Gary Andersen witnessed Kenzel Doe's ability to return from the opposing sidelines in 2012 when the then-sophomore took a punt 82-yards to the house against Utah State. What Andersen, then the Aggies' head coach, probably didn't see was Doe lose the gig about a month later after some lackluster returns culminated with a couple misplays against Illinois.
This forced the invaluable Jared Abbrederis, who had a phenomenal 2011 season returning punts, back into the role. Abbrederis' responsibilities were clear: field the ball cleanly and for the love of everything Wisconsin, please don't get hurt.
Unfortunately for the Badgers, 2013 didn't get much better in that area. First, an injury to Doe caused Abbrederis to temporarily handle the punts. Then, Doe's drops once again haunted him and Abbrederis handled the duty for the final three games.
|DEPTH CHART: SPECIAL TEAMS|
|A.J. Jordan||RS JR||6'0||190||--||--||--|
On the bright side, Doe did have an excellent year returning kicks. He averaged 26.45 yards per kick return, ranking 19th in the country and second in the conference by .03 yards behind Nebraska's Kenny Bell. The highlight of the season came in the bowl game against South Carolina, when Doe took a kick and raced 91-yards down the sideline for a fourth-quarter touchdown.
Andersen recently pegged Doe for both jobs heading into his senior season.
"If we played tomorrow, he would do both," Andersen said on Friday.
Doe also appears destined for a bigger role in the offense, something that could influence the staff's willingness to risk him in the return game. A.J. Jordan, Natrell Jamerson and Corey Clement are reportedly getting looks behind him.
It would likely be a good sign if Doe is relieved of these duties prior to the season starting, meaning someone with no prior game experience looked good enough that the staff trusts them against LSU to open the season. After that point, it would probably take shaky ball-handling for Doe to lose the job.
But as it stands, it's Doe's job and he should be expected to hold it down throughout the season. If he can consistently field punts and provide last year's production on kicks, Wisconsin will have nothing to worry about. If his punt return problems from the previous seasons return, who knows if or when Wisconsin will find the answer.
Without Abbrederis as a safety net for punts or Kyle Zuleger for kicks, Doe needs to avoid lapses and make sure Wisconsin gets every opportunity to hand the ball to its Heisman Trophy contender in Melvin Gordon.