By TOM LEA
MADISON – Should there come a time when Bret Bielema pulls Jared Abbrederis into his office, sits him down and says he wants to take him off kick return duties in favor of keeping him fresh as UW’s top wide receiver, there probably wouldn’t be much push back from the junior standout.
It’s not Abbrederis’ style to disagree with his head coach.
“I think at kick return I’d let him,” Abbrederis said, when asked if he’d be fine with having that responsibility revoked. “Obviously I don’t have that decision to make. I think if someone gets better and takes over the position then obviously I’m not going to say leave me in if I’m not as good as them.
“I’d like to keep punt return for sure, though.”
Following UW’s fifth practice of fall camp last Friday, Bielema listed off a host of names he’s currently testing as potential kick and punt return compliments or replacements for Abbrederis.
He said it would be ‘pretty safe’ to assume Abbrederis would start each game as UW’s kick and punt returner, but that by the time the second half of a given game rolls around he could easily see somebody else out there, mostly to relieve Abbrederis of some of the work he puts in during a given game.
“I think there were times in games when he just got taxed out from playing all those reps from the line of scrimmage in addition to being punt and kick returner,” Bielema said. “Maybe midway through the second quarter he’s got 32 reps in the first half, maybe you put James White in and give him a chance.
“The one thing we’ve been able to do here is build up our depth and skill at certain positions. It will give us a chance to get guys like that in big roles.”
Bielema said White, Kenzel Doe and Darius Hillary have a chance to earn reps as UW’s punt returner if he decided to take Abbrederis off that unit. He also said he’ll give Montee Ball a look as UW’s kick returner in addition to Reggie Love and Chris Borland.
“A couple other big guys that can run,” Bielema said. “There’s the possibility of a couple other non-traditional guys, some guys back there that maybe can bring some size with it.”
Abbrederis said there wasn’t any indication that he was going to be taken completely off any of the units as of Sunday’s media day, but he did make it clear that his head coach had talked to him and explained his rationale.
“He’d (Bielema) like to kind of take a little bit away on the kick returns,” Abbrederis explained. “He still said I could probably get in there and do as much as I’m able to. I’m open to whatever. Coach is obviously looking out for what’s best for me and for the team.
“I’m going to do whatever he says.”
Abbrederis, UW’s most experience receiver, acknowledged how playing the position on an every down basis while also performing as UW’s top kick and punt returner can be pretty exhausting.
“I was talking to a reporter and she asked what I do after games,” Abbrederis said. “I go home and sleep. I get off my feet. I can barely move. It’s definitely taxing. It’s also really beneficial and enjoyable.
“I love being out there on special teams.”
Abbrederis averaged 24.6 yards per return during his 28 kickoff returns a season ago, a number good for sixth best in the Big Ten. He also led the Big Ten as a punt returner, averaging 15.8 yards per return on 20 attempts with one touchdown.
None of the players Bielema mentioned, outside of James White, has much experience returning punts or kicks at the collegiate level. The junior tailback has returned 31 kicks during his career with an average of 20.2 yards per return, more than four yards shy of Abbrederis’ mark.
Ball and Love (a freshman wide receiver) have never returned a kick while at Wisconsin. And Borland has returned eight kickoffs so far during his career, so outside of Abbrederis and White, he’s the most experienced kick returner the Badgers have.
“I haven’t practiced any returning,” Borland said during UW’s media day. “The way we do it with an off returner and a primary returner it’s never out of the realm of possibilities. But I’m not primetime or anything.
“I’m basically a glorified lead blocker.”
So it seems as though White has the best chance at becoming UW’s primary return man on kickoffs if it's not going to be Abbrederis. Doe is intriguing just because he’s very fast and shifty, but he hasn’t been given many opportunities to shine.
Seeing who will emerge — if anybody — will be one of the more intriguing storylines to follow the rest of fall camp.
“There’s a chart that says if you get past the 30-yard line and every time you move up 10 yards, your chance of scoring is that much greater,” Abbrederis said. “It’s huge for the team to be able to have that field position. If there’s somebody else that can do the job and coach wants him to do it, I’ll say it’s his decision to make.
“I’m sure I’ll say, ‘Hey, coach, I want to do this.’ But I can’t make the final decision.”