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Spring Football 2021: special teams preview

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Basketball? Never heard of it! Let’s talk about football in shorts instead!

Duke’s Mayo Bowl - Wake Forest v Wisconsin Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

If it seems like there have been more sports than ever this March it is because, well, there have been! What’s one more to add to the pile? The Wisconsin Badgers football team starts their spring practice on Tuesday, March 30 and we are going to start previewing each position group. UW will have 15 practices after having zero last year due to COVID-19.

Instead of the traditional position previews we’ve done in the past, these ones are going to be a little more focused on just a couple of players. We will feature one or two players who we think a full spring practice will really help and focus on one position battle that we think will be important.

First up, the special teams!

Players who will benefit from a full spring practice schedule

  • After the Badgers lost Aron Cruickshank to the transfer portal (and eventually Rutgers) after the 2019 season there was basically an open competition for the kick returner job. UW used a couple of different players on kick returns but the one who really stood out was freshman wide receiver Devin Chandler.

Chandler had six kick returns for 156 yards (26.0 yards per return) on the season and, in the season-ending Duke’s Mayo Bowl, returned one kick for 59 yards. The depth chart at wideout will be stocked full of proven performers this year and the quickest way for Chandler to see the field will be via special teams.

A full spring working on returning kicks will hone his skills there as well as get him more comfortable actually doing it. Cruickshank proved that you can make an all-conference team at Wisconsin while returning kicks and there’s no reason that Chandler can’t be the next guy to do it.

  • There was much consternation in the season review/preview special teams post that I linked to above when I said that kicker Collin Larsh had a “fine” season. Needless to say, many (most?) of you did NOT agree with that assessment of Larsh’s 2020 season so he seems like a perfect candidate to use spring practice this year to improve.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 01 Rose Bowl - Oregon v Wisconsin Photo by John Cordes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Let’s start with a positive, Larsh improved his field goal percentage from 2019 to 2020 (66.6 to 71.4). The sample size was smaller since there were fewer games (and fewer attempts) but the improvement there is good! However, his long of 31 yards in 2020 isn’t ideal. His career long of 44 yards is definitely better, but his leg needs to be stronger if he’s ever going to be a true weapon for the Badgers.

Hopefully a full spring practice can expand Larsh’s range to be closer to automatic inside of 40 and extend it out to making the occasional 50 yard boot.

Key position battle

  • Star long snapper Adam Bay graduated and is moving on, as is backup Josh Bernhagen, so there will be someone new snapping on kicks and punts this year. The only remaining player on the 2020 roster (we are still waiting for the 2021 spring roster and will update posts as needed once we get it) who is listed as a long snapper is redshirt freshman Peter Bowden.

The 5-star LS was ranked as the No. 7 long snapper by Rubio Long Snapping and No. 11 by Kohl’s Kicking Camps coming out of high school. According to his UW bio he successfully delivered all 227 snaps of four-year varsity career.

Presumably UW will have another player or two on the new roster that will also be a long snapper so it will be interesting to see who separates themselves from the pack and wins the job.