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2014 Wisconsin football preview: Rafael Gaglianone pushing for Badgers' kicker job

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Has Jack Russell already surrendered his starting kicker job?

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The Wisconsin Badgers' kicking game looks to rebound after struggling with consistency for the second consecutive year in 2013. The departed Kyle French and the returning Jack Russell combined to go 14-of-21 on field goals a year after going 10-of-18.

Despite those misses, the 2013 season will be remembered far more for the field goal the kickers didn't get to attempt thanks to the referees inexplicably allowing 16 seconds to run off the clock to end the Arizona State game.

In some twisted type of irony, Wisconsin's next field goal attempt would come from almost the same spot the ASU game ended. The Camp Randall Stadium crowd's reaction was almost palpable; a collective murmur, smirk and shake of the head. When French knocked it through, there was almost an air of disappointment. "Of course he piped it."

Then came the point where any successful field goal felt like a gift. That uneasy feeling makes the kicker position uncharacteristically polarizing heading into fall camp.

Kicker

Jack Russell returns after making nine of his 13 field goal attempts a year ago. That isn't terrible, but it certainly wasn't good enough to lock up the job, either. This led Gary Andersen to invest a scholarship in freshman Rafael Gaglianone, hoping a reliable kicker would emerge from the competition.

Not far into fall camp, it appears Gaglianone has done just that. His booming makes were the talk of Wisconsin's first fall scrimmage last Sunday.

Gaglianone grew up in Brazil playing soccer before moving to Tennessee. There, he gave kicking a football a try and ended up becoming the state's Mr. Football Kicker of the Year after converting 10 of 14 field goals, including a 57-yarder.

Gaglianone's strong leg also puts him in the conversation for kickoff duties. Andrew Endicott returns after handling the bulk of the job last year, but it's another area Wisconsin could use improvement in. The team's 60.22 yards per kickoff and 17.65 touchback percentage ranked 88th and 116th in the nation last year, respectively.

Hopefully for Wisconsin, Gaglianone is the kicking savior that he appears to be. If not, at least the team has a couple of experienced backups to fall back on.

Punter

Drew Meyer returns for his third season as the team's starting punter. He has proven to be very solid over the course of his career, but did appear to take a minor step back last season.

After averaging 41.5 yards per attempt (37.6 net) and pinning 45 percent of his punts inside the 20-yard line as a freshman, Meyer's average dropped to 38.6 (35.7 net) and only 36 percent of his punts ended up inside the 20. Granted, much of that has to do with his freshman season being really, really good.

I wouldn't complain if we saw another punting game like the one last year, especially considering we saw the unit on the field 27 fewer times. However, it would be a boost if Meyer can boom a couple more out like he was able to his freshman year.

It's also worth noting that Wisconsin's coverage teams did a good job last year. In particular, the kickoff coverage team made up for the lack of kick yardage by allowing 19.3 yards per return, good for 24th-best in the country. The punt coverage unit ranked in the top half, with neither unit giving up a touchdown.