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Paul Chryst previews Utah State vs. Wisconsin

The Badgers’ head coach holds his first game-week press conference of 2017.

MADISON — The No. 9 Wisconsin Badgers begin their 2017 campaign on Friday, and with that, the weekly press conferences with head coach Paul Chryst have started once again.

Wisconsin’s first opponent is Utah State. The intriguing part of scouting and preparing the first game of the year is that there really isn’t any updated film on the upcoming opponent.

“I think as we study the film, and these first games every year are always a little unique because things change,” Chryst said on Sunday, “whether it’s schematics, even if the staff had stayed exactly the same, there’s most likely to be some differences. Yet, there’s a number of players you can watch their film and you get an idea of who they were last year and project that they’re only going to be better.”

Utah State is a somewhat familiar program in name with the link to former head coach Gary Andersen and defensive coordinator Dave Aranda. Now, the Aggies are led by head coach Matt Wells. They went 3–9 last season, 1–7 in the Mountain West Conference.

“I think they play with tremendous effort. Their schemes challenge you,” Chryst said. “I think anytime you’re looking at first games, there’s a lot of the axioms that are, for any football game—it’s turnovers and it’s being efficient and there’s a lot of challenges to every football game, and it doesn’t matter who you’re playing on some of the things that in the end that lead to winning or not winning the game. Then, you try to do your best to prepare your players for what you think they’ll see, but we know there will be things happening on Friday night that we didn’t see on film, that we didn’t prepare for, and we’ve got to make sure our kids know how to adjust to it and help them navigate those numbers.”

Unfortunately, the big topic of discussion revolved the news of outside linebacker Zack Baun missing the 2017 season due to a left foot injury. It’s a significant loss for the outside linebackers and the depth of the position group.

“First, it was unfortunate with Zack. It really wasn’t until a couple of days ago when he kind of got the final test and what he needs to do to fix that,” Chryst said. “You feel bad again, a guy that missed a lot of games last year and I thought was doing some really good things, but [Tyler Johnson’s] been impressive in the ways that he’s grown.

“I think when he came here, he really hadn’t play a lot of defense, period,” Chryst continued about Johnson. “He’s a guy who has a tremendous amount of respect from everyone on the team, coaches and players, because of the way he works and approaches it. So I think he’s put himself in position to grow and truly earn the opportunity that will be there for him. Also at that position, when you’re talking about depth, it’s been good to get Christian Bell back into things, and it’ll be interesting to see how he progresses.”

“Certainly feel good with what Andrew Van Ginkel’s done and then with Leon and Dools, but you feel bad for Zack but I think Tyler and Christian it’ll be interesting to see how they continue to progress, which we need them to do.”

On true freshman tailback Jonathan Taylor, who’s listed as one of the three first-team running backs: “I think that we were certainly excited when Jonathan came here and then as camp progressed—and when you keep adding more and more to their plate, and with freshman in general that they can handle it—that gives you a good indication. Certainly he’s talented and we feel good about the number of guys at that position that will contribute, Jonathan certainly will be one of them.”

“It progressed through camp, and I think [in] the first young-guy scrimmage, he did some good things and earned the right to get some more reps with the ones and the twos and continue to progress and so that’s why we feel he’s ready to contribute.”

What Jack Coan showed during the spring and fall camp that he could be a back-up quarterback: I thought that, and still believe, Jack’s talented, and it was going to be as much how he handled the amount of information. I thought in the spring he did a good job learning it and kind of attacking the learning end of it, then continued to grow. I think that through fall camp he did a nice job of building on the things that I think he felt pretty sure of from spring but also adding to it. I thought that he did some good things in the course of practice when we were scrimmaging and some of those situations that aren’t necessarily schematic situations but more playing situations. I’ve liked the progress that he’s made and certainly has a ton more to learn and many ways to grow, but I do feel like he had a good camp.”

Do you worry more about burning Coan’s redshirt? “I think that was the conversation we had right away, and I think you hope that you only have to use two. But you’ve never gone a year where you’re not using multiple players at different positions and so I think if a guy’s ready to play, they need to be ready, and I think Jack is. So I’m not worried about a redshirt right now for him.”

On special teams, particularly kicking game: “Going in, feel good. And certainly we got a number of guys that are back, the one exception that would be Adam Bay, our snapper. “I think Adam’s done a good job in camp and has gotten an understanding of really what that position entails. As far the kickers, [Rafael Gagalianone] has had a good camp, [kickoff specialist P.J. Rosowski’s] done a nice job. [Punter] Anthony Lotti, I think, is getting better.”

On Arrington Farrar’s development: “I think with Arrington, he’s certainly more comfortable than where he was two weeks ago. We made that switch—it was middle-towards the end, maybe last third of spring football—so I think that gave him a little sense of what was coming, but really he hadn’t dove into it. So I think Arrington’s done a nice job of continuing to learn the position and I think there are moments where you see the athleticism and his comfort now in playing it, and there’s still areas where he’s continuing to learn how to play that position. So I think there’s a group there in T.J. [Edwards] and Ryan [Connelly] that played a lot. Chris [Orr] is really, I think one of his strengths is his instincts and understanding. It’s been good to see him get back to playing. I think that’s just happening now.

“Then you got a younger group that Arrington is a part of that they’re still progressing in their development. I think we got a pretty good idea of what T.J. and Ryan can do, Chris in a different way, and then there’s two or three other ‘backers—kind of alluding to what ‘Bo’ said—that we’re going to continue to find out probably through a lot of the season.”

On what Connelly has done to beat out Orr:

“I think Ryan’s played really well. I think that he’s playing fast, he’s trusting himself, and I think he’s a really good football player,” Chryst said. “Certainly, we think Chris [Orr] is a good football player, too, but Ryan, he’s looks comfortable and he’s played. I think that experience of playing and starting has helped him in his preparation.”

Do you envision Dietzen and Kapoi battling throughout the season or do you hope feel it’s resolved at some point with the same five lineman each week: “The number one thing you hope for is that they’re all available in going forward. I think right now that’s what they need to prepare to do. I think it’s good for them. I go back to what I said last year about the quarterback spot—if guys earn the right to play, then they should play. At some point throughout the season, maybe there’s separation, but I think that both Micah and Jon have earned the right to play, and fortunately for us and for them, both have played in games.”

“We as a staff don’t try to overthink it. Just because you’d love to have a season where we play five guys [on the line] and there are no changes the whole time, but you never do that at the expense of the guy who’s earned the right to play, and both of those would fit under that.”