Can Kenzel Doe become a consistent contributor in his junior season? - Mike McGinnis
Wisconsin may have five quarterbacks to pick through, but finding production from receivers not named Jared Abbrederis could be just as critical for the new offense under Gary Andersen.
During Monday's spring practice, the Wisconsin wide receiving core could be seen standing in a group catching balls from a throwing machine five yards away - a totally normal thing to see, except that practice had ended nearly 15 minutes earlier as the pass-catchers were the last group to leave the field.
This example of putting in overtime may be a byproduct of the unit's displeasure with the performance it put on the field last season.
In 2012, Wisconsin wide receivers accounted for just 1,283 receiving yards - just over 23 percent of UW's total offensive yards - and seven of the team's 53 touchdowns.
Redshirt senior Jared Abbrederis is the unquestioned leader and No. 1 option among the receivers, going for 837 yards and five touchdowns last year, but he knows there significant needed from the whole group.
"I thought for the most part, we did alright," Abbrederis said. "We weren't the best group, but we have this spring to keep improving."
This season, the route-runners welcome a new position coach to the field - as all but two position groups do -- with Chris Beatty coming over from Illinois, where he was the co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
With the exception of Abbrederis, Beatty admitted he had never really heard of the rest of Wisconsin's wide receivers. And with their lack of production last season, who can blame him?
"Well I obviously knew about Jared, being in the conference," Beatty said. "I knew he was a good player, knew he could do a lot of things. I had seen him run a bunch of double-move stuff and be able to work his routes that way. The rest of the guys I didn't know that much about."
Thus, the big question entering spring practice and eventually the fall is who will step up to take the No. 2 and No. 3 receiving spots?
Junior Kenzel Doe would be a logical fit to take one. With his small 5-foot-8 frame and top-level quickness, Doe makes for a good fit at the slot position to run routes through the middle of the field -- sort of similar to a Wes Welker type of player.
Last season, Doe did not see the ball too often with only 16 catches and 121 receiving yards. Yet, he was the third-most productive wide receiver. The junior contributes to the return game as well, leading the team in return yardage last season.
Going into the 2013 campaign, Doe is expecting to have a bigger role.
"I expect to be more involved in the passing game and the return game, as well," Doe said. "I just have to go out there and show the coaches what I can do and help the team out."
Doe showed some glimmers of what he is capable of last season, so the coaches know they have something in the third-year player. But, a player that has caught the attention of Abbrederis, Doe and Beatty this year is 6-foot-3 sophomore Reggie Love. All three guys brought up Love as someone who is really turning heads and impressing the coaching staff early on in spring practice.
Love saw hardly any action last season as a freshman, but if he can become somewhat of a consistent threat, he could really bring some help the wide-out group desperately needs.
Interestingly enough, Beatty says the amount of work the receivers will get in Wisconsin's predominately run-first program is up to them.
"The more we can handle, the more we'll get," Beatty said. "It's kind of on us. I tell those guys, ‘You get what you earn.' And that's kind of the deal. If we want to get more balls, we have to make plays on the ones we do get and make the most of them."
Just five practices into spring, there are still plenty of questions to be answered before Wisconsin's opening game in the fall. Right now, Doe says he and his receiving mates are going to put in the extra effort until those questions are answered and turn into contributions for the Badgers' offense.
"The game's always going to come down to a group," Doe said. "Our run game is basically unstoppable, but you're going to need a pass game to open the run game. So we look at that as we have to step up. So if that stepping up makes us stay after doing extra work -- whether it be catching more balls, running more routes, doing the extra stuff when no one is looking -- then that's what we're going to have to do."