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Wisconsin Badgers 2017 Spring Football To-Do List

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While the snow may be blanketing the ground and the temperatures may be closer to zero than 70 — the 2017 Wisconsin Badgers spring football camp is here.

For the Wisconsin Badgers, the focus has to turn to how to take this program to the next level. UW ended last season by beating Western Michigan in the Cotton Bowl. However, it was arguably one win in the Big Ten championship game away from getting to the College Football Playoff.

Can a team with some missing parts and more youth bring Paul Chryst his first Big Ten championship? Let’s look at what must happen this spring for the Wisconsin Badgers.

Spring Football Starting Date: March 14
Spring Football Game: April 21

Key Players Lost: T.J. Watt, OLB; Vince Biegel, OLB; Ryan Ramczyk, LT; Sojourn Shelton, CB
Key Players Returning: Alex Hornibrook, QB; Jazz Peavy, WR; Jon Dietzen, LG; David Edwards, LT; Bradrick Shaw, RB; Chikwe Obasih, DE; Olive Sagapolu, NG; T.J. Edwards, ILB; D’Cota Dixon, S; Derrick Tindal, CB

Offensive To-Do List:

— Find O-Line Continuity: UW’s youth movement will continue this offseason, but with left tackle Ryan Ramczyk taking off to the NFL a year early it also means another offseason of transition. We got a glimpse of what the O-Line could look like as redshirt sophomore David Edwards was named the starter prior to practice on Tuesday.

That means a battle between Edwards and Bay Port (Green Bay, Wis.) product Cole Van Lanen is likely to not really be a battle. Additionally, it appears Patrick Kasl is going to move to the right side with the first-team offense.

Let’s not forget that former starting right tackle Jacob Maxwell won’t be back until fall and starting left guard Jon Dietzen will miss this spring. Given the close competition between Dietzen and Micah Kapoi this past season that could be worth watching.

If the first practice is any indication, there also appears to be some strategy being employed on the offensive line as it was Tyler Biadasz at center and Michael Dieter sliding out to left guard. Look for this spring to be about getting experience for young players and for the coaching staff to figure out who truly makes up the best five offensive linemen to be on the field this fall.

— Who is the No. 1 Running Back: Nothing goes hand-in-hand with a good offensive line battle than a battle of motivated running backs behind them. That’s exactly what the Wisconsin Badger have on their hands this spring with both Corey Clement and Dare Ogunbowale graduated. As Chryst named starters on Monday, sophomore Bradrick Shaw wasn’t on the first line like many thought would be the given.

Instead it appears there’s been a real battle brewing between Pitt transfer Chris James and him. James apparently looked the part in the first practice of the spring (as much as a running back can without pads or live tackling happening).

There’s no question that Wisconsin needs a running back that can take over as the focal point and establishing that this spring will be vital. So, if you want an old-fashioned position battle, it appears that running back will be a good spot to start looking at.

— Is There a Second WR Option?: Of all the stories to take away from the 2016 season, one of the most underrated was that of wide receiver Jazz Peavy. The unheralded junior stepped up big time last season and goes in to his senior season as the unquestioned No. 1 wide receiver for Alex Hornibrook (who was named the starter before spring ball started).

That’s well and good, but UW needs to be a passing offense that can rely on more than just targeting Peavy and tight end Tory Fumagalli. Opponents will be hip to the gameplan unlike most of last season.

So, who will step up to the be the other quality option alongside Peavy? Early indications are that sophomore Quintez Cephus will do just that. He finished last season with just four receptions for 94 yards, but was clearly coming on as a strong target as the season went on.

Wisconsin will also give hard looks to the likes of fellow sophomore A.J. Taylor, who may be most suited for a slot role, and senior George Rushing. If anyone doesn’t step up, that is on them because the reps will certainly be there this spring.

Defensive To-Do List:

— Figure Out the Safety Position: New defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard will have a lot on his plate, taking over for the departed Justin Wilcox as a first-time defensive coordinator. Perhaps his most important decisions will come at a position he is very familiar with — safety.

With Leo Musso graduated there is a big opening next to the D’Cota Dixon, who was named third-team All-Big Ten last season. It appears Leonhard’s preference is to take last season’s nickel back, Natrell Jamerson, and move him to safety. A lot of that has to do with the impressive scout team performance of Hawaii transfer Nick Nelson. Will that experiment work or will former 4-star recruit Arrington Farrar finally live up to the potential he had coming in to college?

Dixon was a revelation for UW last season, but there also needs to be some depth worked on thanks to graduation of Musso. Young names like Seth Currens, Patrick Johnson and Eric Burrell were all highly sought after players in high school. Can they be the ones to add the needed depth?

— What to Make of Inside Linebacker: Few coaches are going to complain when they have a gluttony of quality players to choose from at any position. That appears to be the case at inside linebacker, but will this spring give the Badgers coaching staff any clarity to a group of four players that have all started and played huge roles for the team?

Some of that clarity will come as both Jack Cichy (shoulder) and Chris Orr (knee) will be limited in terms of contact practice this spring. However, that still leaves Ryan Connelly and T.J. Edwards as starters back at the position. Edwards was a non-participant and in a walking boot for the first practice and Connelly wasn’t out there either.

That left up-and-comer Nick Thomas and former inside linebacker, turned safety, turned cornerback, turned back to inside linebacker, Leon Jacobs, as the only experienced players out on the field for the first day. Can anything really be settled at the position with all that going on?

— Figure Out a Rotation at Outside Linebacker: Sure, it would be great to know who the starters will be at outside linebacker. That just isn’t realistic though, especially given just how deep the position is and how little you are going to know from just 15 practices.

It should be no surprise that both Zack Baun and Garrett Dooley got the first-team reps today. After all, both did get starts in place of injured outside linebackers last season. However, the coaching staff is high on JUCO transfer Andrew Van Ginkel and sophomore Alabama transfer Christian Bell.

Oh, and don’t forget players like Keldric Preston, Noah Burks and Griffin Grady. Burks and Grady were impressive behind the scenes last year as redshirt freshmen and Preston figured out how best to make use of his long frame and athleticism by slimming down and getting in to looking like a linebacker more than a defensive end.

There are so many pieces to the puzzle at outside linebacker that the coaching staff has to thinking it wise to just find a group of four or five guys that will make up the main rotation next year and see who wins the starting roles this fall.

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Best, worst case scenarios for Badgers quarterbacks in 2019

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Believe it or not, the start of the Wisconsin Badgers fall camp is right around the corner and we’re hitting the home stretch of our preview season as well.

Previous Positions:Running Back | Defensive Line | Wide Receiver | Outside Linebacker | Inside Linebacker |

No position has had more of the spotlight and taken up more of our conversation than what is happening at quarterback. After watching the QB play go from ok to disaster in 2018, it is back to the drawing board in many ways.

With Alex Hornibrook off to Florida State for his final season and the highest rated quarterback recruit in Badgers history on campus, this offseason has been full of intrigue.

But, what will the 2019 season look like for the most critical position on this offense? Let’s take a look at exactly that.

Best Case Scenario

The Badgers find out they hit the jackpot with Graham Mertz and he’s spent the time between spring and fall ball getting up to speed on the offense. Mertz immediately shows this is his job and the coaching staff sees it quickly as well.

Either that or Jack Coan comes in and commands the position and the offense with accuracy and an ability to hit the deep ball. The offense gels around him and heading in to the opener at South Florida, Coan is the man behind center by a wide margin.

Yes, there are two best-case scenarios at play. But, that’s because Wisconsin’s coaching staff would really love for someone to flat-out win the starting job early on in fall camp. Will that happen? That’s the million dollar question and don’t count out Chase Wolf from this competition either. He came on strong as spring went along and his abilities give the Badgers offense some different wrinkles that could be intriguing.

No matter whom wins the battle in fall camp, the best case scenario is that that person wins the battle early, the offense can focus on installing around that quarterback and said quarterback shows why he won the job with quality play during the season.

Worst Case Scenario

If we go in to week three of fall camp and there is no winner to the quarterback job, I’m not so confident in this group. Yes, it’s the job of everyone to compete at a high level, but the coaching staff not being able to separate between the bunch isn’t good news.

My worst-case scenario would be no winner coming out of fall camp, we see quarterbacks splitting time in the fall and this offense stalling out in the pass game once again.

Musical chairs at quarterback never seems to work at Wisconsin and that especially played out last season with Coan clearly thrown to the wolves before he was ready to make a full impact after Hornibrook’s injury.

As long as the Badgers can avoid having to play multiple quarterbacks because none of them have wrestled the position for themselves, UW’s offense should be in a better position in 2019 than it was in 2018.

Most Likely to Happen

As much as the fans want to see Graham Mertz come in and be this game-changing quarterback out of the gate, the most likely scenario is that Mertz gets some game action in the non-conference games and Jack Coan is your regular starter.

I can foresee the scenario playing out much like Coan’s true freshman season. The only difference being that Mertz won’t have to give up his redshirt to play in a single game.

It seems like the most likely to happen scenario is that Coan is your starter for the year with Mertz as the man getting the early season reps behind him and then Chase Wolf being the other option to get reps during conference play.

Let’s not forget that Coan is the only quarterback on this roster that has seen more than a complete mop-up duty. Danny Vanden Boom could be an option too, but it seems like Wolf and Mertz passed him up in the spring competition.

As much as Mertz is the future, coaches are paid to win games now and that likely means playing it safe with Coan.

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Best, worst case scenarios for Badgers ILB’s in 2019

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We hope you enjoyed the Independence Day holiday, but it is time to get back to some business and that means continuing our series looking in to every position group for the 2019 Wisconsin Badgers.

Previous Positions: Running Back | Defensive Line | Wide Receiver | Outside Linebacker |

Since we went outside the last time around, today we will focus on a position that has long been a strength of the Badgers program — inside linebacker.

What could happen with this group in 2019? Let’s find out.

Best Case Scenario

Yes, the Badgers face life without an All-American and a steady veteran thanks to the graduations of T.J. Edwards and Ryan Connelly. But, the good news is that this group was one of the deepest and most productive overall last season.

Veteran Chris Orr will get one starting spot and former 4-star recruit Jack Sanborn will step in to the other starting role. So, the best case scenario for this group is that Orr, who started as a freshman, gets back to that kind of form, and we see quality play from a combination of younger players like Sanborn and freshman Leo Chenal.

No one had a bigger breakout this spring than Chenal did. He came in as an early enrollee, but well under the radar. By the end of spring ball, it looked very much like he won’t be redshirting and will be challenging for a lot of snaps in the fall.

It would be great to see that happen, because Orr has just one year left in the Cardinal and White.

Worst Case Scenario

What would really hurt this group is if Orr or Sanborn were to go down with an injury here. Yes, Chenal looked good in spring ball like I mentioned before and yes Mike Maskalunas has shown flashes of ability, but are they really ready to be thrust in to the majority of snaps at inside linebacker together?

Experience is an issue for this group and I could see an injury exposing that lack of experience in a big way. Even if the Badgers wanted to go with an older player, the only other option would be Seth Currens and he just converted from safety in the spring himself.

Other than that it would be Hunter Johnson or two walk-ons that were here in the spring.

The Badgers only inside linebacker recruit in the 2019 class was Chenal too, so there will be no more help coming in to fall camp.

Most Likely to Happen

The good news is that I don’t see the worst case scenario actually happening, at least not in a major way. Orr’s medical history suggests he could be prone to missing a game or two with a nagging injury, but don’t expect anything crazy to happen.

I also believe we will see the emergence of Sanborn and Chenal as the future of this position for the Badgers. In fact, Sanborn has looked so good in spring and in his limited playing time last season, that I suspect he could be a darkhorse for All-Big Ten honors at season’s end.

Look for this group to be a downhill, hard-hitting and more athletic group than we saw last season and that could make a major difference for those playing behind them.

Defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard and his staff have a lot to figure out, but they should feel safe with the talent that is available to them at inside linebacker.

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Best, worst case scenarios for Badgers OLB’s in 2019

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This time next month, the pads may be popping and the 2019 Wisconsin Badgers fall practices will be under way. It’s so close we all can almost taste it.

But, as we look forward to the 2019 season we’re going to try something a bit different. Gone are the usual ways of looking position groups and giving you a fall preview that last’s a week.

Well, that’s because this season is vital to the Paul Chryst era. There’s a changing of the guard going on. After a disappointing 2018 season that saw UW drop Paul Bunyan’s Axe for the first time in 15 years and not win the Big Ten West, the question is if that’s a sign of decline or a blip on the radar.

In order to best answer that question, we’re actually going to start with a look at what needs to happen, what the Badgers need to avoid and what is really likely at every position.

Previous Positions: Running Back | Defensive Line | Wide Receiver

Up today is a look at the outside linebacker position.

Best Case Scenario:

Last year, the outside linebackers contributed just 8 total sacks to a team total of 19. That’s a lot of contribution to the effort, but the effort was far below expectations set by previous groups. Additionally, the graduation of Andrew Van Ginkel means just 2.5 sacks return from the outside linebacker position in 2019.

Those sacks belong to Zack Baun, who got his feet wet as a starter last season and is looking for big things to happen in 2019. The good news is that Baun was one of Wisconsin’s best run-stoppers on the edge.

Ideally, Baun not only is a leader of this defensive group in 2019, but becomes much more disruptive behind the line of scrimmage too.

Wisconsin has a lot of potential that could start opposite of him. Former Alabama transfer Christian Bell, former 4-star recruit Noah Burks and former inside linebacker Griffin Grady all had their moments of shine in spring ball.

In a best case scenario, the Badgers have more than one of that group step up as contributors to an overall group of outside linebackers that don’t have a lot of in-game experience or depth.

Getting this group to contribute double-digit sacks as a whole would be a great step forward.

Worst Case Scenario:

Noah Burks or Christian Bell don’t live up to their enormous potential. It’s as plain and simple as that.

Wisconsin needs them to become pass-rushing specialists in a big way if this defense is going to be as aggressive as it is designed to be. Often times last season, the inability of the front seven to get pressure really hung an inexperienced secondary out to dry.

If UW experiences more of that, it could really be trouble in 2019. The Badgers need this defense to step up its game, and having both of the expected top contenders in replacing Van Ginkel flame out would be a disaster all the way around.

Most Likely to Happen:

Given all the unknowns surrounding the outside linebacker position, this is a difficult position to predict. However, I will say this — Zack Baun will end up as an All-Big Ten performer.

I believe he just scratched the surface of his potential last year, especially since he was just coming off an awful injury history prior to it. If he stays healthy in 2019, I predict he becomes a surprise player to many outside observers in the Big Ten.

That said, I also believe we will see Christian Bell and Noah Burks become a handful for opposing offensive coordinators to deal with. Both have been patient with the talent that was in front of them, but they are bursting with potential when they have seen the field.

So, to answer the question most want to know…I believe this all signals a position group ready to be a major force once again after that down year in 2018.

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Best, Worst case scenarios for Badgers Wide Receivers in 2019

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The heat of summer is upon us and the recruiting trail has been even hotter for the Wisconsin Badgers. However, that heat also indicates that the long offseason nightmare is about to be over.

With that in mind, we’re taking a summer-long look at each position group heading in to the 2019 season.

Previous Positions: Running Back | Defensive Line |

Today, we flip back to the offensive side of the ball and look at a second skill position — wide receiver.

After what was supposed to be a breakout year for the group in 2018, what will this group have in store for 2019? Let’s look at the best and worst case scenarios at play.

Best Case Scenario

If the Badgers want to get going in the pass game, the wide receiver group needs to step up the deep game in a big way. While A.J. Taylor, Danny Davis and Kendric Pryor have proven to be reliable assets, 2018 felt much like they all barely scratched the surface of their potential.

The trio combined for 95 receptions (which was 53 percent of all receptions as a team), 1,212 yards and 11 of 19 touchdown receptions on the year.

For this season, the best case scenario actually involves the quarterback position almost more-so than anything this group can do. The receivers could benefit from a consistently good passer at quarterback and a more open playbook as well.

Whether it is Jack Coan or wonderkid recruit, Graham Mertz, the consistency and trust to open up the playbook needs to be there.

Additionally, an increased role for speedster Aaron Cruickshank would be the best case scenario.

Worst Case Scenario

Danny Davis emerged as the most targeted receiver last season, catching 40 passes to lead all wide receivers on the team. He will enter his junior season with an increase in expectations and no off-field distractions like he had to deal with last season thanks to his stupid decision-making.

That aside, Davis is the most well-rounded receiver in this group and the one that could wind up be the deep threat that has been missing for awhile now. So, any injury to Davis would be bad news.

In fact, any sustained injuries to the likes of Davis, Pryor and Taylor would not be good. UW is very inexperienced behind this trio, and inexperience at QB and WR may not be a fun combination.

Dare I say, it would lead to UW not being back on top of the West division mountain?

Most Likely to Happen

I fully believe that the coaching staff will go in to the season knowing which quarterback they’ll go with and stick with. Confidence is key to helping this wide receiver group and I expect the Badgers offense to be much more balanced in 2019 than it was over the past two seasons.

Look for Davis, Pryor and Taylor to all increase their overall numbers and likely go over the 15 touchdown mark as a group. More importantly, I expect much more play-action and much more from the deep passing game too. That should be music to a talented, but under used group’s ears.

Don’t be surprised to see one of the Badgers wide receivers make a run at All-Big Ten honors as a result of that shift back to balance.

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