Just outside a week away from their season opener, the Wisconsin Badgers have closed practices to the media to begin preparing for No. 5 LSU.
Question marks on offense heading into camp revolved around the quarterback position (obviously), who would replace Derek Watt at fullback and the depth of the offensive line.
Quarterbacks Bart Houston and Alex Hornibrook battled throughout camp, but head coach Paul Chryst announced Thursday that Houston will start next Saturday. Austin Ramesh and Alec Ingold appear to be in line to shore up the fullback position, with converted linebacker Leon Jacobs an intriguing prospect who will now have two seasons to learn his craft.
Left guard Dan Voltz’s retirement hurts Wisconsin both on and off the field. UW loses its most experienced offensive lineman, arguably its most talented one, and also a leader that many looked up to. His retirement will deplete another interior lineman spot (as well as a true backup to center Michael Deiter), but there is experience and talent with Micah Kapoi and Jon Dietzen expected to compete for that spot.
Below are some projections for the Wisconsin Badgers’ offense before Monday’s official depth chart is released. Here are our defense depth chart projections.
|Running back||Corey Clement|
|Wide receiver 1||Robert Wheelwright|
|Wide receiver 2||Jazz Peavy|
|Tight end||Troy Fumagalli|
|Left tackle||Ryan Ramczyk|
|Left guard||Micah Kapoi|
|Right guard||Beau Benzschawel|
|Right tackle||Jacob Maxwell|
Houston has played in meaningful games, especially in relieving Joel Stave and performing well in Wisconsin's win against Illinois last season. As noted throughout camp, his arm strength stands out and he strung together some solid practices in the past two weeks after Hornibrook impressed during the first scrimmage. Chryst noted on Thursday, however, that there are still things for Houston to grow in.
Nothing should be surprising regarding the other skill positions. Clement, if the offensive line can stay healthy and in sync, could have a huge year. Austin Ramesh, I feel, will get the start with his experience the past couple of years as Derek Watt’s fullback. Don’t be surprised to see Alec Ingold’s named called, however, as running backs coach John Settle mentioned him as being a physical player. Wheelwright, Peavy and Fumagalli should provide more than adequate receiving targets for the quarterback.
With Voltz gone, either Kapoi or Dietzen will occupy the left guard spot. Kapoi has practiced more during fall camp due to Dietzen’s head injury. The Hawaii native also played significantly last season at both left and right guard. Expect him to get the initial reps when the starting offense takes the field next Saturday. Dietzen’s name could get called in the game, or at the very least, possibly take over at left guard later in the season, especially if injuries arise.
|Running back||Taiwan Deal|
|Wide receiver 1||George Rushing|
|Wide receiver 2||Reggie Love|
|Tight end||Eric Steffes|
|Offensive line||Brett Connors|
Hornibrook complements the offense as a quarterback that displays the ability to throw an accurate deep ball and will be a solid backup. Defenses may try to stack eight or nine in the box this season, especially with an improving (albeit, at times, injured) offensive line. While Hornibrook's arm is strong, he’s shown during practices a tendency to force passes into tight windows that don’t end well.
Taiwan Deal will be an intriguing backup to Clement this season. He’s steadily improved from his first season in Paul Chryst’s offense, and at 6’1, 224 pounds, has the physical tools to hold up during the conference season.
George Rushing can provide a great complement to Wheelwright and Peavy at wide receiver for the Badgers, who impressed during spring practices and looked solid in fall camp. Reggie Love will have the ability to contribute in his final season at Wisconsin, and both should be pushed by two true freshmen in Quintez Cephus and A.J. Taylor.
At tight end, Eric Steffes is your Jake Byrne-esque archetype—hand always in the ground and a great run-blocker. He has shown during practice that he can catch the ball, so the two-tight end sets Wisconsin has utilized in the past appear to be in good hands.
Second-team offensive line is the trickier projection. Voltz’s retirement has altered the linemen available, so I’ve only listed the "game-ready" offensive line without positions. If injuries happen at either left tackle or right tackle, expect Brett Connors and Beau Benzschawel or David Edwards to take over, respectively (Wisconsin could be in huge trouble if that’s the case).
Kapoi is this generation’s Bill Nagy-esque interior lineman who can move where needed and fit in nicely. If the Rimington Trophy candidate in Deiter goes down, I’ve seen Connors step in there during practices as well.
Edwards’s role should be something to watch as a sixth offensive lineman in a "Jumbo" look. For that alone, B5Q nominated him for SB Nation’s Piesman Trophy watch list.
|Running back||Dare Ogunbowale|
|Wide receiver 1||Quintez Cephus|
|Wide receiver 2||A.J. Taylor|
|Tight end||Kyle Penniston|
There are several skill positions that will see contributions from players.
Dare Ogunbowale, one of two captains for Wisconsin, has excellent pass-blocking and receiving skills. His first cut when eluding defenders allows him to gain needed yards in open space. With his experience last year, he’s a more than capable runner when needed, though it appears passing situations may be his calling this season with Clement and Deal receiving the bulk of the carries.
Leon Jacobs has this season and next to hone his craft at fullback. Running backs coach John Settle mentioned Jacobs runs better than most tailbacks he’s seen, and there’s tons of potential for the California native. Both Settle and offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph mentioned the "wow" plays he makes, but also some "oh" plays. That’s not uncharacteristic of a player who’s now moved to three different positions in his time at Wisconsin. He’s undoubtedly the most athletic of the three fullbacks, and once the position sinks in, he could challenge Ramesh and Ingold for significant playing time.
Cephus and Taylor should find time on the field. How much will be dictated by injuries during the season and their continued progression and development in Chryst’s offense. Cephus battled a right leg injury for part of camp but returned this past week, and he’s impressed early on. Taylor has shown flashes in camp after transitioning from a prep running back, though he’s dropped a few passes. Wisconsin fans should be excited for the future of the receiving corp, and another true freshman, Kendric Pryor, wasn’t even mentioned on the list.
Kyle Penniston has shown he can catch the ball during both spring and fall practices. He has the potential to be another standout tight end in Wisconsin's offense.