The Wisconsin Badgers start their 2013 season Monday afternoon at 2:15 PM with their first fall practice of the year, but Friday afternoon Coach Gary Andersen, his assistants, and a slew of players answered a variety of questions from the media within the confines of the UW Field House and Camp Randall Stadium. Interesting news and notes taken from the day's media sessions include position changes for some known players, open competition, and the opportunity of young players contributing.
Coach Andersen stated he was very happy with the front seven of his defense ("a good solid two-deep of ones" - aka, lots of depth - per Andersen) although there was one significant change, as fifth-year senior Ethan Armstrong will be moved to the field-side linebacker position, a key outside linebacker . "I think that's best for him and where he sits in his career, and he fits it very well for our defensive scheme," Andersen said.
"With Ethan, I think it's important for him just, he fits that position so well. He's athletic enough to run in that position, he's physical enough to be able to get up on the end of the line of scrimmage and be able to play, and he also has really good football instincts."
He stated being comfortable with fifth-year senior Conor O'Neill and juniors Derek Landisch and Michael Trotter, who will compete for playing time alongside fifth-year senior Chris Borland on the inside of the linebacking corp, helped make the decision easier.
Alongside Armstrong, Andersen noted sophomores Jesse Hayes, Vince Biegel, Joe Schobert, and possibly Michael Caputo (normally a safety) competing for playing time at outside linebacker.
Competition, Competition, Competition
Coach Andersen also talked at length about some of the fall competition, not just for starting positions but for depth and possible playing time.
Besides the obvious quarterback battle, who will step up in the receiver corp to compliment Jared Abbrederis, and the uncertainty in the secondary with Dezmen Southward being the lone starter returning, he mentioned the need to establish a third tailback and to answer some question marks on the offensive line.
That leads to...
Young Badgers Given Opportunity to Contribute
Andersen stated he did not want to have sophomore fullback Derek Watt be the Badgers' third tailback in the offense. With the loss of redshirt freshmen Vonte Jackson to injury and junior Jeff Lewis moving to defense in the race for a starting safety spot, that leaves the job for freshmen Corey Clement to lose. As Coach Andersen put it bluntly, "Corey has some big shoes to fill, it sounds like to me."
With the possibility of having senior James White and sophomore Melvin Gordon line up in the backfield at the same time, the need for a productive third option is keen as both a substitute but also if one of them goes down with an injury. "We got to have three quality running backs. This is a running offense. It's a powerful offense. It's a grind, and you got to understand, you got to have multiple reps as you move through," he said.
He also went out of his way to compliment redshirt freshmen Dan Voltz, who is taking over the center duties for current Dallas Cowboy Travis Frederick. "Dan at center is huge," he said. "I thought he played very well, and he needs to continue to do that."
Tailback James White also stated he believed Clement, freshman cornerback Sojourn Shelton and freshman wide receiver Robert Wheelwright all have the opportunity to make an impact and positive contribution to the team in their first year in the program.
Check back with Bucky's 5th Quarter in the coming days for players' audio and articles from the staff for all of the coverage from Wisconsin's media day.