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)
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)
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)
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)
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.
Cephus says he wants to return to Badgers football
Earlier on Monday we got word from the University of Wisconsin-Madison on the status of Quintez Cephus, the student. He was to have his expulsion reversed after the evidence from his acquittal was brought forth to the university.
The only question left was if he would want to return to the university and the Wisconsin Badgers football team.
During a press conference on Monday afternoon, the speculation was put to an end. Quintez Cephus wants to return to the university and the football team.
During his press conference, Cephus mentioned how he wanted to stay at Wisconsin largely because of the support he got from his teammates and the entire staff of the UW football program.
He also mentioned that he had yet to speak with head coach Paul Chryst face-to-face after this decision was announced, but he would be doing so later in the day on Monday.
Many will also wonder if he’s ready physically and mentally to get back on the football field this season. Well, Cephus has been working out in Arizona for three months straight in anticipation of coming back on the field.
Judging by the video he’s put out, he’s certainly in some good physical condition.
Of course, only time will tell how quickly any and all of this will happen for Cephus and the Badgers. But, Cephus is very clearly focused on not wasting this opportunity and doing things at a very high level.
There are likely a few NCAA hurdles to officially jump through, but I’m also guessing the paperwork was just waiting to be put in motion once the university reinstated him and he gave the go-ahead.
Either way, he will be a welcome sight for an already strong group of wide receivers.
UW reinstates Quintez Cephus
A week after Quintez Cephus, his teammates and his attorneys went in front of the cameras to implore the University of Wisconsin-Madison to allow Cephus back in to school, we now have word on his status.
On Monday morning, it was revealed that Cephus was reinstated to the university. UW sent out the following tweet regarding the matter:
In the statement announcing their decision, the university noted that they had received information that wasn’t available during their initial Title IX investigation.
“UW–Madison obtained information following the criminal proceeding that was not provided to the university during the student conduct process, ” said the statement. “Chancellor Rebecca Blank conducted a review of this information and the petition for Quintez Cephus’ reinstatement as quickly as possible and in a complete and impartial manner.
“As a result of this review, sanctions for Quintez Cephus have been reduced and his expulsion lifted. There were findings of responsibility of the student non-academic misconduct code that were upheld.”
Chancellor Rebecca Blank had the following to say about the situation.
“All three of the primary participants in this case are our students, and I know the past year has been painful for everyone involved,” said Blank. “My decision is based on the availability of substantial new information that wasn’t made available to us during the earlier process. I recognize that some will disagree with this decision.”
“To those in our community who have experienced sexual assault, I sincerely hope that there is nothing in this case that will deter you from coming forward for support,” she added. “Our university continues to be prepared to listen and respond.”
Cephus had his expulsion lifted, but did not have all sanctions removed from his record. According to the statement, the findings of responsibility of the student non-academic misconduct code that were upheld.
With this reinstatement, Cephus has a decision in front of him. He is free to return to the university and the football team has made it clear they will welcome him back with open arms.
But, does he want to return to UW at all? All indications are that he does want to come back to school, but getting his expulsion lifted would allow him to move on from the university if he so chose.
We will have to wait for more information from the program once everyone has had a chance to make their decisions known.
Joe Thomas makes CBS Sports All-time All-American list
College football celebrates is 150th season in 2019 and that necessitates a look back at the history of the sport. That’s exactly what CBS Sports decided to do and they came up with a long list of the best players in college football history.
Given the fact that the Wisconsin Badgers went through long stretches of horrific play and few years of good work prior to 1990, seeing a Badgers name on the list was a long shot.
But, one Badger did make the list and that was famed left tackle Joe Thomas.
He was named to the honorable mention All-Time All-American offensive line category. Center was broken out in to a different group all together as well.
While at Wisconsin, Thomas became the first Badger to win the Outland Trophy, which is given to the nation’s best interior lineman. He also was named to the 2006 first team All-American list and started 39 games in his four years in Madison.
He is also a member of the College Football Hall of Fame after an 11-year career in which he made the Pro Bowl in 10 straight seasons.
Joining him on CBS Sports honorable mention offensive lineman list were Maurkice Pouncey (Florida), Lincoln Kennedy (Washington), John Hicks (Ohio State), Aaron Taylor (Nebraska) and Jake Long (Michigan).
Making the first team list were Orlando Pace (Ohio State), Jonathan Ogden (UCLA), John Hannah (Alabama) and Ron Yary (USC).
On the second team were Anthony Munoz (USC), Bryant McKinnie (Miami), Will Shields (Nebraska) and Tony Boselli (USC).
Those are all some amazing names and gives us all a great reminder of just how great college football has been over the years to be sure.
Thomas is the only Badgers player to make the list, yes including all-time greats like Ron Dayne and Alan Ameche, let alone perhaps the most famous player of the formative years of college football — Pat O’Dea.
Yes, he doesn’t fit neatly in to the mold of a modern college football player, but this was supposed to be a list of the best players to ever grace the field in the history of the game.
It’s very hard to argue that O’Dea wasn’t exactly that in his era. He was a two time All-American in 1898 and 1899 as a punter and a fullback.
If CBS Sports was serious about honoring the entirety of college football, having O’Dea on the list would be a good place to start.
Badgers unveil throwback unis for Northwestern game
College football is celebrating its 150th year in 2019 and the Wisconsin Badgers have been playing the game since the 1889 season.
In order to honor some of the history of the game and the program, the Badgers will put on throwback (and I use that term loosely) uniforms according to a video released by the football program on Tuesday afternoon.
It appears that UW is looking back to the days where a simple UW adorned the front of the sweaters, as they were called at the time, in that 1889 season.
Today, regulations say that all teams must include numbers on the front and back of the jersey and thus the conundrum the Badgers find themselves in here.
Interestingly, the helmets will feature a first-time logo with the ‘UW’ having never appeared together in any helmet in Badgers history. Given the fact that back in 1889 there was no such thing as a helmet in the game of football it was an interesting call.
The helmets will also feature just a thin Cardinal stripe down the center and gray face masks.
Personally, I have to say I’m not a fan of cramming the ‘UW’ on to the front of the jersey and it would’ve been interesting to see them go back to the Bucky Badger helmet or something else.
It just looks too congested on the front of the jersey, but I do like the idea of the black shoes, khaki colored pants and the red jersey overall. It does harken back to that era in as much as is possible in today’s modern game.
However, the players were certainly excited for a different-than-normal look to the Badgers uniforms.
The logo on the side of the khaki colored pants is also the one that the athletic department used from 1962 to 1965 according to research.
Wisconsin will take on Northwestern in the Sept. 28 game that will feature these jerseys inside Camp Randall. Northwestern will also have a similar look as part of what Under Armour is calling its Second Heritage line.
What do you think of this ‘throwback’ look? Hit up the comments below or follow on Twitter @talkingBadgers.
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