MADISON, Wis. — Whether he played at wide receiver or kick returner, Jared Abbrederis earned a reputation last season as someone who didn’t particularly enjoy taking plays off.
For the good of Wisconsin’s football team, he may not have a choice this season.
Badgers coach Bret Bielema said after Friday’s practice that while it’s difficult to take Abbrederis off punt and kick returns, it could serve in the team’s best interest to limit Abbrederis’ workload.
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“I think there were times in games where he just got taxed out a little bit playing all those reps from the line of scrimmage in addition to being a punt returner, kick returner,” Bielema said. “I think to start the game, it would be pretty safe to say he’d be our starting kick returner and punt returner.
“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 is build up our depth at the skill positions and give guys a chance in big roles.”
Abbrederis ranked third nationally in punt return average last season at 15.8 yards, including one punt returned for a touchdown. He also averaged 24.6 yards on his 28 kickoff returns. Abbrederis’ career averages for kickoff returns (25.8) and punt returns (14.1) are both school records.
Earlier this month, Abbrederis was named to the Paul Hourning Award watch list. The award is presented to the most versatile player in college football.
Abbrederis caught 55 passes last season as a sophomore for 933 yards and eight touchdowns. He also finished second in the Big Ten and 13th nationally with 1,999 all-purpose yards. His 346 all-purpose yards during a Rose Bowl loss to Oregon rank as the second-highest single-game total in program history. Ron Dayne amassed 347 all-purpose yards against Hawaii on Nov. 30, 1996.
Bielema said he would experiment with a number of players on both punt return and kick return to help spell Abbrederis. Running back Montee Ball, a Heisman Trophy candidate, could see action on kick returns, as could linebacker Chris Borland.
“Some guys back there that can maybe bring some size with it,” Bielema said.
Wisconsin has not established a consistent No. 2 wide receiver during fall camp just yet, meaning Abbrederis could be an even bigger focal point within the offense. Last season, Abbrederis served as the second threat to Nick Toon, who caught 64 passes for 926 yards and 10 touchdowns. The New Orleans Saints selected Toon in the fourth round of the NFL Draft in April.
Bielema mentioned Chase Hammond, Kenzel Doe, Jordan Fredrick and Jeff Duckworth as possible candidates to fill the void at wide receiver. Duckworth caught 15 passes for 230 yards with a touchdown last season, and Doe caught two passes for four yards.
Ewing out: Former Wisconsin fullback Bradie Ewing is out for the season after suffering a knee injury during Thursday night’s exhibition game for the Atlanta Falcons, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitutional.
Ewing, a fifth-round pick by the Falcons in the NFL Draft (No. 157 overall) will be placed on the injured reserve list. He injured himself with 6:56 remaining in the first quarter as the Baltimore Ravens punted for the second time in the game. The 5-foot-11, 243-pound Ewing was carted away to the locker room and did not return.
“Bradie is a talented player and I know he and our training staff will do everything they can to ensure a full recovery,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said in a statement.
Ewing played in 52 games at Wisconsin and served as one of the primary blockers last season for running back Montee Ball, who gained 1,923 yards and tied the FBS single-season record with 39 total touchdowns scored.
Freshman QB impresses: Chase Knox is not a name you’ll hear in the conversation to be Wisconsin’s starting quarterback this season. But Knox, a true freshman from San Diego, Calif., certainly has impressed Bielema in the first week of practice.
“The kid, when he hops in there, all of our guys are just like, ‘Hey, watch this.'” Bielema said. “I think he went two days without an incompletion and then he threw one to the defense. So technically he’s 100 percent.”
Knox, a 6-1, 191-pound walk-on, completed 456 of 813 passes in his high school career (56.0 percent) for 7,305 yards and 75 touchdowns. He also rushed for 814 yards and nine touchdowns. He was one of three walk-on quarterbacks brought in, along with Thad Armstrong (Ottawa, Ill.) and Clay Rust (Sturtevant, Wis.).
Bielema said he received phone calls from a couple of NFL quarterbacks to vouch for Knox, who joined the football team two weeks before fall camp began. Bielema compared Knox to former Wisconsin quarterback Brooks Bollinger, a four-year starter for the Badgers from 1999-2002.
“He’s just got that little vibe to him,” Bielema said.