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Wisconsin football 2020 fall practice position preview: special teams

What will the third heat of the football team bring to the field this year?

Big Ten Football Championship - Ohio State v Wisconsin Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Look, we don’t know if there is going to be college football this fall but until we know for sure that there isn’t, we are going to treat this offseason like any other and get you prepared for the 2020 season. Here are our thoughts on each position group before spring practice started and then, uh, got canceled to get you fully up to speed.

Since, to be quite honest, not a whole lot has changed since we wrote the spring previews we’ll be adding a couple of different elements to these previews. We’ll take our best guesses at how the depth chart for each position group will look this fall and we’ll also take a look at a potential breakout player for the 2021 season (in case you haven’t had your Graham Mertz fix in a few months).

The first group we are looking at is special teams.

New Era Pinstripe Bowl - Miami v Wisconsin
Potential new punter????
Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Returning players:

Collin Larsh, kicker, 5-foot-10, 184 pounds, redshirt junior

Conor Schlichting, punter, 6-foot-2, 230 pounds, redshirt junior

Adam Bay, long snapper, 6-foot, 234 pounds, senior
Josh Berhagen, long snapper, 6-foot-2, 249 pounds, redshirt senior
Peter Bowden, long snapper, 6-foot-2, 233 pounds, redshirt freshman

Isaac Guerendo, kick returner, 6-foot, 210 pounds, redshirt sophomore

Danny Davis III, punt returner, 6-foot, 195 pounds, senior
Jack Dunn, punt returner, 5-foot-7, 178 pounds, redshirt senior

Departing players:

Zach Hintze, kicker, graduation
Blake Wilcox, kicker/punter, uh, still not really sure why he left

Connor Allen, punter, graduation
Anthony Lotti, punter, graduation

Aron Cruickshank, kick returner, transfer to Rutgers

Incoming players:

Joe Stoll, kicker, 6-foot, 189 pounds, redshirt freshman

Andy Vujnovich, punter, 6-foot-3, 226 pounds, junior, transfer from University of Dubuque
Jack Van Dyke, punter/kicker, 6-foot-5, 189 pounds, freshman
Gavin Meyers, punter, 6-foot-2, 170 pounds, freshman

Duncan McKinley, long snapper, 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, freshman

Chimere Dike, kick returner, 6-foot-1, 186 pounds, freshman

Projected depth chart

Depth Chart Player Position Year Games started
Depth Chart Player Position Year Games started
Starter Collin Larsh kicker RS junior 12 in 2019
Backup Joe Stoll kicker RS freshman zero
Starter Connor Schlichting punter RS junior zero
Backup Andy Vujnovich punter junior zero
Starter Adam Bay long snapper senior 41 in career
Backup Josh Berhagen long snapper RS senior zero
Starter Isaac Guerendo kick returner RS sophomore zero
Backup Chimere Dike kick returner freshman zero
Starter Jack Dunn punt returner RS senior 35 in career
Backup Danny Davis punt returner senior 8 in 2019 at WR

Breakdown position and depth chart: Losing Zach Hintze as kickoff specialist will hurt more than you think. He was basically an automatic touchback so hopefully someone can step up and fill his role. Maybe one of the new freshmen? Jack Van Dyke is tall and has a big leg...just saying he’s an option.

Collin Larsh needs to improve his accuracy (12-of-18 field goals, 53-of-54 extra points) as he was rated as the No. 13 kicker in the conference last year. It would also be nice to see him expand his range into the high 40s, as his long last year was only 44 yards (No. 10 in the B1G).

The punting game is discussed in depth below, but safe to say it has to be better this year than it was last year.

Losing Aron Cruickshank hurts the kick return game, as he was second best in the conference, but there are other, younger options waiting in the wings. Isaac Guerendo will probably get the first crack at the job, and his big return against Minnesota last year showed real promise.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 21 Michigan at Wisconsin Photo by Dan Sanger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Jack Dunn was good as the punt returner last season. He got a lot of stink from the media (read: me) two years ago, but he led the B1G in punt return yards last year and was third in the conference with an 8.3 yards per return average. Outside of long snapper (shouts to Adam Bay!), punt returner is the most stable position on special teams for UW.

Most important player in position group: People, present company included, like to make fun of the Punt To Win mindset that the B1G (mainly Iowa tbh) had adopted for many years, but that has changed at most conference programs. Paul Chryst and co. have been very smart about when to go for it on fourth down in recent seasons so coffin corner punting ability hasn’t necessarily been a top of the board concern.

However, punting the ball is still a skill that is prized because there ARE some times where flipping field position is important. Last year, Anthony Lotti struggled, finishing No. 13 in the B1G in net punting at 36.2 yards per kick, and he also had two large fumbles in the B1G Title game and the Rose Bowl.

Conor Schlichting or Andy Vujnovich needs to be better than that. The Badgers defense will be quite good, per usual, but putting them in bad field position holes all the time is exhausting for them so it would be nice to pin the opposition deep a couple of times this season.

Potential breakout player for 2021: One of the most intriguing pieces of the 2020 recruiting class is Waukesha 3-star WR Chimere Dike. The state of Wisconsin doesn’t often produce high end skill position players, but Dike had a prolific high school career and is electric with the ball in his hands.

His first chance to get on the field may be via special teams, however, and I am excited to see what he can do with the kick return unit. Cruickshank (29.3 yards per kick return and two touchdowns) was one of the best kicker returners in the conference last season, and while it is a shame to lose him to Rutgers, it does open up a spot for a young player to show his chops. Dike may not be the man to return kicks this year, but the job could be his in 2021 if he outshines Guerendo.