Wisconsin football opens its season at Camp Randall on September 3rd where they’ll take on the Illinois State Redbirds. The Badgers are finishing up Fall camp and transitioning into game week, which means it's time to get you prepped for what you should expect to see from each position group this Fall.
First up, special teams!
Depth Chart Projection (projected starter in bold)
Kicker: Vito Calvaruso/Jack Van Dyke, Nate Van Zelst
Punter: Andy Vujnovich, Gavin Meyers
Long snapper: Peter Bowden, Duncan McKinley
Kick Return: Stephan Bracey Jr/Isaac Gurendo
Punt Return: Dean Engram, (?)
2022 Position Preview
Last season Wisconsin’s special teams could be best described as, poor. This year there will be a lot of new faces added to the group from the top on down. To start, Wisconsin moved long-time special teams coach Chris Hearing over to tight ends coach, and they filled that position with... nobody. Yes, if you look at Wisconsin football’s coaching staff nobody holds a special teams title outside of Taylor Mehlhaff who is listed as the Special Teams Assistant. Assistant to who? That remains a mystery. That whole situation is concerning to me, but let's just assume SOMEBODY is paying attention to the special teams.
At kicker, the Badgers will have a new face in the room as longtime kicker Collin Larsh decided to give pro football a try rather than return to Wisconsin. Wisconsin brought in Arkansas transfer Vito Calvaruso to try and help nail down the position, but he has been banged up for most of fall camp. Calvaruso tallied touchbacks in 85% of his kickoffs a season ago and should have the kickoff role when healthy.
Calvaruso did not handle the place-kicking duties at Arkansas, so who takes that role is still a bit of a question mark. Calvaruso and sophomore Jack Van Dyke could both take the job, but neither has much experience in the place-kicking role at the college level. Thus far at Fall practice, redshirt freshman Nate Van Zelst has taken a lot of the practice reps. Whoever is available and consistent likely lands the job to start.
The lone bright spot of Wisconsin’s special teams last year was punter Andy Vujnovich who will be back taking over the punting duties for his third season. Last season, Vujnovich averaged 46.41 yards per punt, which ranked 10th in the nation.
The return game will also likely feature some new faces, and who those might be is still a little bit murky. Punt return seems a bit more clear than kick return at this time. That duty will likely be held by Junior wideout Dean Engram. Engram fielded a majority of the punts for Wisconsin last season with 15. He averaged just 5 yards per return, with a long of 20 yards. Engram possesses good speed and shiftiness, so one would assume he likely takes that role to start 2022.
At kick return, there are a whole host of names that could be out there, but who it ends up being is anyone's guess. Last season, Stephan Bracey fielded the most returns and is a likely candidate to be one of the deep returners this season. Aside from Bracey, running back Isaac Gurendo is a player who has lined up deep in the past and could take on that role if fully healthy. Markus Allen, Chimere Dike, and Skyler Bell are also names to consider.
Overall, this special teams unit still has a lot of question marks surrounding it. Me, personally, I don’t feel all that great about the unit considering all those question marks. However, can it really get much worse? Sadly, it can, ask Nebraska.
The biggest concern is at placekicker, and settling on a guy who can consistently put it through from 40 yards and it is the main thing the coaching staff will need to try and find. As we’ve seen in years past, it isn’t that easy to find. Beyond that, you feel great at punter, and Vujnovich could be a real weapon again this year. In the return, game expectations are so low with such little production in recent years that maybe it can be a slight surprise if the unit improves. Much like the rest of the positions, we’ll have to wait and see.