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Wisconsin football fall camp 2019: special teams preview

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Who is going to replace our Brazilian baby boy at kicker?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 06 Nebraska at Wisconsin
Special teamers are friends
Photo by Dan Sanger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Fall camp for the Wisconsin Badgers has gotten underway so it is time for us to speculate wildly as to what the divvying up of reps during practice means for the depth chart come August 30th. Over the next two weeks we will be previewing each position group so that you’ll have an idea of what to expect once the season actually kicks off.

We start with the most important unit for any B1G team that is in the same division as Iowa: special teams.

It is a tradition unlike any other. An annual rite of spring and fall. My love letter to Rafael Gaglianone and the Wisconsin special teams unit would appear on Bucky’s 5th Quarter, like clockwork, around spring and fall practice. This year, I was unsure if I even wanted to write a special teams preview.

Maybe omitting it would be the proper way to show respect to Gaglianone, the greatest kicker and dancer this program has ever seen, who had exhausted his eligibility in Madison and moseyed on down the dusty trail in 2018, I thought. But I don’t think that’s what Gaglianone would want. He, maybe more than anyone, wants to see Wisconsin’s special teams succeed. To reach new heights. To kick a 60-yard field goal to beat Iowa 3-2.

With a heightened resolve I sat down to write this fall 2019 special teams preview on Monday night and I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed watching Gaglianone kick the ol’ pigskin.

2018 Statistical Leaders

  • Rafael Gaglianone: 48-for-48 on extra points, 10-for-17 on field goals, long of 42 yards
  • Anthony Lotti: 32 punts, 1234 yards (38.5 yards per punt), long of 63 yards
  • Zach Hintze: 66 kickoffs, 54 touchbacks
  • Jack Dunn: 17 punt returns, 94 yards (5.53 yards per return), long of 15 yards
  • Aron Cruickshank: 26 returns, 533 yards (20.5 yards per return), long of 34 yards

2019 Roster

  • Punters: Connor Allen (RS-SR); Anthony Lotti (SR); Conor Schlichting (RS-SO)
  • Kickers: Zach Hintze (RS-SR); Collin Larsh (RS-SO); Blake Wilcox (FR)
  • Longsnappers: Josh Bernhagen (RS-JR); Adam Bay (JR); Peter Bowden (FR)
  • Returners: Jack Dunn (RS-JR); Danny Davis (JR); Aron Cruickshank (SO); Faion Hicks (RS-SO); Isaac Guerendo (RS-FR); A.J. Abbott (RS-FR)

2019 Special Teams Projected Depth Chart

Position Starter Backup
Position Starter Backup
Place kicker Collin Larsh Zach Hintze
Kickoff specialist Zach Hintze Collin Larsh
Punter Anthony Lotti Connor Allen
Kick returner Aron Cruickshank Isaac Guerendo
Punt returner Jack Dunn Danny Davis
Longsnapper Adam Bay Josh Bernhagen

2019 Position Discussion/Overview

So, you may have noticed that outside of Gaglianone everyone returns from 2018’s special teams unit. Roster continuity is usually seen as a good thing, for instance it is good that Jonathan Taylor is back and playing running back again, but in this specific case it may not be a “good thing.”

The Badgers were bad at special teams last year. In every aspect, except for extra point percentage which they were tied for first in the country at 100%! I am just going to pull a quote from my spring preview of the special teams:

Wisconsin’s special teams were dreadful last year. The Badgers ranked 125th (out of 130 FBS teams) in special teams S&P+ behind such college football powerhouses as Tulsa, UTEP, and Northwestern.

The Badgers were 101st in Special Teams Efficiency, they were 91st in kickoff return average, 115th in punt return average, 111th in field goal percentage, tied for first in extra point percentage though, a-holes, 129th in net punting (JESUS THAT’S BAD!), 123rd in punting average, and finally, they were last in the country in positive tweets sent by fans when they were on the field.

Where does that leave the Badgers? Well, it leaves them with nowhere to go but up. While returning a bunch of dudes that didn’t have a great year may seem all bad, it can quickly turn around if they used their year of experience to get better. During B1G Media Days Paul Chryst noted as much to Rivals Jake Kocorowski. “I think we got to be better with that unit, and I think we got an opportunity to be better in all our special teams,” Chryst said.

As far as projecting the depth chart goes, everyone is basically in their same spot as last year. Bay might be the best long snapper in the conference (country?), Lotti had a nice bounce back performance in the Pinstripe Bowl after losing his job midseason, Dunn has, for the love of God, hopefully learned how to fair catch, Hintze was one of the best kickoff specialists in the nation last year and Cruickshank has the shiftiness and speed that every team wants out of their kick returner.

There are two areas that I want to focus on, though. First, I think Guerendo can win the backup kick returning job with a good fall camp. I haven’t seen him listed as the backup anywhere else online, but I am placing a lot of hope in this quote from Taylor.

And I really like this highlight from his senior season in high school. He can break tackles, he has great vision and then he runs away from everybody. Basically the ideal skill set for a kick returner.

Secondly, the place kicker position is going to be quite important. Hintze is the guy with the stronger leg, but Larsh was the guy getting all of the first attempts in spring practice. Reports from the last day of spring practice had Larsh making one field goal but missing two, which isn’t ideal, but all signs point to him being the top place kicker still.

Gaglianone struggled last year, which was as hard to type as it was to watch, and more consistency is needed from Wisconsin’s place kicker in 2019. If Larsh can provide 70% accuracy on field goals Paul Chryst will be happy. Anything higher and he may be angling for a spot on an all-conference team.

Here’s to hoping next year when we are writing this piece everything is positive and we are discussing how the Badgers can possibly improve on their best special teams season in school history.