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A look at Wisconsin’s offense after two weeks of fall camp

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With a chunk of camp still to go, here’s how the Badgers’ depth chart is shaping up.

NCAA Football: Georgia State at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Fall camp for the Wisconsin Badgers is now closed to the media, but reporters have been able to see a couple weeks’ worth of practices since July 29.

It’s still very early, and there have been a slew of injuries that have kept key players off the field. In the case of inside linebacker Jack Cichy, his injury is a season-ender and possibly a career-ender from a collegiate standpoint. Regardless, position moves and battles have taken shape and will resolve themselves before the season-opener against Utah State.

Here is what B5Q has seen and heard from the Badgers’ offense through the first two weeks of fall practices, as well as our projections from the 105-man camp roster.

Projected Wisconsin Depth Chart — Offense

Position First Team Second Team
Position First Team Second Team
Quarterback Alex Hornibrook Karé Lyles/Jack Coan
Running Back Bradrick Shaw/Chris James Taiwan Deal
Fullback Alec Ingold/Austin Ramesh
Wide Receiver Jazz Peavy A.J. Taylor
Wide Receiver Quintez Cephus George Rushing
Tight End Troy Fumagalli Zander Neuville/Kyle Penniston
Left Tackle Michael Deiter David Moorman/Cole Van Lanen
Left Guard Jon Dietzen Micah Kapoi
Center Tyler Biadasz Brett Connors
Right Guard Beau Benzschawel Micah Kapoi/Jason Erdmann/David Moorman
Right Tackle David Edwards Patrick Kasl

Quarterback

Everyone knows the starter will be Alex Hornibrook, hands down. He’s performed well for most of fall camp, throwing a solid deep ball while still showcasing that hint of zip he gained after last year.

Behind him, well, that’s still up for grabs. Redshirt freshman Karé Lyles and true freshman Jack Coan are competing for the No. 2 spot behind the southpaw Hornibrook.

Offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph told reporters on Saturday that the competition is still on.

“I think it’s something you have to keep pushing forward and I like the way the two guys have competed,” Rudolph said. “Before two days ago, I thought both guys showed things in the huddle and in their execution that you just saw a confidence level on some things that you were like, ‘OK, guys are cutting it loose,’ but I think it’s ongoing right now and it’s the way it should be, probably.”

Lyles has a solid arm and has made some decent throws. However, he has been intercepted during the last few practices, including three by Wisconsin’s defensive backs during Saturday’s practice.

Coan threw the ball very well On Saturday. He also has mobility in the pocket. For a young kid, he’s shown he can throw the ball away when needed and not force bad passes.

Another factor here lies in the fact Coan is a true freshman and still has a redshirt year to burn. If Hornibrook stays healthy, that redshirt stays and gives the New York native another possible four years in Madison. Should a back-up become needed if Hornibrook goes down, head coach Paul Chryst and Rudolph would have to decide which quarterback gives them the best chance to lead the offense. We’ll see what the official depth chart says in two weeks.

Jake Kocorowski

Running back

No surprise here, but we expect there to be an “OR” between Chris James’s and Bradrick Shaw’s names. The duo received first-team reps with the offense during camp, and both provide intangibles to make this offense potent in its rushing attack. Shaw runs hard and showed a nice physicality during this past week of fall camp, while James can run between the tackles as well and is a special player with the ball in the open field.

Behind them, Taiwan Deal was having a pretty solid camp until a right leg injury forced him out of action on Wednesday.

“I thought he was having a great fall camp, and to be honest, he missed all of spring, but every time I watched him in spring practice he would be behind the play,” Rudolph said. “He would be pointing to where he was going, he would be pointing out the protections, he was into it. He was coaching guys behind. I’m just anxious to get him back, you know what I mean? I think we all are. I did notice him having the camp he’s having, so hopefully this won’t be much longer and he’ll be able to get back out there.”

Rudolph admitted on Saturday that he didn’t know when Deal will return, but behind him, there’s Pitt graduate transfer Rachid Ibrahim and redshirt freshman Garrett Groshek. Both have flashed at times with the reserves this camp.

Fullback

Long live the fullback. Both are capable starters. I’m still wanting Alec Ingold to relive his prep quarterback days and bust out a fullback option pass for a touchdown.

Alec Ingold catches a pass during drills on Saturday.
Alec Ingold catches a pass during drills on Saturday.
Jake Kocorowski

Wide receivers

Heading into the third week of camp, Ted Gilmore’s unit has been dealt some injuries that have prevented three of the top five options from taking the field. Seniors Jazz Peavy and George Rushing have been out this past week with left leg injuries—Peavy since Tuesday and Rushing since Thursday.

Rushing’s health will be something to continue watching due to the fact he’s on crutches and sporting a boot on his leg. A UW official confirmed on Saturday that redshirt freshman Kendric Pryor, who played well in the spring and at the start of fall camp, was out due to an injury sustained in a moped accident. Wisconsin has also been without true freshmen Cade Green and Emmet Perry for good chunks of fall camp due to injuries as well. They don’t give timetables for returns on the injury report, so it will be interesting to see who returns when the media is given player availability.

The brighter news with this position group is that sophomores Quintez Cephus and A.J. Taylor played well over the first two weeks of fall camp. Cephus made some plays down the field and appears to be the right complement to Peavy as a starter. Taylor has caught the ball quite well. Both will be key contributors this year along with Peavy, Rushing, and Pryor—the latter probably being that No. 5 wideout for the rotation.

A silver lining with the injuries to this position group is the fact that some of the younger players, notably true freshman Danny Davis and redshirt freshman Jack Dunn, have stepped up to make some plays with the reserves. Davis enjoyed a strong last week and Dunn’s been steady when being utilized in different looks.

“I think it comes up every position in camp, and it’s good,” Chryst said on Thurdsay when asked about players taking advantage of opportunities due to injuries. “I think it’s been good for Danny Davis. Today, we’re doing some twos and threes, and it was good for Jack Dunn, a guy who’s kind of worked and done different things. The biggest thing for the young guys is know what they’re doing so when those opportunities do come, they give themselves a chance. Other guys, you got to get them back, so we can kind of get and develop that timing to be right for the season.”

Tight ends

One of the few positions on the team that is deep and plentiful with potential contributors. Redshirt senior tight end, team captain, and Athlon Sports first-team All-American Troy Fumagalli will lead this group and has looked the part in the first two weeks of practice. I’m not sure much more needs to be said about his potential this year besides him being one of the nation’s best if he stays healthy.

Fellow former walk-on Zander Neuville has that look of a gnashing and mauling tight end in the run game, with some skills receiving the ball as well. However, he’s been laid up with a right leg injury since last Saturday. When he comes back, expect him to be a contributor.

Then there’s redshirt sophomore Kyle Penniston, who probably would be starting at most other programs without Fumagalli’s presence.

“‘Penny’ can play,” Rudolph said on Aug. 6. “My big thing for him is he doesn’t have to surprise us anymore. I believe he can do it every play regardless of assignment. He doesn’t have to worry about a pass or a run, I think he’s a heck of a football player. His growth has to be from no more surprising us if we can just lean on him and count him to get it done every time. And he can do it, so I’m excited for him.”

Behind Fumagalli and Penniston, the future seems bright for Mickey Turner’s position group. Redshirt freshman Luke Benzschawel and true freshman Jake Ferguson have received reps with the reserves and looked comfortable.

Offensive line

From what the first two weeks have shown, redshirt junior, team captain, and versatile lineman Michael Deiter will in all likelihood be Wisconsin’s starting left tackle against Utah State on Sept. 1.

“You can’t fix everything at one time,” Rudolph said on Saturday. “I think he’s cleaned something up each practice. I think he’s playing at his best right now, which is pretty good. He’s doing a pretty good job.”

Deiter has started 27 games at left guard and center during his Wisconsin career. Now at left tackle, he admitted the biggest transition revolves around covering space against more athletic and fast defenders.

“Those guys are more fast-twitch out there, they’re a little more athletic and then there’s a lot more space for me to cover out there,” Deiter said. “I’m getting used to it. I think the transition’s gone well. There’s a lot of stuff I can still get better with, and we have a lot of time to work with.”

Deiter’s adaption of the new position appears to be taking shape, according to the coaching staff.

“I think just the same things we all need to get better at,” Rudolph said when asked what else Deiter needs to progress upon to become a dominant left tackle. “He’s still suring some things up in his sets, but they’re improved. They were the best they were [Saturday]. I think getting all the reps into the plays at that position, because there are just slight variances when you see different looks or pressure looks. and finding that comfort and confidence level in there. I’d say he’s getting there very quickly.”

What’s allowed Deiter to bump out to the edge at left tackle is the emergence of redshirt freshman Tyler Biadasz. Rudolph admitted he thought at the beginning of spring that the Amherst, Wis., native could become a starter and wanted to work him in there.

Now, he appears to be among the best five linemen on the team.

“I’m super impressed. His confidence is coming,” Deiter said about Biadasz last Monday. “He’s really starting to be the center you want him to be, being commanding, letting everyone know what they need to do, being vocal, being loud, and the confidence is coming, like I said, and I think he’s going to be a really good player.”

The two guard spots appear to be split between three linemen who have significant game-time experience. Redshirt junior Beau Benzschawel has worked at right guard with the first-team for the first two weeks, while redshirt sophomore Jon Dietzen and redshirt junior Micah Kapoi have been working with the starters at left guard.

Kapoi worked at that spot with the first team for much of this past week. Reps for redshirt sophomore Jason Erdmann were also speckled in there before his shoulder injury on Thursday.

“Dietz’ is fighting through something but he hasn’t missed a practice,” Rudolph said. “He gets as much as he can in, but I like what he did so far. He’s shown a lot of improvement mentally as much as physically.

“I think Micah came in his best shape that he’s been in, and I think that’s showing up. He’s a little lighter and that’s allowing him to play with a little better conditioning and it’s good. Jason Erdmann has done a really good job. He’s really stood out at different times, and that’s a guy there too that can play some center spot, that’s done that for us in games before. So I think there is a lot of competition at guard and you know what, if last year plays true at all, you’re going to need everyone. You want to stay healthy and you want to do that, but when you’re confident in the back-ups you got, you don’t have to switch guys around to make something work. It’s a much better feeling.”

Redshirt sophomore David Edwards will assume the role of right tackle, though Rudolph mentioned on the second Saturday of fall camp that he felt he could use the former tight end as a swing.

For reserve tackles, redshirt freshmen Cole Van Lanen and Patrick Kasl worked on the left and right sides, respectively, with glimpses of David Moorman at left tackle as well.

Moorman also worked at second-team right guard this week after working at tackle the week before. Rudolph mentioned last week that the redshirt sophomore could be used as a swing. Kapoi has also taken reps as the back-up left guard.

The back-up center job, after Rudolph called out last Saturday that he would like a player to step up and own that position, appears to be owned by redshirt junior Brett Connors.

On Monday, Edwards praised Connors for his work in the couple of practices leading up to that day. Deiter said of him, “for sure, the second center, and I think he’s a guy that if Tyler’s not playing well, would easily take the first center job right away, and it’s great to have that type of depth.”

“I think he’s done a really good job,” Rudolph said on Saturday. “I got on him early in camp. I thought that he had a really good spring ball the year before last, and I think it’s hard sometimes when you start games and then all of a sudden you’re fighting your tail off for a reserve role. I told him, ‘Hey, we need everyone,’ and I thought he really practiced his tail off probably the last five practices and I thought that he really did show some things to solidify that back-up spot. We just need that to continue from him.”