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Wisconsin football fall camp 2019: special teams recap

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Which specialists stood out, and who will be kicking, punting and returning the ball this year for the Badgers.

Capital One Orange Bowl - Miami v Wisconsin Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Wisconsin’s control of field position and time of possession, when paired with a strong special teams unit, can be tough to overcome for opposing teams. But that wasn’t the way it played out last year, as almost completely across the board the special teams struggled. With some familiar faces gaining a year’s worth of experience, and some new players primed for bigger roles, the special teams hopes to be better in 2019.

After seeing seven practices Bucky’s 5th Quarter has a breakdown of the sights and sounds of camp, as well as what to possibly expect when the team heads down to open the season against South Florida on August 30th.

Punters

Last season both Anthony Lotti and Connor Allen saw action as punter, with neither player producing to the level that people hoped, including themselves, with a mere average net of 32.7 yards. Lotti has earned the bulk of the time punting with the first team unit and has struck the ball better than a season ago. While I don’t envision him averaging 50 yards per punt, I do believe there should be improvement in the punting department, as Lotti battled injuries last season. Both Allen and Lotti are seniors, while sophomore Conor Schlichting has also gotten work as a reserve punter.

Kickers

Entering fall camp head coach Paul Chryst noted at Wisconsin football media day that the place kicking competition was wide open. After seeing the pendulum swing back and forth between senior Zach Hintze and sophomore Collin Larsh, Larsh appeared to have taken hold of that competition this past week. He posted back to back days in which he was the first guy out while being perfectly accurate on his attempts.

Larsh has been pretty accurate from all over the field within 50 yards, while Hintze has the stronger leg and has shown the ability to make kicks beyond this threshold. I think that the two players will each be called upon this season, with Larsh commanding most of the kicks, and Hintze kicking the longer tries. After a season in which Wisconsin only connected on 62% of their field goal opportunities, the unit seems improved.

Hintze will also likely be the kickoff specialist, a spot that can definitely use his strong leg. Freshman Blake Wilcox will probably redshirt this season, but he is a big kid with a great leg, and looks to be the future at the position.

Long snapper & holder

While they are not the flashiest positions, everyone notices if they mess up. Junior Adam Bay will continue to be the long snapper, a role he has had since enrolling at Wisconsin out of Arizona.

At holder, backup punter Conor Allen has been the guy with the first team unit, regardless of who is kicking.

Punt Return

Last season Wisconsin was one of the worst punt return units in the nation, totaling only 94 yards in punt return yardage for a meager five and half yards per return. Jack Dunn handled most of the returns last season, and as of now will likely maintain that duty this season. The junior return man seems to be more comfortable than a season ago, and has had a tremendous camp at receiver.

There is hope that he can improve from last year and help a struggling unit. Other players who have been seen catching punts are Danny Davis and Aron Cruickshank, though Dunn has gotten most of the work.

Kickoff Return

A season ago Aron Cruickshank averaged 20.5 yards per kickoff return. With a touchback resulting in the ball being spotted at the 25 yard line, that is a number that needs to be better in 2019. Now a sophomore, Cruickshank appears ready to improve upon last season, and show the playmaking ability that he has.

Although he is slight of build at only 161 pounds, he possesses fantastic speed and quickness, a big reason for him being a heavily recruited prospect out of high school. While we have not seen fully live kickoff returns in practice during fall camp, Cruickshank has had a good camp and I think he will shine more in the season to come.