Badgers looking for improvement on special teams

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Jeff Potrykus
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Monday, July 31, 2017

MADISON--The numbers highlight the areas of concern on Wisconsin’s special teams heading into the 2017 season:

Kickoff returns, punt returns and punting.

UW finished ninth, ninth and 13th, respectively, in the Big Ten in those categories last season.

UW’s 19.8-yard average on kickoff returns was 6.2 yards behind league-leader Iowa (26.0).

The unit suffered a blow when Natrell Jamerson missed six games (broken left fibula). Jamerson had a 98-yard return for a touchdown and averaged 22.4 yards per return in 2015.

He was limited to nine returns as a junior last season, with a long of 39 yards and a 21.2 average.

“There were times last year when we felt like we had it blocked up pretty well and didn’t hit it like we needed to,” special teams coach Chris Haering said. “And there were times we felt pretty good about hitting it but we just missed some blocks. It just takes a lot of work.

“We feel good we have some guys coming back that have been out there and done it. I think as we go forward we expect to see those guys a lot better than they have been.”

Jazz Peavy, handling punt returns for the first time, averaged 5.8 yards on 17 returns. His long return of 24 was matched by tailback Corey Clement, who had just two returns.

The blockers too often allowed cover men to get down the field unabated, but Peavy acknowledged he needed to improve in two areas.

The first: deciding quickly where to attack the seams in the coverage.

“I need to make my decisions as fast as possible,” he said.

To that end, Peavy consulted with defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard. Leonhard averaged 13.8 yards per return, with two touchdowns, as a junior in 2003 and averaged 12.4 as a senior.

“I had a long talk with Coach Leonhard and he told me the biggest thing is making that decision,” Peavy said. “You’ve got to make it as soon as you catch the ball … so I can get up the field as fast as possible and not go horizontal.”

The second: catching the ball efficiently.

“If you catch it down here,” he said, pointing to his waist, “It takes longer to get your eyes up. If you catch it up (higher) you can do things faster.”

Haering used two punters last season—Anthony Lotti and P.J. Rosowski. Lotti, a talented-but-wide-eyed freshman, struggled early but eventually handled 77.3 percent of the punts (51 of 66).

He excelled in shorter punts largely because he became comfortable using Aussie-style kicks. Lotti placed 25 of his 51 punts inside the opponents’ 20.

Hang time was his Achilles’ heel on longer punts, and he finished with a 37.7-yard average overall.

Rosowski, then a sophomore, averaged only 36.7 yards per punt but became a weapon on kickoffs by recording touchbacks on 64.6 percent of his kicks (51 of 79).

“This offseason I focused on getting comfortable in my role,” Lotti said. “It was really hard to jump in there as a true freshman. I realize that now.

“There was a lot of pressure on me. There’s no excuses for that. This year it is just getting more comfortable and focusing on consistency.”

The ideal situation for UW would be to see Lotti improve his hang time and directional punts and take over the job full-time.

Yet Haering sounded open to using both punters again this season—if needed.

“Last year it was kind of a case of the guy who had a pretty good week and did some good things in practice,” he said. “There were some games when we felt P.J.’s experience was of more value in some big situations. And Anthony did a great job in plus range with sky punts. That was his role for a while.

“We’re trying to develop consistency. And whoever that guy is who can be consistent with hang time and direction, that’s the guy we’re going to go with.”

Last updated: 11:53 pm Monday, July 31, 2017

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