Fall Camp Guide: Special teams

Ken DeBauche (UW Athletics)

Questions abound in the kicking game

Starters returning: Sophomore punter Ken DeBauche, 6-foot-2, 219 pounds (2004 stats – punted 57 times for 41.8-yard average. Placed 17 inside the 20, 12 fair catches, 6 touchbacks); senior kick returner Brandon Williams, 5-11, 175 (23 returns for 437 yards, a 19.0 average); sophomore kickoff specialist Taylor Mehlhaff, 5-11, 179 (averaged 61.6 yards per kickoff; 18 of 53 kickoffs resulted in touchbacks)

Key returnees: Redshirt freshman kicker Adam Schober, 5-11, 195; junior punt returner Brian Calhoun, 5-10, 194 (sat out transfer year in 2004); sophomore kick returner Jarvis Minton, 6-1, 202; sophomore long snapper Steve Johnson, 6-3, 247.

Newcomers: Freshman kicker Matt Fischer, 5-11, 180.

Also in the mix: Sophomore punter Paul Standring, 6-1, 212; sophomore punt/kick returner Marcus Randle El, 5-10, 186 (one return for 10 yards); redshirt freshman long snapper Dave Peck, 6-5, 240; senior long snapper Joel Nellis, 6-4, 239; junior kick returner Zach Hampton, 5-10, 178 (served as second deep back last season; no returns).

Departures: Kicker Mike Allen (made 12 of 21 field goals and 27 of 29 extra point attempts for 63 points); long snapper Matt Katula (12 starts); punt returner Jim Leonhard (35 returns for 443 yards, a 12.7 average); kick returner Scott Starks (six returns for 119 yards, a 19.8 average); punter R.J. Morse.

Reasons to be excited: Calhoun and Minton should be productive, if not dynamic, return men. Veteran Brandon Williams is a steady presence at both kick and punt returner… After a fine redshirt freshman campaign, DeBauche will be one of the best punters in the Big Ten… Mehlhaff has exceptional leg strength and should be lights out on kickoffs this year. He reportedly worked out the kinks in his field goal kicking this summer.

Cause for trepidation: Mehlhaff and Schober, who will compete for place kicking duties this year, struggled kicking field goals in the spring… The Badgers will miss Leonhard, Katula and Starks in ways that do not all show up on the stat sheet. Katula was the best long snapper in college football and while Johnson is solid, there will be a drop off here. Starks not only filled in on kick returns, he did an exceptional job as a sprinter on the punt coverage team and will be tough to replace in that capacity. Leonhard's Big Ten record for career punt return yards does not include the countless yards he saved by catching nearly every punt that came his way.

Camp questions: Who is the place kicker? Mehlhaff has incredible potential and if he continues to develop after a good summer the Badgers will be able to sleep easy. If he is inconsistent, Schober could take over. If Schober is inconsistent, UW will be going for it on fourth down all too often… Will Williams earn a return spot? He wants to keep returning kicks and have a chance to return punts, but the kick return game needs to be more productive than it has been in recent seasons. Calhoun and Minton may be more dynamic options, but how much will be too much for Calhoun, who is also the team's No. 1 tailback?

Forecast: DeBauche will get some All-Big Ten consideration in his second year as the full-time punter… the field goal kicking game will be adequate. Expect Mehlhaff to command the position, but Schober will be right on his heels… Williams will get an opportunity to return punts and kicks, but as a substitute for Calhoun and Minton… With an influx of athletic linebackers perhaps playing a role, and plenty of talent in the secondary to help out, the coverage teams should be full of players who can run well and make plays.

BadgerNation.com projected depth chart

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