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Guessing the Badgers depth chart post-spring

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Spring football came to a quick and uneventful end on Friday. Now that we’ve had some time to digest what the coaching staff has had to say and what reports have come out of spring camp, it’s a perfect time to address the depth chart.

Did anyone jump to a starting role that we didn’t expect or what about underclassmen showing they belong?

We’ll look at each position and give your our best guess on where things stand heading out of spring ball and in to the fall.

Quarterback

  1. Jack Coan
  2. Graham Mertz
  3. Chase Wolf
  4. Danny Vanden Boom

Spring Observations:

We honestly have no idea where this position really stands, largely because this was the first time in a long time in which there wasn’t access to just about every practice. So, did the Badgers show something different behind closed doors?

From what the media was able to see, Coan appeared to take the vast majority of the first-team snaps this spring. Whether that was a test to see where he stands or a by-product of inexperience behind him, we simply do not know.

The good news behind Coan is that both early entrant freshman Graham Mertz and redshirt freshman Chase Wolf competed well in large chunks of the open spring practices.

If either of them can up their game heading in to the fall, we could see a very interesting situations unfold heading in to the first game at USF.

Running Back

  1. Jonathan Taylor
  2. Nakia Watson
  3. Bradrick Shaw
  4. Garrett Groshek
  5. Brady Schipper

Spring Observations:

This group didn’t make much noise in the spring and that is alright when you have one of the most prolific running backs in college football history in your backfield.

A lot was expected out of redshirt freshman Nakia Watson in terms of stepping up to be the backup. I’m not sold that the coaching staff was all too happy with any of the running backs and here’s why — Isaac Gruenedo and Brady Schipper were seeing a ton of reps.

To their credit, both showed some good things when given their opportunities, but both have a long way to go to be on the level of Taylor.

Watson appeared to be the most consistent option behind Taylor, but he still has some growth to do as an inexperienced redshirt freshman. Meanwhile, we really don’t know what’s up with Bradrick Shaw as he attempts to come back from some awful injury issues.

Fully expect to see Taylor, Watson, Shaw and Groshek (as the 3rd down back) in the mix this fall.

Wide Receiver

WR1:

  1. Danny Davis
  2. Kendric Pryor
  3. Taj Mustapha

WR2:

  1. AJ Taylor
  2. Aron Cruickshank
  3. Jack Dunn

Spring Observations:

Given the quarterback battle that is ongoing, the wide receiver group got a ton of reps this spring as well. The top of the depth chart was pretty much set in stone with Danny Davis, AJ Taylor and Kendric Pryor the top three options.

But, the biggest jump this spring came from Aron Cruickshank, who showed he could be more than a gimmick in the offense. He looked good in the slot and most importantly, showed much more crispness in his route running and that means he could be a very dangerous weapon in the deep passing game.

Overall, this group did well in spring and don’t be surprised to see younger names like AJ Abbott and Taj Mustapha make a run at serious playing time. In fact, Mustapha may have already put himself in the mix for snaps this fall.

Tight End

  1. Jake Ferguson
  2. Luke Benzschawel
  3. Hayden Rucci

Spring Observations:

To say this position was less than spectacular this spring would be an understatement. Ferguson is great and will continue to be the top target at this position, but what is behind him should give plenty of opportunity to the pair of incoming freshmen to say the least.

Benzschawel continues to show promise, but can’t stay healthy enough to be a reliable option just yet. Gabe Lloyd got a lot of playing time this spring, but wasn’t great.

Thus, I believe we’ll see at least one of Hayden Rucci or Clay Cundiff making their mark felt. Right now, I’m leaning towards Rucci being the more college ready player heading in to the fall and most likely to be called upon if they have to.

Depth at this position is a massive concern for a position that is crucial to success for the offense.

Offensive Line

First Team:

LT: Cole Van Lanen
LG: Kayden Lyles
C: Tyler Biadsz
RG: David Moorman
RT: Logan Bruss

Second Team:

LT: Tyler Beach
LG: Josh Seltzner
C: Jason Erdmann
RG: Michael Furtney
RT: Logan Brown

A lot of the starting pieces were missing this spring thanks to injury or recovery from offseason surgery and with all the transition happening up front that may actually have been a blessing in disguise.

The Badgers coaching staff got a good look at a lot of inexperienced but quality options on the line and it appears that some spots were locked up thanks to quality play.

One of the most consistent performers was senior David Moorman, who played both guard and tackle on the right side with the first team offense. Ultimately, I believe his best spot is inside, but he’s versatile enough to kick outside too.

What could be the most interesting battle this fall will be between incoming 5-star offensive lineman Logan Brown and Logan Bruss, who started six games this past season.

If there was one observation to take away from the spring it was that despite all the turnover, there is a lot of talent waiting their turn once again on this offensive line. That wasn’t the case just a few short years ago.

Defensive Line

First Team:

DE: Garrett Rand
NG: Bryson Williams
DE: Isaiahh Loudermilk

Second Team:

DE: Isaiah Mullens
NG: Gunnar Roberge
DE: Matt Henningson

Spring Observations:

The good news coming out of spring is that starters Garrett Rand and Isaiahh Loudermilk appear healthier and ready to contribute in 2019 in a major way. Rand still has some work to do physically, but was nearly 100 percent come the end of spring ball.

Add in the fact that Mullens Roberge and Henningson did some good work in major snaps this spring and you have a much stronger defensive front than UW had at any point last fall.

The interesting part will be when the freshmen enter the mix in the fall. Could any of them get in the mix?

Outside Linebacker

First Team:

ROLB: Zack Baun
LOLB: Christian Bell

Second Team:

ROLB: Noah Burks
LOLB: Izayah Green-May

Spring Observations:

We didn’t get to see Christian Bell much in spring and he was eventually shut down. But, you can fully expect him in the mix come fall. In fact, I’m not sure anyone outside of Noah Burks will challenge him for the starting spot opposite of Baun.

Speaking of Zack Baun…this was a monster spring for him, as he showed major improvement and big time leadership on and off the field. He could be the most impressive player to come out of spring ball amongst the entrenched starters.

But, the player I’m most intrigued to see get some reps in the fall is Izayah Green-May. He’s a matchup nightmare with his length and athleticism just by stepping on the field. But, this spring, the youngster appeared to have the lightbulb go off and that could be mean some nice playing time this fall.

Inside Linebacker

First Team:

ILB: Chris Orr
ILB: Jack Sanborn

Second Team:

ILB: Mike Maskalunas
ILB: Leo Chenal

Spring Observations:

Replacing T.J. Edwards and Ryan Connelly — the latter of which was picked in the just-completed NFL draft — was never going to be all that easy. But, a renewed effort from senior Chris Orr and a whole lot of talent behind him suggested the Badgers will be just fine at inside linebacker.

Orr was flying around a lot in spring ball, having cut some serious weight. But, the real name that stuck out from the crowd was actually an unheralded early entrant named Leo Chenal.

He impressed so much this spring that he may have already locked in a spot in the two deep before the Badgers even broke camp. He showed vision, athleticism and a nose for the football that will make him valuable in sub packages at the very least come fall.

I love what I’ve heard about this group all spring long.

Cornerback

  1. Caesar Williams
  2. Deon Harrell
  1. Faion Hicks
  2. Rachad Wildgoose
  3. Madison Cone

Spring Observations:

Coming in to spring ball, this group was the biggest wildcard on the team — and that was because so many players got experience last season it was nearly impossible to figure out how they stacked up.

That may still be the case, but someone has to start on paper and in the game. The good news is that there were six solid performers this spring and UW would be good to have any one of them start. The bad news is that there wasn’t really anyone outside of Williams that separated from the crowd.

Much more will have to done in the fall to figure this group out, but I’ll take competitive play over a set-in-stone depth chart at this point of a season.

Safety

FS1: Eric Burrell
FS2: Reggie Pearson Jr.

SS1: Scott Nelson
SS2: Colin Wilder

Spring Observations:

Unlike the cornerback position, the Badgers coaching staff likely knows the pecking order at both safety spots following spring ball. Eric Burrell and Scott Nelson looked like a great starting tandem, while both Wilder and Pearson provided quality competition.

This is as close to a lock for the depth chart as you’ll see anywhere on this roster if you ask me.

Kicker

Collin Larsh

Spring Observations:

There is little doubt about who will take over the field goal kicking duties now that Rafael Gaglianone is graduated. Larsh looks like a great get for the program as a walk-on and could be a reliable asset to the team, which Gaglianone just wasn’t following multiple back issues and surgeries as his career went on.

Punter

Anthony Lotti

Spring Observations:

It appears Lotti has settled in after a rough first year as the main punting option for this team. His steady improvement and consistency will be important in 2019 and spring proved that he could be much more consistent according to the coaching staff. You have to like that kind of reporting.

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Badgers football

Badgers fall victim to the trap, lose to Illinois

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This is why they don’t play the games on paper. On paper, the No. 6 Wisconsin Badgers should have been able to make quick work of a struggling Illinois Fighting Illini team.

Instead, it was a slog for the Badgers offense and Illinois took advantage of three turnovers for 17 points en route to a shocking 24-23 victory.

With the Badgers driving to potentially salt away a hard-fought victory, Jack Coan threw just his second interception of the season and Illinois drove the ball deep in to Wisconsin territory and kicked a game-winning 39-yard field goal as time expired.

Wisconsin’s usually rugged run game was off, and the stingy run defense was far from that. Yes, Jonathan Taylor went over the 5,000-yard mark for his career on the first carry of the game, but he would put up just 132 yards on 28 carries on the day and UW’s defense allowed a season-worst 141 yards on the ground to Illinois.

Prior to this game, Wisconsin’s worst performance on offense was 97 yards against Northwestern.

Taylor’s struggles included a brutal turnover, as he gained a first down at the Illinois 17-yard line but coughed up the football trying to fight for extra yardage a third time on the play.

Illinois drove the ball down for a touchdown in just 1:19 of game time and what could’ve been a three-score game turned in to a 23-21 lead with 5:53 to play.

Wisconsin drove the ball past midfield on the next possession appearing poised to put the game out of Illinois reach again, but stumbled near midfield.

On a 2nd and 11, Coan attempted to drop a pass to Jake Ferguson in between the zone. However, Tony Adams had backed off the underneath and picked off the pass at the Illinois 47-yard line.

From there, Illinois ripped off big run after big run to get themselves in to field goal range and the rest was history.

Ironically, it was Coan who powered the Badgers offense for most of the day, throwing for 263 yards on 24 of 32 passing.

Reggie Corbin and Dre Brown combined for 153 yards on the day for the Illini on 28 carries, and came up huge when they needed it as the game went on.

Illinois outplayed the Badgers up front on both sides of the ball and deserved this win.

This was easily the most shocking loss in the Paul Chryst era and a date with Ohio State looms large if Wisconsin wants to continue to hope to make it to Indianapolis for the Big Ten championship game.

A loss next week and all control of their own destiny goes out the window.

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Badgers mid-season report card: Defense

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As Saturday’s game against Illinois inches closer to kick, it’s also a good time to remind ourselves that we are at the halfway point of the 2019 Wisconsin Badgers season.

UW is 6-0 and ranked No. 6 in the country in both polls (if you want to care about those things). So, how did Wisconsin get here and who has been vital to all of that success so far?

Well, we’re taking a look back at the first half of the season for you. Earlier this week we took a look at our grades for the Badgers offense. Today, we take a look at the defensive side of the ball.

Defensive Line: A+

One of the biggest question marks coming in to the 2019 season was the UW defensive line. With no Olive Sagapolu and two starting defensive ends coming off of major injuries, how would this group look in 2019? Well, the answer is pretty damn good.

Bryson Williams, the starting nose guard, went down with a bad injury early in the season and in stepped true freshman Keannu Benton, who ripped off back-to-back performances that were rated No. 1 on the team by Pro Football Focus.

Isaiahh Loudermilk had a small injury early on and has been very good since his return, while Garrett Rand is doing work on the other side. Perhaps the biggest story is that this group has been disruptive in a major way.

We’ve had Matt Henningsen score a touchdown not once, but twice and the defensive linemen have racked up 3.0 sacks to date. Not too bad for a group of unproven, but talented players.

Linebackers: A+

Another big question mark coming in to the year was if the Badgers could get enough pressure from its linebacker group to make a difference in 2019. Last season was a dramatic drop off in sacks and tackles from loss as a team, but there has been no such issue in 2019. j

Zack Baun has been one of the best players in the country through the halfway point of the season. He’s put up 26 tackles, has one pick-six, 10.5 tackles for loss and 6.0 sacks (tied for 8th nationally) through the first six games of the season.

It’s earned him Pro Football Focus mid-season first-team All-American honors. Considering he didn’t produce at nearly this level last season, it’s been a huge start for the senior.

On the opposite side of him, we’ve seen the combination of Izayah Green-May (missed time with a broken thumb) and Noah Burks become dangerous players in their own right. As a team, Wisconsin has put up 23 sacks through six games, which is more than they had in all of 2018 (19.0).

Jack Sanborn has been great and the pairing of him with Chris Orr has unleashed one of the most athletic and dangerous combinations of inside linebackers the Badgers have had since switching to the 3-4 defense when Gary Andersen arrived.

You could not draw up a more productive start to a season from a linebacker group if you tried.

Secondary: A

If you just go by the stats, it is hard to argue that Wisconsin isn’t playing some of its best ball against the pass that we’ve ever seen. I mean, they have allowed a Big Ten low three passing touchdowns and the team has eight overall interceptions, with two going for a defensive touchdown.

But, some of the stats can be misleading, especially those eight interceptions. The good news for the secondary is that five of the eight interceptions are attributed to the defensive backs, with starting safety Eric Burrell picking off a pair of passes.

It isn’t just the starting group that has held up well either. Wisconsin has had a next man up mentality and it has worked well. Colin Wilder and John Torchio stepped up when both Burell and fellow safety Reggie Pearson got tossed for hits to the head against Michigan.

Deron Harrell is credited with four pass breakups and Wilder with five to lead the secondary group in that category.

Overall, it’s hard to pick apart this group, but if there’s one area to watch it is their inconsistency in intermediate and deep balls. Luckily, most offenses don’t have enough time to set up a deep passing game so it hasn’t been much of a worry at all.

Overall: A+

Let’s just go over these stats given up by the Badgers defense once again:

4.8 points per game — ranks 1st in the Big Ten and nationally
44.6 rushing yards per game — ranks 1st in the Big Ten and nationally
129.0 passing yards per game — ranks 1st in the Big Ten and nationally
173.7 total yards per game — ranks 1st in the Big Ten and nationally

In fact, Wisconsin’s 173.7 total yards per game given up is 60.3 yards per game better than the next best team — Ohio State — has given up this year.

Given all of that information, how could it not be an A+ so far this season? After all, Wisconsin is the first Big Ten team since the 1962 Minnesota Gophers team to pitch four shutouts in the first six games of a season.

Enough said.

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Badgers football

Badgers mid-season report card: Offense

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Believe it or not, but we have already reached the middle of the 2019 Wisconsin Badgers football season. I know, it doesn’t seem possible because there seems to be so much football ahead.

You would be right, what with Ohio State, Iowa and Minnesota still looming large on the schedule and all.

But, as we want to look forward, we need to know the foundation that future has been built on. How have the Badgers faired so far in 2019? Let’s take a look position by position.

Offensive Line: A –

All seems to be rosy for the Badgers offensive line. They’ve given up a Big Ten-low of eight sacks and are the No. 2 rushing attack in the league, trailing only Ohio State. While you could say the Buckeyes have yet to face a real defense, they still are consistently putting up better numbers than Wisconsin has.

We’ll see if that holds up, but on the whole it is hard to argue that this group hasn’t been very good. They’ve dealt with a few injuries and haven’t really missed a beat for the most part.

If there’s one area that has put them from an A to an A- in my book, it is their performance in the run game against Northwestern and Michigan State at home. In both cases, Jonathan Taylor really struggled to get going and the offensive line found themselves back on their heels quite a bit. Thus, Taylor’s struggles.

Yes, both Northwestern and MSU are very good defensive fronts, but if you want to earn the top grades, you have to win more than they did up front against those two defensive lines. That’s especially worrisome when you see the defensive fronts that both Ohio State and Iowa can put out there.

This unit is very athletic and certainly can do some special things. But, it needs to be more consistent against high level defenses if the Badgers want to prove they belong in the College Football Playoff conversation. Not having a single member of this group on the Pro Football Focus mid-season All-American list tells me this group hasn’t been as good as potentially then can be by the end of the year.

Running Backs: B

Yes, Jonathan Taylor is a Pro Football Focus and everywhere else mid-season All-American and yes, he’s en route to break all sorts of historical marks, but there’s more to this group than Taylor and for that reason we have to give this group an overall grade of B.

In fact, if you were to take Taylor away from this position group, you would be far lower on the grade. Redshirt freshman Nakia Watson has picked up 53 carries for just 238 yards and is averaging 4.5 yards a carry. While that average isn’t bad, Watson hasn’t shown any flashes of being the next big star running back at Wisconsin with ample opportunities to do so.

Bradrick Shaw and Garrett Groshek haven’t been big factors in the Badgers run game either and Julius Davis appears headed for a complete redshirt. What happens if Taylor goes down? There hasn’t been anyone producing at a high enough level to give us confidence that it’ll just be “next man up” as we’ve seen year over year over year at UW since 1990.

John Chenal and Mason Stokke (pre-injury) have been very good fullbacks in the traditional Wisconsin mold, but they could be a bit better at their blocking technique and that will come with time on the field as both are younger options at fullback.

Overall, this group is doing well, I just downgrade for a lack of a second dynamic option at running back so far this year.

Tight Ends: B+

Much was expected out of junior tight end Jake Ferguson, so much so that many believed he would showcase himself and leave for the NFL after this season. After six games, I’m not so sure that is going to happen.

Yes, Ferguson is second on the team with 15 receptions, but he’s averaging 11 yards a catch and has just one touchdown to his name. Those numbers pace far behind last season.

There just seems to be something missing from the explosive player we saw in 2018, who caught 36 passes for over 450 yards and had four touchdowns to his name.

On the bright side, Ferguson has become a more reliable blocker and that could be the thing that gets him to the NFL a year early. We’ll see what happens the second half of the season though.

As for the rest of the group, it’s been hard to grade because injuries have piled up and not a single other tight end as caught a pass for the Badgers so far this season. So, when I look at Ferguson’s play, it’s hard to not give him a solid grade, but room for improvement and impact in the second half.

Wide Receivers: B-

There is no doubt that getting Quintez Cephus back in a Badgers uniform has been huge. But, with that said, this group has not produced the big plays we’d hope to see after a few years of experience for names like Danny Davis, A.J. Taylor and Kendric Pryor.

Cephus is the only receiver with a touchdown to his name, albeit there have only been eight passing touchdowns on the season. However, the leading TD man is running back Jonathan Taylor, who has four already this year.

Pryor came up big against Michigan State and overall this group has produced well when given the opportunity. But, the inability to get separation and thus stretch the defense holds them back.

Maybe the coaching staff is also holding back what we see from this group, as by-in-large, UW hasn’t had to open up the full offense to win a game this season.

Quarterback: A –

Alright, it’s time for Badgers nation to eat some crow here. Everyone thought that Coan was the second-coming of Alex Hornibrook after his first efforts last season. But, through the first six games, Coan has been anything but the second-coming of Hornibrook. In fact, you could say he’s been the anti-Hornibrook.

He’s been clutch, he’s making the smart decisions and he’s keeping drives alive. Doing that at Wisconsin, with the best running back in college football, is exactly what is needed.

Coan is completing a ridiculous 76.3 percent of his passes, which leads the league and is second nationally only to Joe Burrow at LSU. Now, he has only thrown for 1,119 yards (8th in the B1G) and you could say that isn’t great, but consider how he’s become a complementary piece to the run game and you can see why his efficiency and clutch play matters more.

Additionally, his eight touchdowns to just one interception ratio is phenomenal. Ohio State’s Justin Fields is the only other starter in the Big Ten that has thrown just one pick through the halfway point of the season.

I wanted to give a higher grade, but Coan has struggled to hit the deep ball at times and seems most comfortable hitting the seven to 15-yard passes. That’s fine, but having someone to really stretch a defense out of eight-man boxes would be nice.

Maybe I’m nitpicking, but Coan has established himself as the rightful starter and put to bed most of the critics by becoming the go-to force in the win over Michigan State after a shaky couple of weeks against Michigan and Northwestern.

Having three multiple-touchdown games given what Jonathan Taylor is doing on the ground is impressive through six games.

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Badgers football

Defense leads Badgers to win over Northwestern

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It sure wasn’t pretty, but the Wisconsin Badgers took down reigning West division champions, the Northwestern Wildcats just the same.

UW’s defense came up big in the 24-15 victory. What happened, which players were the highlights and what needs to be worked on as the 4-0 Badgers go out of conference next week?

Our publisher, Andrew Coppens, comes to you with his full recap of UW’s win.

Don’t forget to subscribe, hit that notifications bell and you’ll never miss a single video the rest of the year!

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