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4 true freshmen break two-deep in Wisconsin’s first depth chart of 2017 season

Notes and observations on the Badgers’ Week 1 depth chart.

Freshman running back Jonathon Taylor.
Freshman running back Jonathon Taylor.
Jake Kocorowski

MADISON — Five days away from their 2017 season opener against Utah State, the Wisconsin Badgers released their Week 1 depth chart on Sunday.

UW’s first regular-season two-deep lists some intriguing players on the edge of receiving playing time. They include the likes of four true freshmen, as well as various special teamers and some players at positions where the coaching staff perceives depth to be questionable after injuries.

Wisconsin’s Week 1 Depth Chart: Offense

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

Since head coach Paul Chryst announced Jack Coan as the No. 2 quarterback last week, possibly the biggest call-out for the offense is the insertion of true freshman running back Jonathan Taylor as part of the first-team offense with redshirt sophomore Bradrick Shaw, redshirt junior Chris James, and Taylor listed with the “OR” notation.

“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,” head coach Paul Chryst said. “Certainly he’s talented and we feel good about the number of guys at that position that will contribute.

“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.”

Taylor’s breakout performance appeared to be during a scrimmage in which linebacker T.J. Edwards admitted on Sunday he “torched” the defense twice.

“In the scrimmage, this dude, Jonathan—I call him ‘Beast Mode’—he took one on us the first play for like 60 [yards] against the ones,” safety D’Cota Dixon said on Sunday. “I was like, dang. Kid’s got some juice.”

With injuries to senior George Rushing (left leg) and Kendric Pryor (face), wide receiver Danny Davis is listed behind starter Quintez Cephus. Before practices were closed to the media, the true freshman from Springfield, Ohio, showed the ability to contribute early on.

“Danny Davis was a guy who I thought who was making plays from day one,” Edwards said. “He’s a big-play guy.”

The first-team offensive line is set with the exception of left guard, where it appears both redshirt sophomore Jon Dietzen and redshirt junior Micah Kapoi are listed with the “OR” designation. Offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said a couple of weeks ago that Dietzen was working through something but didn’t miss a practice. Kapoi is versatile and would immediately plug in if needed. Michael Deiter indeed starts at left tackle, with redshirt freshman Tyler Biadasz asserting himself at center.

Wisconsin’s Week 1 Depth Chart: Defense

Position First Team Second Team
Position First Team Second Team
Defensive End Alec James OR Chikwe Obasih
Nose Tackle Olive Sagapolu Garrett Rand
Defensive End Conor Sheehy Isaiahh Loudermilk
Outside Linebacker Garret Dooley Andrew Van Ginkel
Inside Linebacker Ryan Connelly Arrington Farrar
Inside Linebacker T.J. Edwards Chris Orr
Outside Linebacker Leon Jacobs Tyler Johnson
Cornerback Derrick Tindal Dontye Carriere-Williams
Free Safety Natrell Jamerson Patrick Johnson
Strong Safety D'Cota Dixon Joe Ferguson
Cornerback Nick Nelson Lubern Figaro

The defensive line appears set and wasn’t too unpredictable outside of Billy Hirschfeld being left off the depth chart in favor of redshirt freshman Isaiahh Loudermilk, with Alec James and Chikwe Obasih sharing one of the first-team defensive end positions.

With the season-ending injury to redshirt sophomore Zack Baun, the Badgers will have to rely upon walk-on Tyler Johnson to slide into Baun’s spot at outside linebacker. Chryst praised Johnson on Sunday.

“I think when he came here, he really hadn’t play a lot of defense, period,” Chryst said. “[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.”

Edwards also echoed Chryst’s praise for Johnson on Sunday.

“Johnny, yeah, he’s been playing really well,” Edwards said. “I think even last year he was a guy who progressed a lot. Even this spring, he was playing very well. This summer camp, he’s made a lot of plays, a lot of good plays. He’s done some really good things on special teams, so he’s going to see a good amount of time on the field, and I’m excited for him. He works really hard, so he’s earned it.”

According to the released depth chart, Edwards and redshirt junior Ryan Connelly appear locked in as the first-team inside linebackers. Connelly a former walk-on, worked his way back from an injury during fall camp.

“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.”

Edwards did acknowledge there was more settling to be done on the depth chart within the inside linebackers. Edwards, Connelly, and Orr will all be counted upon this season to replace Jack Cichy.

“We don’t know who’s the starters yet,” Edwards said. “We don’t know even know who the ones are at all, but I think us three have just gotten better each week. Ryan and Chris do things better than I do, and I think I do some things better than they do, so we all kind of feed off of each other and we all make each other better. It’s good to have those guys in the room just to feed off of them and see what they see to give yourself a better advantage.”

Cornerback is set with Nick Nelson and Derrick Tindal starting. The only remaining question is who will play the third defensive back spot in nickel packages: Dontye Carriere-Williams or Lubern Figaro?

Wisconsin’s Week 1 Depth Chart: Special Teams

Position First Team Second Team
Position First Team Second Team
Punter Anthony Lotti Connor Allen
Field Goal Kicker Rafael Gaglianone Zach Hintze
KO Specialist P.J. Rosowski Zach Hintze
Long Snapper Adam Bay* Josh Bernhagen
Holder Connor Allen P.J. Rosowski
Punt Returner Nick Nelson Jazz Peavy
Kickoff Returner A.J. Taylor Chris James
*indicates true freshman

Chryst feels good about his specialists with many players returning, but there is one true freshman who will play on Friday in his first-ever collegiate game: long snapper Adam Bay.

“I think Adam’s done a good job in camp and has gotten an understanding of really what that position entails,” Chryst said. “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.”

It appears cornerback Nelson will be the primary punt returner with wide receiver A.J. Taylor getting the nod as the No. 1 kickoff returner. Jazz Peavy, who returned punts last season, is the No. 2 returner in that category.