILIP WELCH - SR
ALEC LERNER - R-SOPH
KYLE FRENCH - R-FR

LS:

KYLE WOJTA - SR
JAMES MCGUIRE - SOPH

PR:

JARED ABBREDERIS - SOPH
OR
AARON HENRY - SR
OR
KENZEL DOE - FR

KR:

JAMES WHITE -SOPH
OR
JARED ABBREDERIS - SOPH
OR
KENZEL DOE - FR

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