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Wisconsin football spring position preview: special teams

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I still miss Rafa, but there are new players to love and I must move on.

NCAA Football: Wisconsin at Illinois Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Returning players:

Kickers

Collin Larsh, redshirt junior, 5-foot-10, 184, pounds, No. 19

Blake Wilcox, redshirt freshman, 6-foot-4, 228 pounds, No. 28

Punters

Conor Schlichting, redshirt junior, 6-foot-2, 230 pounds, No. 97

Long snappers

Adam Bay, senior, 6-foot, 234 pounds, No. 51

Josh Bernhagen, redshirt senior, 6-foot-2, 249 pounds, No. 62

Peter Bowden, redshirt freshman, 6-foot-2, 233 pounds, No. 63

Kick returners

Isaac Guerendo, redshirt sophomore, 6-foot, 210 pounds, No. 20

Punt returners

Jack Dunn, redshirt senior, 5-foot-7, 178 pounds, No. 16

Danny Davis III, senior, 6-foot, 195 pounds, No. 7

Departing players:

Punter, Connor Allen, graduated

Punter, Anthony Lotti, graduated

Kicker, Zach Hintze, graduated

Kick returner, Aron Cruickshank, transfer to Rutgers

Arriving players:

Punter, Andy Vujnovich, 6-foot-3, 226 pounds, No. 38

Kicker, Joe Stoll, redshirt freshman, 6-foot, 189 pounds, No. 27

Kick returner, Chimere Dike, freshman, 6-foot-1, 186 pounds, No. 13

Position overview

The Wisconsin Badgers will have a whole host of new starting special teamers this year after losing their top two punters, their kickoff specialist and their kick returner since last season’s Rose Bowl. To be perfectly frank...it was probably time to move on from the Lotti/Allen two-headed monster at punter, but Hintze and his booming kickoffs will be missed.

Losing Cruickshank from the kick returner position is a much larger blow to the team than losing him from the wide receiver room. He returned two kicks for touchdowns last year and brought an electricity to the return game that hadn’t been seen in many years.

Bay is still holding down the long snapper job and the Badgers may miss him more than they realize once he exhausts his eligibility at the end of the 2020 season. He’s a name the casual fan doesn’t know, and that is the highest compliment you can pay a long snapper.

Punt returner Dunn showed massive improvement last year in knowing when to call for a fair catch and also actually gaining a few yards on a return here or there.

NCAA Football: Wisconsin at South Florida Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Who needs a big spring to crack the two-deep/who are you most excited to see in spring?

I think the battle for the kick returning job will be, by far, the most interesting aspect of the special teams drills in spring and fall practice. Running back Guerendo is a speed demon who showed off some of his potential when he took a kick return back 49 yards against Minnesota.

There will definitely be other competitors for the starting kick returner role and I am excited to see how true freshman Dike, out of Waukesha, does if given a chance to field some kicks. He did it all for Waukesha North in his senior season and playing special teams gives him a much faster path to playing time right now than at wide receiver.

Who has the potential to be an all-conference performer (no players who have already made an all-conference team)?

I’m not sure how confident I am that any specialist will make the all-conference team this year. Larsh would probably be the best option, but that means that the offense is stalling in the red zone a lot and I’d hate to predict that.

Where will this position group improve from last season?

The punting has to improve...right? Lotti ended his career on a pretty sour note, dropping snaps in both the Rose Bowl and the B1G Championship Game, and he wasn’t exactly punting the leather off the ball before those miscues either.

Schlichting has the chance to come in and seize the reins of the punting job since his only competition is a D-III transfer who may or may not be eligible to play, according to Jake Kocorowski’s notes here.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 01 Rose Bowl - Oregon v Wisconsin Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Where will this position group be worse than last season?

Every time the Badgers lined up to kick the ball off last season there was basically a zero percent chance the other team was going to get to return it because all Hintze did was bomb the ball out of the endzone. Of his 89 kickoffs, 69 were touchbacks. SO NICE!

Whoever ends up earning the kickoff specialist job, I’m cheering for Wilcox, has large cleats to fill.