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Kenzel Doe embracing leadership role among Wisconsin wide receivers

All of a sudden, Kenzel Doe is a senior and the top candidate to lead Wisconsin's receivers.

Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

MADISON -- When Wisconsin begins fall camp Monday, it will do so without a clear-cut No. 1 wide receiver. But that doesn't seem to bother head coach Gary Andersen and wide receivers coach Chris Beatty.

To replace Jared Abbrederis, who set a school record in receptions with 78 in 2013 and finished second all-time in receiving yards before being selected in the fifth round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers, the Badgers must find a collective effort from top to bottom. Several able bodies are present, but the leader in terms of experience is senior Kenzel Doe.

"I've asked him to look at those young receivers and understand that they can help this team and they can help him as a player as he's moved forward," head coach Gary Andersen said at the team's media day on Friday. "He's done that. On a personal standpoint, he's his best as far as weight room, his strength.

"Expect him to be a playmaker. It's his job to do that. But it's also our job to include him within the offense and give him some opportunities to make some plays."

Throughout his playing career as a Badger, Doe hasn't had too many opportunities to make plays from the wide receiver position. The North Carolina native has 25 receptions for 182 yards and no touchdowns, yet when he's made his mark on special teams, it's been a big one. In 2013, Doe was tied for best kickoff return average in the Big Ten and ranked 17th nationally, averaging 26.5 yards per return. Not to mention, his kickoff return against South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl was Wisconsin's first since David Gilreath's against Ohio State in 2010. It was also UW's first kickoff touchdown return in a bowl game.

But Doe is just one man; he'll need help from those behind him on the depth chart to keep the offense afloat this year. Redshirt sophomore Alex Erickson, who sat out the spring with a knee injury suffered against the Gamecocks, is a viable option and redshirt junior Jordan Frederick has experience, seeing action in 27 games over the past two seasons. Beyond that, the corp is based on potential, and while the potential looks promising combined with the fact that Beatty said the freshman receivers didn't come to Wisconsin to redshirt, there's no experience in big-time games. Doe didn't seem to care, though, on Friday.

"It motivates me because I read that stuff like, all the time, just to get that motivation," Doe said. "I don't want to be the group to say, 'Oh, they're established.' No, we're not. I want y'all to expect that we're not going to do anything so when we do come out there, then it's a big surprise. Being from the inside and not from the outside, I know the work that us receivers put in each and every day to try and be better."

Andersen shared a similar mindset, believing that there was a certain comfort level Beatty has found among his wide receivers.

"Those guys will step up and make plays when it's their time to," Beatty said. "[The older guys] feel a sense of  urgency because they hear what the media says and all that stuff. I think, at the same time, they know I've got confidence in them.

"They've made those plays before. When Jared went down against Northwestern, we still scored three more touchdowns and when he goes down against Iowa, we still scored two more touchdowns. That's just part of it. I think, those guys, when their number gets called, they'll make plays."