Wisconsin Training Camp Preview: What To Watch Out For

After a long off-season, fall camp finally kicksoff Friday at 2:35 p.m when the Badgers take the field at Camp Randall Stadium for their first practice of the 2011 season.

Last week at Big Ten Media Days, we had a chance to talk to Bret Bielema, Nick Toon, Aaron Henry and Patrick Butrym and get our first sense how the team is unfolding this year on paper.

Based on my conversations with those guys -- and a full off-season of putting together Badger Kickoff 2011 -- here's what I'm keeping my eye this month as the Badgers prepare to face UNLV Sept. 1:

Questions

  • How has Russell Wilson adapted to the Badgers offense? We know he's a great kid who is fitting in perfectly in the UW locker room, but how will that translate to the field?
  • Who will emerge behind Nick Toon and Jared Abbrederis at the wideout position? Can we even assume the man we call "Abbracadabra" is ready to play full-time at the position. 
  • Is Manasseh Garner really all he's been hyped up to be this off-season and will he be more of a wide receiver or a tight end?
  • Speaking of tight ends, will Jake Byrne or Jacob Pedersen develop into an NFL-caliber tight end like the Badgers are used to having in their offense?
  • Are Chris Borland's shoulders healthy? Is Mike Taylor's knee healthy?
  • Who will emerge among a group of talented, but unproven defensive ends?
  • Will the Badgers have a reliable second and third cornerback and are they deep enough at safety?

Position battles

  • Quarterback: Hey, until Bret Bielema officially names Russell Wilson the starter, we have to acknowledge this as a position battle. My guess? Bielema will send a few shock waves through camp by putting Wilson with the twos a few times just to ruffle his feathers. Barring injury, Wilson is starting Week 1.
  • Running back: This is a deep group, but it's hard to order these guys 1-4 right now. Montee Ball and James White are your top two backs, but in what order? Jeff Lewis showed a lot of potential redshirting last year, but all three players in Chicago last week said true freshman Melvin Gordon is a beast and could play right away. Gordon was even the only freshman Bielema mentioned specifically.
  • Tight end: Byrne and Pedersen appear to be the top two right now, but Sherard Cadogan and Brian Wozniak are definitely in the mix for playing time. 
  • Right tackle: This is Josh Oglesby's job to lose, but he will be limited at the start of camp and it seems like he is always batting injuries. Casey Dehn and Rob Havenstein had an epic battle at right tackle during spring ball and they will push Oglesby hard for the job.
  • Linebacker: Borland and Taylor are guaranteed to start as long as they are healthy, but Kevin Claxton, Ethan Armstrong and Conor O'Neill will battle for the third spot. Claxton is probably your leader in the clubhouse going into camp, but I've heard a lot of good things about O'Neill's offseason.
  • Defensive end: This will be a fun one. Louis Nzegwu and David Gilbert are the probable starters right now, but if Brendan Kelly is healthy, he will give both of them a run. It wouldn't surprise me to see Kelly start on opening night. Pat Muldoon, Tyler Dippel and Warren Herring will also be in the mix.
  • Strong safety: Shelton Johnson and Dezmen Southward will battle it out to replace Jay Valai. Both have a lot of raw talent, but they need to prove they can make reads and smart decisions on the field. 
  • Returner: With David Gilreath gone, there will be a spotlight on the return duties throughout camp. Bielema will likely open up to a number of players and just see what he likes. Abbrederis and Henry will be in the mix for punt returns, while Jeff Lewis will get a strong look at kick return duties. The guy to watch out for is true freshman Kenzel Doe who has blazing speed and fits the mold of Gilreath when he came in as a true freshman and took over the return duties.

Of course, we will keep you updated on all these questions and position battles throughout camp. And I will be at Wisconsin's media day Sunday when Russell Wilson speaks to reporters for the first time at Camp Randall Stadium!

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