August 28, 2008

Fischer, Welch still locked in battle

MADISON, Wis. - Whether they know it or not, Badger fans have been quietly spoiled over the past four years with much better than average special teams play. Four-year players Taylor Mehlhaff and Ken DeBauche led the unit that consistently played at a high level.

So much so that Mehlhaff was the first place kicker selected in April's NFL draft, and DeBauche had a short gig with the Packers. For potential place kicker Matt Fischer, the shoes he is trying to fill are huge, but he has had the opportunity to learn from one of the best kickers in Badger history.

"I think the main thing I picked up from Taylor is watching him on game day and how he stays into the game," Fischer said. "That's a big difference from high school, going from playing multiple positions to just kicking.

Throughout the duration of fall camp and still heading into the season opener, both Fischer and fellow place kicker Philip Welch have been battling for the starting spot. Within the past week, head coach Bret Bielema decided to let Fischer, the weaker of the two legs, handle the kickoff responsibilities.

"I feel like I'm hitting kickoffs pretty well," Fischer said. "I just want to do the best I can in practice and then if the coaching staff determines that I'm the best option, I gain the edge, then that will happen."

"Honestly, I didn't worry about it too much. I tried to focus on my technique and hitting a good ball every time. That stuff is just left up to the coaches."

Following last Friday's mock game, Welch handled all the field goal attempts and Fischer concentrated on kickoffs. However, the option of turning the position into a platoon remains open.

"If that carries forward that's the way we'll start," Bielema said in regards to the kickers play in the mock game. "Could that change? Yes."

"We may go with short-long, if Matt looks like from the 15 in he's a little more consistent, we can go with that approach as well."

As can be expected when dealing with young players, peaks and valleys and inconsistencies are almost guaranteed. During an earlier scrimmage that was open to the media both kickers combined went 4 for 10 during rapid fire kicking drill, all within 42 yards.

"I mean the part that was a little shocking was the rapid fire at the beginning of the day with the field goal guys," Bielema said a couple days after the scrimmage. "The great thing is when the pressures on, when it's been live scrimmage situations, our kickers have been 100 percent."

The positional battle remains ongoing to this day, with neither kicker able to separate themselves far enough to claim the top spot outright. However, with the way it stands right now, when Fischer runs out for his first kickoff in front of fans, you can bet on one thing. His heart will be racing.

"There's always nerves when you get out in Camp Randall for the first time of the year," he said. "But that's why we do all the practicing."

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