Wisconsin Football: Why the Kicker Is the Badgers' Biggest Weakness in 2012
If you peruse the Wisconsin depth chart for the 2012 season, there is a a lot to like.
The quarterback corps is bolstered with the addition of Danny O'Brien.
Running backs and linebackers are as deep as Lake Michigan, while the offensive line starters and backups are always a source of pride. Defensive backs may be one of the strongest elements on the team, while tight ends and receivers have enough headliners to be safe.
That warm feeling of comfort turns cold once the kickers and punters make their first appearance. At first, novices are tempted to dismiss the importance of a reliable kicker. "Can't you just recruit a washed-up soccer player?"
No. Kicking is a game of discipline and nerves of steel. Great kickers and punters are a force multiplier, and bad ones are a liability no coach wants on his team.
To make matters worse, the Badgers' special teams as a whole have been a blight on the team for the last few seasons. Now, the fate of the 2012 Wisconsin Badger season may rest on the shoulders, and on the feet, of an inexperienced and untested unit. Gone are the steady duo of Phillip Welch and Brad Nortman as Bret Bielema introduces a few new faces to the Badger faithful.
Right now, the starting kicker is most likely Kyle French. The redshirt sophomore has seen some game time experience but never saw big-time pressure. He started the first four games last year and played in seven overall contests in 2011 against Penn State, Purdue, Indiana, South Dakota, Oregon State, UNLV and Northern Illinois. His longest field goal was 29 yards with the deepest kickoff going 61 yards. To put that into perspective, Welch's longest boots include field goals of 52, 57, and 49 yards.
What is Wisconsin's weakest link?
Everyone starts somewhere, right?
True, but French will be kicking without a safety net. He is the veteran now at a position that requires immense mental toughness. French will not only have to factor in wind and pressure, but he will have to ward off the head-games from opposing sidelines.
French did play admirably in the spring game, knocking the ball through the uprights eight out of 10 times in a rapid fire competition. He even claimed big games are "no big deal anymore" when interviewed by John Lucas. They better not be or else freshman Jack Russell will be called into duty.
There is no doubt French has the physical tools and even some experience, but it will not stop coaches from holding their breath when the team needs a 38-yard field goal, with 4 seconds to go, in the rain, in November.
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