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5 Badgers who need to break out this spring

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As with any talk of spring ball, individual play is always at the forefront. It’s what Wisconsin Badgers head coach Paul Chryst is emphasizing the most this spring.

With injuries to potential starters like Christian Bell, Tyler Biadsz and Cole Van Lanen, there are more spots open for reps this spring. Add in a young overall roster and you can see why spring is big for the Badgers in 2019.

But, there are some players who need to showcase themselves more than others. For a group of players it may be their last chance to put it all together and show the coaching staff the belong in the mix.

So, let’s take a look at the five players who need to break out the most this spring.

Noah Burks, Jr. (Outside Linebacker)

MADISON, WI – NOVEMBER 03: Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor (23) is tackled by Wisconsin outside linebacker Noah Burks (41) and Wisconsin defensive end David Pfaff (52) during a college football game between the University of Wisconsin Badgers and the Rutgers University Scarlet Knights on November 3, 2018 at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, WI. (Photo by Lawrence Iles/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Will Burks turn the potential that had him as a 4-star linebacker coming out of Carmel (Ind.)? It hasn’t totally happened so far and part of it has been other players ahead of him, but part of it has been his inability to win a position in the regular rotation.

To date, Burks has amassed 21 games played, 8 total tackles and a forced fumble to his name. If he’s ever going to take on the role as a starter, this spring is the time to do it. Christian Bell is out and there is plenty of room for snaps if one can prove they deserve them.

Burks has a big opportunity in front of him and the good news early on in practice is that he seems to be taking to that opportunity. Look for his name to be one that makes the jump necessary by the end of April.

Jack Coan, Jr. (Quarterback)

BRONX, NY – DECEMBER 27: Wisconsin Badgers Quarterback Jack Coan (17) gets set under center during the Pinstripe Bowl Game between the University of Miami Hurricanes and the University of Wisconsin Badgers on December 27, 2018 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, NY. (Photo by John McCreary/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Yes, he’s got experience as a starting quarterback and yes he is entering his junior season. But, one could argue no player needs to take the bull by the horns more than Coan does. With Alex Honribrook off to Florida State, the quarterback position is wide open this spring.

All the hype may be around early entrant Graham Mertz, and if he wins the job great. But, ideally the Badgers would like to not put Mertz in a situation where he’s not fully ready.

That requires Coan to show he’s growing and can be trusted to be a solid option, unlike what was there for most of last season. If Coan can’t put it all together in the spring, will he ever be able to be a solid option for the coaching staff to count on?

Anthony Lotti, Sr. (Punter)

ANN ARBOR, MI – OCTOBER 13: Wisconsin Badgers punter Anthony Lotti (15) punts during a game between the Wisconsin Badgers (15) and the Michigan Wolverines (12) on October 13, 2018 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

We’re talking about punters…yes punters. The truth is, Wisconsin needs better overall play from special teams and arguably no area needs more improvement than the consistency from the punter position.

Lotti came in as one of the most promising punters in the country according to scouts and hasn’t really lived up to that hype. He’s got 140 punts under his belt in the first three years, averaging just 38.8 yards per punt though.

Last season saw Connor Allen also get a crack at the punting duties and he wasn’t much better, booting 22 punts for an average of 37.5 yards per punt.

With a roster in flux at major positions on both sides of the ball, having some confidence in the special teams units would be nice. That means Lotti turning on the big leg and accurate punting that he was known for coming in to Wisconsin.

If he can’t turn it on consistently this spring, it could be time to give a new face a look in the fall.

Nate Carter, So. (Tight End)

Wisconsin knows it has a star in tight end Jake Ferguson, but what it doesn’t know is who in the heck can be counted on behind him. Expected second-string tight end Luke Benzschawel is out for an extended amount of spring ball and even he hasn’t proven to be a pass-catching threat.

In fact, there isn’t a Badgers tight end outside of Ferguson who has caught a pass in college ball yet. So, enter former quarterback turned tight end, Nate Carter.

The Waunakee native is 6-5 and nearly 210 pounds, so clearly he will need to put on some weight. But, if he can emerge as a good pass catcher and pick up some blocking schemes this spring perhaps the Badgers have another option.

Clearly the coaching staff thinks enough of his athleticism to put him in to a pass-catching role. Will that pan out or will the Badgers be searching for that other answer further in to the fall?

Aron Cruickshank, So. (Wide Receiver)

BRONX, NY – DECEMBER 27: Wisconsin Badgers wide receiver Aron Cruickshank (1) runs during the fourth quarter of the 2018 New Era Pinstripe Bowl between the Wisconsin Badgers and the Miami Hurricanes on December 27, 2018 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, NY. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

One part of Wisconsin’s passing game woes seemed to be inconsistent (at best) play at QB, but UW also struggled to get separation down field from its wide receivers too.

One potential cure for that is speedy sophomore Aron Cruickshank. The coaching staff thought enough of him to make sure he got the ball in his hands a few different ways all the way through the 2018 season.

But, can he go from a gimmick player to a real threat in the every-down offense? So far the returns in practice this spring indicate he’s having fun burning the crap out of UW’s defensive backs.

He’s already hooked up for a number of deep passes and made the quarterbacks lives easier. If he could help open up the deep passing game to go along with Jonathan Taylor’s home run hitting ability in the backfield, this could be a dynamic offense.

Of course, spring ball isn’t Saturday’s in the fall, but having him emerge as a true weapon in the regular pass game would be massive.

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Badgers football

Badgers in the 2019 NFL Mock Drafts

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Believe it or not, we’re just three weeks away from the start of the 2019 NFL Draft. While, it’s likely your focus is on your favorite NFL team, its needs and who will go where, for fans of college football it’s also a time to sneak a look at where their favorite players will be going.

So, as we near the draft, I thought it a perfect time to take a look at where every former Badgers player stands. We’ll look at some of the most comprehensive 7-round mock drafts.

Making our cut were CBS Sports, Draft Wire, Draftteck and Walter Football.

Without further ado, let’s jump in in alphabetical order.

Beau Benzschawel, OL

CBS Sports: 3rd Round (No. 102 overall) to the Baltimore Ravens
Draft Wire: 4th Round (No. 114 overall) to Carolina Panthers
Draftteck: 4th Round (No. 116 overall) to Miami Dolphins
Walter Football: 5th Round (No. 149 overall) to Cincinnati Bengals

Ryan Connelly, LB

CBS Sports: Undrafted
Draft Wire: 7th Round (No. 238 overall) to Chicago Bears
Draftteck: Undrafted
Walter Football: 5th Round (No. 159 overall) to Seattle Seahawks

Michael Deiter, OL

CBS Sports: 4th Round (No. 108 overall) to New York Giants
Draft Wire: 3rd Round (No. 75 overall) to Green Bay Packers
Draftteck: 5th Round (No. 169 overall) to Los Angeles Rams
Walter Football: 2nd Round (No. 55 overall) to Houston TexansO

D’Cota Dixon, S

CBS Sports: Undrafted
Draft Wire: Undrafted
Draftteck: 6th Round (No. 190 overall) to Minnesota Vikings
Walter Football: Undrafted

David Edwards, OL

CBS Sports: 6th Round (No. 174 overall) to Seattle Seahawks
Draft Wire: 3rd Round (No. 94 overall) to Los Angeles Rams
Draftteck: 3rd Round (No. 88 overall) to Detroit Lions
Walter Football: 6th Round (No. 181 overall) to Buffalo Bills

T.J. Edwards, LB

CBS Sports: 5th Round (No. 162 overall) to Chicago Bears
Draft Wire: 7th Round (No. 215 overall) to Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Draftteck: 5th Round (No. 145 overall) to Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Walter Football: 6th Round (No. 178) to Jacksonville Jaguars

Alec Ingold, FB

CBS Sports: Undrafted
Draft Wire: Undrafted
Draftteck: Undrafted
Walter Football: Undrafted

Olive Sagapolu, DT

CBS Sports: Undrafted
Draft Wire: Undrafted
Draftteck: 6th Round (No. 182 overall) to Denver Broncos
Walter Football: Undrafted

Andrew Van Ginkel, OLB

CBS Sports: Undrafted
Draft Wire: Undrafted
Draftteck: 7th Round (No. 235 overall) to Oakland Raiders
Walter Football: 6th Round (No. 211 overall) to Cincinnati Bengals

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WATCH: Chryst addresses Spring Ball at halfway point

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Believe it or not…the Wisconsin Badgers are halfway through the 2019 spring practice season.

On Tuesday, Chryst addressed the media on where things stand. The head coach made it known the team is nowhere near ready to take the field in the fall, but that competition is fierce.

So much so, that there is nearly an open competition going on at every position on the team.

Some may see that as a bad thing, but considering the youth and the amount of graduated players, the fact that there are multiple players stepping up and performing well enough to compete for positions on this squad is a good thing.

Check out what else the head coach had to say at the halfway point here:

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Badgers using Axe loss as motivation for 2019 season

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The 2018 season did not go exactly as planned for the Wisconsin Badgers football program. Putting the cap on a disappointing season was UW’s first loss in 15 games to bitter rival Minnesota.

Not seeing Paul Bunyan’s Axe in the Badgers trophy case had to be a strange feeling when it happened. But, it has also become motivation for the Badgers to remember that awful feeling and never let it happen again.

To that end, apparently the coaching staff has put a picture of the Gophers players chopping down the goal posts following their win last seasons.

Ferguson and others note that the loss and the fact that UW went from a preseason College Football Playoff contender to the Pinstripe Bowl has served to make this offseason much more serious than a year ago.

“When we walk into the locker room, we’ve got the Nebraska trophy, the Iowa trophy, and then on the right is where the Axe would be,” Ferguson told the media. “Right behind it where it would be is that big picture.”

“Kinda pisses me off,” he continued. “But I think it’s a good thing we have that, and I’d say a lot more guys are focused up and a lot less goofing around in the weight room. Everyone’s holding each other accountable.”

With a much younger team and a whole lot of spaces up for grabs, things should be serious this spring as well.

The Badgers will move on from Alex Hornibrook at quarterback and four players have taken nearly equal reps overall so far this spring.

There’s youth being served along the defensive line, at linebacker and a host of young (but experienced) players at cornerback to give the Badgers plenty of focus overall.

But, it is interesting that with over seven months to go until the Badgers and Gophers knock heads again for the longest-played rivalry in college football, the Badgers have focused in on getting that trophy back in their possession.

While winning the trophy doesn’t guarantee success, it certainly has gone a long way towards letting everyone know the Badgers are successful on a near annual basis for the previous 14 years.

Can that focus on getting the Axe back be a catalyst for the improvement needed from the young roster? Only time will tell, but the fact that those young players appear to be locked in this early is a positive sign.

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Wisconsin Badgers Spring Preview: 5 questions on defense

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Yes, we’ve hit that time of year once again — Spring has officially sprung, even if it doesn’t feel like it and the Wisconsin Badgers football program is back to work at spring practice.

Last week we took a look at the offensive questions heading in to spring camp. Today, we turn to the other side of the ball.

After a few years as one of the country’s best defenses, the Badgers took a bit of a step back last season. That makes this spring camp hugely important in turning this program back in to a national contender.

Let’s explore some of the questions facing this group heading in to the 3rd year under Jim Leonhard’s leadership.

Who is the Leader of this Group?

Wisconsin graduated Olive Sagapolu, T.J. Edwards, Ryan Connelly and D’Cota Dixon after this past season. All four of them were big time leaders on the field and in the locker room.

Replacing their talent on the field is important, but finding the guys who will step up and take responsibility in the leadership department is going to be equally important.

There are a lot of younger players looking for playing time in 2019, so could it be veterans like Zack Baun and Chris Orr that step up as leaders? That’s certainly a possibility.

But, I wouldn’t be surprised to see names like Bryson Williams and Isaiahh Loudermilk to be in the mix or even safeties like Reggie Pearson or Scott Nelson help to shape this defensive group in 2019.

No matter what names emerge, this spring has to be all about finding an identity and that’s where leadership comes in to play.

Where Will the Pass Rush Come From?

Andrew Van Ginkel had a ton of promise in 2018, but it didn’t turn in to pass rush success very often. UW tallied just 19 sacks as a team, ranking 12th in the Big Ten last year. It was the lowest total for a Badgers defense since racking up just 25 back in 2013.

Van Ginkel is gone, Zack Baun is still there at outside linebacker but appears to be a better run stopping option than a pure pass rusher.

Wisconsin also faced a really tough situation along the defensive line last year with injuries taking a toll and many names not panning out as quality options either. Isaiahh Loudermilk’s injury issues were a disaster for the team that was already spread thin.

This spring will see expected Van Ginkel replacement Christian Bell not participating due to recovery from injury, so once again the pass rush will start from behind the eight ball.

It’s also a massive opportunity for the players who will be there at defensive end and linebacker.

Can a switch to outside linebacker give Griffin Grady a fresh look at playing time? What about young names like Izayah Green-May and Jaylan Franklin? Could Noah Burks live up to his potential as a recruit and what about the fresh face in Spencer Lytle?

That’s to say nothing of who gets the majority of the snaps at defensive end. It’s likely that Isaiahh Loudermilk will get one of the spots based on potential and experience alone, but whom starts at the other end is going to be difficult to figure out.

Regardless of what shakes out, Wisconsin has to find a way to get in the opponents backfield more often in 2019. Spring ball could be all about finding the combinations that work best to accomplish that goal.

Who Starts Next to Chris Orr at Inside Linebacker?

On many other teams, Chris Orr is likely a three-year starter. Such was the depth on the Badgers roster at inside linebacker that Orr has had to wait his turn. His turn comes in his senior season as well.

But, who starts next to him is the mystery we’re all trying to solve. The player who will get the first crack is likely Jack Sanborn. As a freshman last season, Sanborn played in 11 games and recorded 7 tackles, forced 1 fumble and had a pass break up as well.

Other names to watch are Mike Maskalunas and Seth Currens, who makes the switch from safety to inside linebacker this year.

Wisconsin needs to come out of spring ball confident that it has depth at the position, after having a lot of it over the past few years.

Who Will be Starters at Cornerback?

One of the reasons for Wisconsin’s struggles on defense last season was its youth and injuries at the cornerback position. UW lost both starters to the NFL draft following the 2017 season and left a big void in experience to say the least.

That won’t be the case in 2019, as the Badgers played a ton of people at cornerback in 2018. The youth is still there, but that doesn’t mean youth still doesn’t reign supreme.

In fact, not a single cornerback played in every game for the Badgers last season. Faion Hicks led the group in tackles, with 35, and also had 1 tackle for loss, 1 interception and 3 pass break ups.

Others that were in the rotation often last year were Madison Cone, Caesar Williams, Rachad Wildgoose and Deron Harrel. Wisconsin also loved what they saw from Alexander Smith and Travian Blaylock, who both saw action in 4 games while still protecting their redshirts.

Guessing which people emerge as the starters from this group is no easy task. Spring will be huge in figuring out the mess of intriguing options at cornerback and it could arguably be the biggest battle outside of quarterback on this team.

What Wrinkles Will Leonhard Have?

While this will be Leonhard’s third season in charge of the Badgers defense, it feels like it should be just his second. After all, his first season in charge saw plenty of players left over from previous coaching regimes.

So, what has Leonhard learned from having a much younger roster last season and again this year?

His ability to adapt to the situation at hand and get his players the experience needed has been a strong suit so far. Let’s see if he can add in being a quick developer of talent too.

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