Wisconsin wide receivers looking to become deeper, more versatile

Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE

Wisconsin fans don't have to worry about what they'll get out of Jared Abbrederis, one of the Big Ten's best receivers. But what about the rest of the group? They're ready to erase the question mark beside their names -- including Tanner McEvoy.

MADISON -- Statistically, Wisconsin's receiving corps looks like nothing more than a one-man show. Jared Abbrederis caught more passes for more yards and more touchdowns last year than the combined totals of every other receiver on the Badgers' 2013 roster.

After an offseason of coaching changes, extra reps and competition at the position, everyone below the program's eighth-leading all-time receiver on the depth chart has hope that it won't be the same this season.

"I feel like the coaches are starting to get that confidence where it doesn't matter who's out there, you feel confident that they can go out there and do it," junior Kenzel Doe said. "We've been out there competing each and every day.

"I'm definitely ready. I feel like my junior year I've got to definitely step up more and take a better role. I'm ready as can be, and I hope the coaches can trust me to go out there and do it."

Doe has the mindset of many Wisconsin receivers looking to breakout this season. He's competing with sophomore Jordan Fredrick for the other starting spot beside Abbrederis, and senior Jeff Duckworth, redshirt freshman Alex Erickson, sophomore Reggie Love and true freshman Robert Wheelwright are also looking to prove they deserve ample playing time.

Despite the lack of production last year, the group has shown some promise during fall camp, and Erickson and Wheelwright are just more than a week away from having their first chance to prove themselves during game action.

Also, with so many bodies competing for a chance to contribute, there hasn't been time to delay any development.

"You really can't take plays off, days off," said Fredrick, the team's second-leading returning receiver after catching 17 passes for 196 yards and one touchdown last year. "It's not one of those things where you're a superstar and no matter what you do, you're probably going to keep your job. So every day matters, and every play. It gets you better."

Then there's Tanner McEvoy. A week removed from competing for the Badgers' starting quarterback position, the 6-foot-6, 223-pound target has spent the last two days impressing his colleagues at wideout.

During red zone skelly drills Wednesday, McEvoy -- who played receiver in high school -- hauled in a tough touchdown grab over one-on-one coverage on a fade route, showing flashes of a potential mismatch Wisconsin could use around the goal line this season. After all, Abbrederis began his career with the Badgers as a walk-on quarterback.

"(McEvoy) made a great catch yesterday, and made a great release, too, which you don't usually see naturally," Fredrick said. "He's a great athlete, so he was showing something different (Wednesday). He's just got to learn the position now, obviously. He's going to be a great receiver."

Wisconsin's wide receiver depth chart doesn't appear to lack potential, but the Badgers' coaching staff needs more than potential from that position when it comes time to win games in the Big Ten.

With new head coach Gary Andersen and offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig implementing more of a spread-style attack, they'll need more than just Abbrederis making plays in the passing game.

"When you're going with a lot of different personnel, with a lot of different wideouts, you're going to want different guys that can show different things, where teams have to get ready for more than just one guy or more than just two guys," Fredrick said.

"So it's big if more than just the starting three or starting two show up and make plays. We need multiple guys who can (produce) out there every day."

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