Overall the play of the Wisconsin Badgers special teams has been hit or miss the past few seasons. Inconsistencies have popped across each major unit, especially in the kicking game.
After taking in multiple practices and listening to what some of the players and staff had to say, we can piece together an educated guess as to what the depth chart might look like for the opening game against Penn State that is just over a week away.
- Andy Vujnovich
- Conor Schlichting
There was little question in camp about who the top punter was. Vujnovich handled most of the punting duties and looked good in limited action. Last season, he put together a solid inaugural campaign with the Badgers, and I anticipate he will be even better in year two in the program. Behind him is fifth-year senior Conor Schlichting. I doubt we see much of Schlichting this season outside of maybe holding for field goal attempts.
This is #Wisconsin's punter, who benches 395, clocked a 4.00 seconds in the pro agility and broad jumped 10-7 /34. The Turkish Get-Up came up on the Freaks list yesterday. Sorry, Andy I should've had you higher than No. 87 on here: https://t.co/f1cp1fNg1n https://t.co/2X5AoZyCn5— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) August 10, 2021
- Dean Engram and Jack Dunn
- Devin Chandler and/or Danny Davis
We will see if this is how it plays out during the season, but last Saturday, special teams coach Chris Haering had both Dean Engram and Jack Dunn back to field punts. The two held similar depth but were each aligned on a hash. I would expect that they continue to deploy two returners when the season starts, but if they opt for one I would guess that Engram has a slight edge.
I know that the coaching staff, and fans alike, were not keen on how frequently the Badgers allowed the ball to hit the ground and roll unfavorably back in 2019 with Dunn, so potentially having two players back ensures that a guy can field the punt in the air. I do think that it may depend on the type of punter they are facing each week. For example, having two back against a rugby-style punter makes sense.
In practice, the deep man that was not receiving the punt then helped direct traffic and became a lead blocker.
- Jack Van Dyke or Collin Larsh
- Nate Van Zelst
I don’t think either Van Dyke or Larsh separated themselves from the other in fall camp. If I had to guess who attempts the first kick...it honestly might depend on the length of the field goal and the health of Van Dyke.
After the first week of camp, it appeared as though Van Dyke had a leg up on the competition, but he became limited the past couple of practices with an injury. In his absence, Larsh received most of the work and was solid last Saturday. The final two weeks of camp that are closed to the media will probably determine the true starter.
Collin Larsh handled the kicking duties today and looked good. His only miss was from ~50 out and he had the leg, just wide right.— Matt Belz (@savedbythebelz) August 21, 2021
In injury news freshman Al Ashford will miss the season with a left arm injury.
Because of Van Dyke’s injury, I will guess that Larsh gets the first chance for now, but I do think the staff will be rather quick to give Van Dyke a shot if healthy. Van Dyke has a much stronger leg and should continue his kickoff job regardless.
- Devin Chandler
- Isaac Guerendo or Faion Hicks
Between the end of the 2020 season and fall camp, I believe Chandler has done enough to earn the kickoff return role. He had a 59-yard return in the bowl game against Wake Forest that helped jolt the team, and he is one of the more dynamic players on the team with the ball in his hands. We will see how productive he can be with a full year as a consistent return man.
Behind Chandler, there was a smattering of different players that received reps, but Hicks and Guerendo were usually the two players up next in the rotation. I have a hard time seeing the Badgers trot one of their best cover corners back and risk injury, but the third running back with blazing speed makes a lot more sense, in my opinion. I could imagine a scenario where Guerendo sees time as an up man at the very least.
One interesting tidbit from the kick return unit was the frequent inclusion of freshmen Hunter Wohler and Braelon Allen with the first group. Wohler was in the first two rows of the return group, while Allen was used as an up man, the row in front of Chandler in case of shorter kicks. Allen’s size, athleticism and running ability making him particularly intriguing at that spot.
- Peter Bowden
- Zach Zei
After Duncan McKinley went down with a season-ending injury in the spring, the long-snapping competition became a lot clearer. Sophomore Peter Bowden will be the primary long-snapper this season, replacing standout Adam Bay.
Newly added walk-on Zach Zei provides needed depth at the position given McKinley’s injury.