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Wisconsin spring football: special teams overview

A look at what stood out on special teams this spring for the Wisconsin Badgers football team.

The Wisconsin Badgers officially concluded spring camp, and now head into the summer months preparing for the fall.

While spring football is generally a time for self-improvement and overall development, the 15 extra practices also provide players the opportunity to step up and show the coaching staff that they warrant playing time come fall.

While the Badgers were confined to the McClain Center with ongoing renovations to Camp Randall, the defense under Jim Leonhard was flying around and making plays.

Over the next two weeks, All Badgers will take a position-by-position look at some of the general takeaways from the spring and what it could mean for each position group come fall.

Previously covered positions:

With all of the offense and defensive positions groups done, today we finish our position group series with a look at the special teams unit. 

The play of the special teams unit for the Wisconsin Badgers was inconsistent a year ago. 

While there were spectacular moments, such as Stephan Bracey's kickoff return against Nebraska, there were also plenty of mistakes last season.

As a result, former special teams coordinator Chris Haering is now coaching the tight ends, while the staff is taking a more holistic, or "all hands on deck" approach to special teams.

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One area that was not a concern last year was at punter. Andy Vujnovich punted the ball well a year ago, and he reassumed the No. 1 job this spring. Very little could be gleaned about his performance inside the McClain Center, but there is little doubt he is the top option. 

Behind him, kicker Jack Van Dyke took reps at punter this spring, so that could be a new position for him moving forward, with Vito Calvaruso and Nate Van Zelst taking the majority of kicking reps. 

I thought both Calvaruso and Van Zelst struck the ball well this spring in the kicking game. Van Zelst received most of the reps with the first team early in the spring, but Calvaruso flashed the latter half of the 15 available practices when he was healthy. 

Based on the reps later in the spring, I think Calvaruso is the more likely starter come the fall as both the placekicker and for kickoffs. The Arkansas transfer has a big-time leg and hit a couple of 50+ yard field goals when I was in attendance, but he also missed an easy one on the final Friday of practice too. 

Calvaruso was one of the top kickoff specialists in all of college football last season, and that should continue next season as well. He could be a valuable weapon for the Badgers next fall if he can be consistent and if his skills translate outside of the McClain Center. 

Like the punt team, there was not a ton to take away from the return game, either. Dean Engram still appears to be the top return option for the Badgers heading into the summer though. 

I think that Stephan Bracey also has the inside track at kickoff return if he is healthy. He missed most of the spring with an injury and was bouncing in and out of the lineup as a result. 

Several young wide receivers took turns in the return game such as Chimere Dike, Skyler Bell, and Markus Allen. I would expect the two-deep behind Engram and Bracey to include one of those three come the fall. 

Projected depth chart:

Punter: Andy Vujnovich (RS SR), Gavin Meyers (RS SO) or Jack Van Dyke (JR)

FG Kicker: Vito Calvaruso (JR), Nate Van Zelst (RS FR)

Kickoffs: Vito Calvaruso (JR), Jack Van Dyke (JR)

Long snapper: Peter Bowden (RS JR), Zach Zei (RS FR)

Punt return: Dean Engram (RS JR), Stephan Bracey (RS JR)

Kick return: Stephan Bracey (RS JR), Chimere Dike (JR)

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