The Wisconsin Badgers start spring practices under new head coach Paul Chryst on Sunday. With the new era beginning, we'll tackle a series of questions throughout the upcoming week as we once again whet our appetites for pigskin.
First, in case you missed them, here are our position previews from last month:
- Running backs
- Wide receivers
- Tight ends
- Offensive line
- Defensive line
- Defensive backs
- Special teams
- Coaching staff
Now, onto the new stuff: Which positions will you be watching most closely this spring?
Drew Hamm: Look, like all of you, I've been waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat worried about if I unplugged the hotplate that I left on top of a stack of newspapers that is The Wisconsin Quarterback SituationTM since last season ended. But that's not the position I'm most worried about. Let's allow Paul Chryst to worry about the QB problem, which, is it really even a problem? Joel Stave has a great record as a starter and boy does he LOOK like a quarterback. And then there is Austin Kaf... I'm sorry, this isn't what I wanted to talk about.
I think the position that I am most concerned about heading into spring practice is nose guard. If you'll recall our early spring preview for the defensive line, Jim noted how many different players started at nose guard last year: it was three (with none of them being Warren Herring, the presumed starter heading into the season), and of them, Arthur Goldberg returns as the expected first-teamer. I think Goldberg is a fine player, but probably isn't the space eater that Wisconsin might want at the position. Jeremy Patterson is most certainly a space eater (6'3, 326 pounds) but has yet to play a down of college football. There are a couple of freshmen coming in at the position, but they won't be in Madison for spring ball.
Anyways, the Eagles just traded Nick Foles for Sam Bradford's knee cartilage and I can't form a coherent thought anymore. The nose guard position is a concern for me as is my health on Sundays next fall.
UW Pro Day
Video: Melvin Gordon talks Wisconsin pro day
Former Wisconsin Badgers running back Melvin Gordon spoke with the media after his pro day workout on Wednesday, detailing his NFL dream and his plans for the weeks leading up to the NFL draft.
UW Pro Day
Jake Kocorowski: Wisconsin lost five starters on defense. Two of them, inside linebackers Marcus Trotter and Derek Landisch, combined for 177 tackles, 28 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks in 2014. The two also were second and third on the team in tackles last season. The Badgers return only one inside linebacker who significantly contributed last season, junior Leon Jacobs. The other back-up, Michael Trotter, also exhausted his eligibility.
Though one-half of the Chevy Bad Boys returns with outside linebackers Vince Biegel and Joe Schobert, the inside of the linebacking corp will need to be solidified. Jacobs' athleticism is a plus at the position, and he played very well in place of an injured Trotter against Illinois with 12 tackles, two tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks -- but he still only started one game at the "mac" middle linebacker spot. If the Badgers stick with the 3-4 defense -- there have been no signs of defensive coordinator Dave Aranda's scheme changing -- they'll need an unproven player like redshirt freshmen D'Cota Dixon and T.J. Edwards, sophomore Jack Cichy or a young crew of true freshmen to step up. Early enrollee Nick Thomas will have a chance to gain some valuable experience this spring. The inside linebackers have big shoes to fill before facing Alaama in September, but there's plenty of time to find out who will fill the spot next to Jacobs.
Jim Dayton: I feel like I'm copping out here by talking about the quarterbacks, but after much consideration, I'd be lying to you all if I wrote about any other position. In Wisconsin's three losses this past season, Joel Stave and Tanner McEvoy were a combined 37-of-96 for 375 yards with just one touchdown and nine interceptions.
While no loss can solely be placed on one position group, it's evident that an occasionally horrendous passing game played a major role in those defeats. As Drew noted above, having a talented offensive mind like Chryst at the helm is reassuring, but nobody on the roster appears ready to completely fix the quarterback issues this fall.
Despite his powerful arm, I'm not sure Stave will ever figure out how to consistently throw an accurate deep ball, and I would be shocked if McEvoy is used as anything other than a gimmick. Previous coaching staffs have been so tight-lipped on Bart Houston that I don't know what to think about him, but all I've ever heard is that he has the same skillset as Stave.
That leaves us with redshirt freshman D.J. Gillins and newcomers Austin Kafentzis and Alex Hornibrook. I'm intrigued with all three of these players, but I doubt any of them challenge for the starting job simply because of their inexperience. That could translate into another year of quarterback frustration.
Louis Bien: Hell, quarterback HAS to be better than last season. We have the same dudes as last year, and then we add dudes, so the product of their sums means we should be OK, especially with Chryst as a multiplier. Unless Wisconsin is just one big outlier. I didn't get very far in math.
I do know that losing three starters of a unit that starts five players is inadvisable, however. Wisconsin returns the two bodies one would want back if one had a choice in the matter -- left tackle Tyler Marz and center Dan Voltz -- but this is still an offensive line plugging in mostly unproven players.
I feel comfortable about Ray Ball at left guard. But Michael Deiter potentially playing right guard? Hayden Biegel at right tackle? Who the hell knows what those guys are going to do. Behind them is a big bowl of welp. Wisconsin isn't quite where it wants to be numbers-wise. For a second straight season, the team doesn't have a lot of depth up front, and it can only hope to stay lucky with injuries.
Oh yeah, the offensive line also lost another good position coach, struck out on Bob Bostad and is now being headed by Joe Rudolph, who could be perfectly fine but is also coaching offensive line for the first time and splitting the role with coordinating duties.
Luke Mueller: For me, the defensive line is maybe the most worrisome position going into spring. This area is going to be a work in progress after losing Zags and Warren Herring. While Chikwe Obasih returns, players like Alec James, Arthur Goldberg and Jeremy Patterson will have to step up with little experience. It is a position that also has lacked in depth, therefore the spring will be pivotal to the development of the young players waiting for their shot.
The other position that really intrigues me is running back. While we all know what Corey Clement can do; we don't know if he can carry the whole load. The spring will help two running backs who are coming back from injuries -- Caleb Kinlaw and Taiwan Deal -- get much needed reps. Wisconsin has traditionally had a two or three-back system over the last half-decade and there is no clear-cut favorite for the second back position. Kinlaw and Deal have the chance to set themselves apart from incoming freshmen Bradrick Shaw and Jordan Stevenson.
Finally, I'm excited to see what A.J. Jordan can do not that he will have a whole spring to play cornerback. He is very athletic and has unfortunately been tossed between wide receiver, safety and cornerback. Now, he has one area to focus on and can get valuable reps. He could be the aggressive ball hawk that the secondary desperately needs.