Sophomore Kyle French was not a lock to win the job kicking field goals and extra points for the University of Wisconsin football team.
But it seemed as automatic as an extra-point attempt.
Now, after the last couple days of kicking, it’s more like a 35-yard field goal attempt with swirling winds — it could go either way.
The Badgers held their first full scrimmage of preseason camp on Saturday, which was closed to the media.
UW coach Bret Bielema claimed he did that because he wanted players to get evaluations from their coaches, not from the media.
“Our job as coaches is to evaluate the talent and put them in the positions they need to be,” Bielema said. “I don’t want outside fodder coming into that.” Reporters were allowed to watch the first 30 minutes prior to the scrimmage. It included a field goal segment between French and true freshman Jack Russell from Waunakee.
French only made two of his four attempts, missing wide right from
39 yards, then falling short and left with an ugly kick from 47 yards.
Russell made three attempts from 24, 32 and 37, then was wide left from 45. And just like that, the competition opened up a bit. Bielema said it was never closed, but made it sound previously like French had a decided advantage.
“Kyle obviously has game experience and that’s something. Jack Russell is a very impressive kid. We all saw what he did at Waunakee,” Bielema said, noting a 48-yard field goal in the Division 2 state title game and a strong performance in the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association all-star game for large schools. “There is just something to those type of guys.”
One of the strongest recommendations Bielema got about Russell came from former UW kicker Taylor Mehlhaff. The two worked together in the offseason. Russell is expected to handle kickoffs and he improved his hang time after the sessions.
“Kyle French obviously did very well last year in those first four games,” Bielema said of filling in for the injured Philip Welch. “You kind of believed those things were going to come out (in camp). As we all know, kickers go through phases. Jack hit the ball extremely well (Saturday).”
Punter Meyer stands out
Another part of the practice open to the media involved the punters. Bielema has raved about redshirt freshman Drew Meyer, from Hartland Arrowhead. But this was one of the first times Meyer backed up those flattering words with a strong performance in front of the media Redshirt freshman punter Drew Meyer, from Arrowhead, boomed at least three punts, with excellent hang time. He also had two pooch punts from the opponent’s 42-yard line. The first was a fair catch at the 11 and the second went out of bounds at the 10.
“That’s probably one of our biggest success stories in the last two years, ball placement (on pooch punts) for our defense,” Bielema said.