MADISON -- Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen sat in the Camp Randall Stadium media room after a busy National Signing Day on Wednesday to address the Badgers' 2014 recruiting class that includes 25 scholarship athletes and five walk-ons.
Throughout this recruiting cycle, he coaching staff was determined to address three key positions: the offensive line, defensive backs and wide receivers. Andersen mentioned that his staff hoped to get up to 16 scholarship offensive linemen by 2015, as the addition of six brought the current total to 14. He expects early enrollees Jaden Gault and Michael Deiter, along with George Panos. In Deiter's case, with the ongoing injuries to center Dan Voltz and Dallas Lewallen, the true freshman may be the team's starting center for spring practices.
"That is a tremendous opportunity for a young freshman at the center spot," Andersen said. "Very challenging, but a great opportunity."
As for the secondary, the Badgers were looking to become more athletic while also filling holes left by the departures of Dezmen Southward and Tanner McEvoy, the latter of whom Andersen confirmed will once again compete for the starting quarterback job. That vacates key safety and nickel back positions with the various fronts and schemes defensive coordinator Dave Aranda threw at opposing offenses last year.
"We weren't so much looking for corners or safeties," Andersen said. "We were looking for young men that are highly competitive, that love the game of football, that can run."
With five wide receivers signing their letters of intent on Wednesday, Andersen and the coaching staff were hoping to get higher numbers at that position group to create competition between the current players in the program, whom Andersen stated are "making strides" to get on the field, and the young incoming freshmen. That's especially significant after the departure of Wisconsin's all-time receptions leader, Jared Abbrederis.
"If you look at the wide receiver position first, you've got five young men that what they have in common is is they have very good speed, they have good size," Andersen said.
"And they have tremendous competitiveness, and their expectations are to come in and compete."
Andersen also confirmed that he will have to enter his second year of coaching Wisconsin without running backs coach and recruiting coordinator Thomas Hammock. Credited with recruiting and developing Badgers standouts Montee Ball, James White, Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement, Hammock coached the running backs early this morning but then made his decision to become the running backs coach for the Baltimore Ravens.
The head coach applauded Hammock for being a great communicator and a good friend, acknowledging how he adapted to past transitions within the coaching staff, and how much he's meant to the continued success of the program as he's taken talented players and molded them into very good players.
"He's meant a lot to Wisconsin," Andersen stated. "And let me just say this: Wisconsin means a lot to Thomas Hammock, and it always will."
- Andersen mentioned it will be very important to give each quarterback opportunities to compete for the starting job in spring football starting in March. The staff will, however, face obstacles in giving enough reps to them all. Look for the competition to involve incumbent starter Joel Stave -- who will indeed enter the spring as the No. 1 quarterback -- Bart Houston, McEvoy, Connor Senger and D.J. Gillins. "That is a definite challenge and something we're still in the middle of constructing as we move forward to spring ball," Andersen said.
- Andersen on Stave: "Joel's our starting quarterback. He started all the games last year. It's his spot to lose."
- Sophomore Joe Schobert has moved from outside linebacker to the inside.
- Regarding recruiting areas, Andersen hopes to have two coaches devoted full-time to the East Coast and "compartmentalize" the Midwest, along with a full-time coach in Georgia and defensive line coach Chad Kauha'aha'a continuing to patrol the West Coast.
- Aranda, when asked about defensive back D'Cota Dixon, applauded his instincts, physical nature, and ball skills on the field, but also complimented one of his newest players on being the "mayor" of his high school, as Dixon's personality was positively recognized through many social circles at New Symrna Beach High School in Florida. "Brings me back to when I was in high school, know what I mean?" Aranda joked.