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Hornibrook’s gone, but questions remain the same for Badgers QB’s

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If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?

It’s hard to argue that the formula that the Wisconsin Badgers have used for nearly 30 years has been highly successful. Play great defense, pound your opponent in to submission and catch them with a deep ball or two along the way.

UW has gone to six Rose Bowls, participated in two College Football Playoff bowl games and won six Big Ten titles in those nearly 30 years and with said formula.

But, that last part has been missing from the Badgers offense for awhile now…you know, since Russell Wilson stopped dazzling us with his rocket arm and escapability back in 2011.

From Joel Stave to Alex Hornibrook and other quarterbacks in between, the UW offense has struggled to find that guy who makes opponents respect his arm enough to stop stuffing the line of scrimmage.

With the news on Wednesday that Hornibrook would be transferring from the program for his final season, the competition is now wide open for the next Badgers starting quarterback.

The bar for success is admittedly low, after all, the Badgers finished 102nd in the country last season with 14 interceptions and 119th in passing offense (157.7 passing yards per game). Nearly anything would be better than what the quarterbacks of 2018 produced.

Losing Hornibrook does mean losing an experienced player, but does it matter much when that player had 33 interceptions in as many games played?

Sure, he was 26-6 as a starter over three years. But, was that because of or in spite of him? I’d argue having one of the best defenses and running back groups in the country has been the driver of that success, not Hornibrook.

Which brings me to the question at hand — is there a quarterback on the Badgers roster that can be someone other teams have to respect? Is there another player ala Russell Wilson, who is capable of taking this offense from ground and pound to three dimensional?

Let’s start with a look at the only quarterback on the roster to play a college game — Jack Coan.

Last season we got the biggest glimpse of Coan to date and what was shown wasn’t all that promising. He played in five games, starting four and completed 60.2 percent of his passes for 515 yards and 5 touchdowns to 3 interceptions.

There was plenty left to be desired, but I also wonder if it was because of too much protection from the coaching staff or just not being ready for the situation. Often the game plan called for Coan to dink and dunk the ball and he was never really given the opportunity to unleash the deep ball.

It seemed like the coaching staff was trying hard to get away with not having to put the game on the sophomore quarterback.

Coan now has those four starts under his belt and with Honribrook out of the way has the experience advantage over everyone else. But, is experience enough?

We’re about to find out, because the Badgers have one of the top quarterbacks in the 2019 class in the fold this spring in Graham Mertz.

Last we saw him, he was setting records at The All-American Bowl game en route to MVP honors. He was flinging the ball deep and accurately, something Badgers fans haven’t seen from a quarterback since Wilson came in to save this team in 2011.

But, there is bound to be a learning curve as Mertz transitions away from spread-based concepts to more under center work. How that transition goes this spring and how quickly he understands and executes the playbook will be telling.

The good news is that we’ve seen Mertz challenged against the best competition in the country at the quarterback position and he’s lived up to billing on every occasion. If ever there was a QB up to the challenge of playing early in a Badgers uniform, it is Mertz.

But, that doesn’t mean he has to be “the guy” either. There are other options to consider already on the Badgers roster.

Both Danny Vanden Boom and Chase Wolf flashed moments of potential all last offseason. In fact, Vanden Boom outplayed Coan throughout most of last spring before tailing off a bit in the competition in the fall.

Could Vande Boom pick it back up this spring and become a viable option? The former Kimberly star and walk-on at UW certainly has played at a level that makes giving him a legitimate chance this spring worthwhile.

On the other hand, Wolf was one of five quarterbacks in the mix last offseason and his reps have been limited. He’ll likely see many more this spring and it’s a chance to shine.

There’s no doubt he’s the dark horse in the race to replace Hornibrook, but with a full year of studying and learning the Badgers offense you never know what will happen when he gets his chance this spring.

All of this leads me to this conclusion — no one, not even the coaching staff has a real answer as to whom will lead the Badgers offense in 2019. If anyone tells you they do, it’s just an uneducated guess at best.

But, what I do know is that spring camp provides the coaches and players the best opportunity to fully understand what the quarterbacks could be capable of in 2019.

There’s little need to get work in in the run game save for the offensive line, but what is going to be important is pressure-testing the quarterbacks. Doing so in a controlled environment like spring ball is a great way to do so.

If the Badgers want to transform from a good team to a great one, they’ll need to find that transformational quarterback as soon as possible. It could also be that the coaching staff needs to find ways to transform the Badgers offense in small ways to take advantage of the quarterback’s strengths.

Hopefully there’s a positive answer that emerges following spring ball.

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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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Badgers football

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 football

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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Badgers football

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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