2013 Wisconsin Spring Football: The special teams

Can Kyle French get redemption? - Mary Langenfeld-US PRESSWIRE

In which we come not to bury the 2012 special teams. Not completely, anyway. And we offer hopes for 2013.

I think we all remember the Penn State game. I know I do. It was the day I, after proclaiming myself a man of science, finally grew weary of what exactly the heck our old coaching staff was trying to do. I was done. I wanted answers. I wanted Matt Canada's head on a pike.

(Of course the next week Matt Canada called a triumphant game on the offensive side of the ball because last year was a freaking roller coaster.)

But what was the last play of the Penn State debacle? It was a Kyle French missed field goal. His fifth on the year. His second consecutive game where you could consider the consistent yips of a place kicker that left twenty points on the field as a direct correlation as to why the Badgers lost the game. He ended up missing one more the next week. (That was thankfully easily forgotten.)

But unfortunately, Kyle French, and to a lesser extent Jack Russell were the faces of incompetence for a unit that, with only average success from the place-kicking, would have been considered very good. Kenzel Doe's punt return against Utah State proved to be enough to save the Badgers. The Badgers had a top 25 kick coverage unit, and for a punt coverage unit that was entirely too busy? A 35th place average can be considered one that's a good effort.

Drew Meyer wasn't among the top punters in terms of yardage in the country. But if you have a 41.5 gross against a 6.4 net? And you have to punt enough that two returns a game are generated. You're punting well. Not eye-popping. But you're punting well.

Spring Depth Chart

K) Kyle French -- 6-foot-1. 199 pounds, RS Junior
2) Jack Russell -- 6-foot-0, 172 pounds, Sophomore
3) Stephen Salata -- 6-foot-1, 197 pounds, RS Sophomore

P) Drew Meyer -- 6-foot-2, 182 pounds, RS Sophomore
2) Matt Salerno -- 6-foot-2, 193 pounds, RS Freshman
3) Brett Nethery -- 6-foot-2, 195 pounds, RS Freshman

LS) James McGuire -- 6-foot-1, 214 pounds, RS Junior
2) Connor Udelhoven -- 6-foot-0, 223 pounds, RS Freshman

KR) Melvin Gordon -- 6-foot-1, 203 pounds, RS Sophomore
2) Kenzel Doe -- 5-foot-8, 171 pounds, Junior
3) James White -- 5-foot-10, 197 pounds, Senior

PR) Jared Abbrederis -- 6-foot-2, 185 pounds, RS Senior
2) Kenzel Doe -- 5-foot-8, 171 pounds, Junior
3) James White -- 5-foot-10, 197 pounds, Senior

Strengths

The good news? There are home run threats on the return game. Doe and Abbrederis both have a return touchdown to their credit and we all know that Melvin Gordon is a threat to score anytime he touches the ball. It's entirely possible we could get touchdown returns on a more than once a year basis.

We don't know just how much better that Drew Meyer is going to be. But we've already seen that he has a reasonably solid floor. If he doesn't improve, the Badgers are at the very least fine at the position. Nothing wrong with fine.

The kicking game should be better. On entropy alone, it should be. A team doesn't consistently kick only 55 percent of its field goals successfully. And if there are still yips between French and Russell? The good news is that Gary Andersen has none of the reason Bret Bielema seemingly did in not going to Stephen Salata.

Not to say that he's the answer. But it was a veritable Hobson's choice on the most superficial of scales last year.

Weaknesses

If the likely happens and French or Russell win the placekicking job. They are going to have the short leash. A miss here and we're going to want the other guy. A miss there? And we're going to want Salata. Logically the kicking game's going to swing back into the Badger's favor.

But past indicators do not predicate future events. And if the Badgers go 12 of 18 in the place kicking game? That would fit my indicator of improvement. And it would satisfy no one.

The fact that three of the most important skill players are also looking to be in line to field kicks and punts, while not in and of itself a concern, puts a little more peril into the way the season could go. If Abbrederis or Gordon were to go down? That would be devastating. I would not be surprised if they come in and see if a freshman (Jakarrie Washington would be my guess) come and take some of the pressure off of the starters.

Also, while Jeff Genyk is someone who I'm glad was hired as a tight ends coach? Recent history has shown his special teams units to have some troubles on kick coverage. He led the 122nd ranked unit in yard allowed per kickoff in 2012, and his punt unit was 83rd. He also struggled in 2010 (84th, and 108th respectively).

Now of course that was on the two Cal teams that went 5-7 and 3-9, the last of which forced Genyk to seek employment elsewhere. Logically, the talent level for the Badgers should be higher than that of a bad Pacific-12 team. But it's enough to warrant some concern from me.

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