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Projecting Wisconsin’s Week 1 depth chart

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Time to have some fun.

Wide receiver Kendric Pryor Jake Kocorowski

The Wisconsin Badgers’ season opener against Western Kentucky is just six days away.

Amazing how time and the summer as a whole passes by, though admittedly I’m trying not to think about the colder weather a few months from now, to be quite honest (please note: I still have my Florida blood running through me).

Though Wisconsin continues to prepare for its first non-conference opponent with practices now closed to the media, reporters did get to see two-plus weeks of fall camp. With that, it is always a healthy exercise to predict who could be on the depth chart that will be released in the coming days (is it really healthy?).

A disclaimer as well. I’m unsure if Wisconsin will place separate tight ends as I have, and I doubt that they’ll include a nickelback designation. However, I’ve included those for now just to give you a sense of what I saw and who could be options there.

Here is who I think will be in the two-deep based on what I saw during fall camp practices earlier this month:

Offense

Position First Team Second Team
Position First Team Second Team
Quarterback Alex Hornibrook Jack Coan
Running Back Jonathan Taylor Taiwan Deal or Chris James or Garrett Groshek
Fullback Alec Ingold Coy Wanner
Wide Receiver 1 Kendric Pryor Adam Krumholz
Wide Receiver 2 A.J. Taylor Jack Dunn or Aron Cruickshank
Tight End (Y) Zander Neuville Luke Benzschawel
Tight End ("H-Back") Kyle Penniston Jake Ferguson
Left Tackle Jon Dietzen or Cole Van Lanen
Left Guard Michael Deiter Jason Erdmann
Center Tyler Biadasz Jason Erdmann
Right Guard Beau Benzschawel Micah Kapoi
Right Tackle David Edwards Cole Van Lanen

Quarterback: Not much needs to be said. Both looked good in camp, with the feeling Jack Coan could more than adequately fill Alex Hornibrook’s shoes in real game-time action.

Running Back: What a cop-out on my part with three RB2s, amirite? Jonathan Taylor is the obvious RB1, and it’s hard to predict who is the true back-up with how versatile the others could be used. I think Taiwan Deal becomes what Bradrick Shaw was back in 2016 and supposed to be last season, if he stays healthy. Chris James can run the ball and also be a threat out of the backfield in the passing attack. I feel he’s more than a third-down type-ish back (I hate putting players in boxes like “third-down back”). Garrett Groshek, the now-former walk-on, looked solid in camp and should find a role in the offense.

Wide Receiver: With Quintez Cephus and Danny Davis both suspended, the latter for two games, Kendric Pryor and A.J. Taylor immediately pop up as the starters in this offense. Both had great fall camps, with the former really standing out as a big-play threat. Head coach Paul Chryst mentioned last Saturday that redshirt sophomores Adam Krumholz and Jack Dunn “have given themselves opportunities,” and on Wednesday when asked about the receivers, he called those two out again along with true freshmen Aron Cruickshank and Taj Mustapha. Gut tells me Cruickshank finds the field in some package plays at the absolute least.

Tight End: Zander Neuville, if healthy, is the No. 1 in-line “Y” tight end and is critical to a solid rushing attack—even with three All-Americans and a freshman All-American on the offensive line. Redshirt sophomore Luke Benzschawel gained some great experience working with the first team while Neuville was out for a couple weeks of fall camp due to injury. For H-backs, Jake Ferguson—the spring standout—looked solid, but I really liked the development of redshirt junior Kyle Penniston. I think he could be ready for a big year.

Offensive Line: Offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph mentioned to reporters last week that he had eight “top” linemen at his use. Well, that’s all I used in my two-deep. No surprises with the starters. Jason Erdmann and Micah Kapoi have the ability to play all of the interior line positions. When speaking with left guard Michael Deiter earlier this week, he believes Cole Van Lanen has the ability to be inserted at both the left and right tackle positions.

Defense

Position First Team Second Team
Position First Team Second Team
Defensive End Matt Henningsen Aaron Vopal
Nose Tackle Olive Sagapolu Bryson Williams
Defensive End Kayden Lyles David Pfaff
Outside Linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel Christian Bell
Inside Linebacker T.J. Edwards Mike Maskalunas
Inside Linebacker Ryan Connelly Chris Orr
Outside Linebacker Zack Baun Tyler Johnson
Cornerback Faion Hicks Dontye Carriere-Williams
Safety Scott Nelson Eric Burrell
Safety D'Cota Dixon Patrick Johnson
Cornerback Caesar Williams Madison Cone
Nickel Madison Cone/Deron Harrell Donte Burton

Defensive Line: Matt Henningsen is the talk of the camp. When I asked who has stepped up from the defensive side of the ball, Deiter called out the walk-on redshirt freshman and noted the strides he has made. Kayden Lyles has looked solid for a player who just started this position a couple of months ago, and senior Olive Sagapolu is that anchor. Another redshirt freshman, Aaron Vopal, should be a definite contributor in rotation as well at end, even when Isaiahh Loudermilk returns (that is TBD still). True freshman Bryson Williams should be in the rotation in giving Sagapolu rest when needed.

Outside Linebacker: Position coach Bobby April III said a couple of weeks ago that he was looking for six “game-ready” players. Andrew Van Ginkel is the obvious starter on one side, and could have a huge year barring injury. On the opposite side, Zack Baun has played with the first team quite often and could give headaches to offenses trying to deal with two lanky, athletic ‘backers at the same time. Former walk-on Tyler Johnson should be a rotational player this year in a larger role, with redshirt sophomore Christian Bell getting reps with the second-team to those practices open to the media. Noah Burks also received reps with the presumed “second-team” during fall camp and could also be utilized. The sixth player, I feel, could be senior Arrington Farrar.

Inside Linebacker: Maybe the easiest group to confirm. T.J. Edwards, Ryan Connelly and Chris Orr all are starting worthy. Walk-on Mike Maskalunas seemed to step up with some pass break-ups this camp, but I also like redshirt sophomore Griffin Grady, too. There is some definite talent in this group.

Cornerback: The big news was redshirt sophomore Dontye Carriere-Williams primarily working with the reserve units through a particular potion of camp, with defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard mentioning the word consistency about his most experienced corner. This feels like a motivational tool for the redshirt sophomore. I still feel he finds a way to start, but for now, we will stick with Hicks and Caesar Williams—the latter of which both Scott Nelson and D’Cota Dixon mentioned as one of the defensive players that stood out to them. For the nickel, I saw Madison Cone during the scrimmage play in the slot, and Leonhard said on Aug. 6 that at the time, he viewed the sophomore as the best at that position (obviously a lot can change from early on in camp). We also saw converted wide receiver Deron Harrell work through reps as a third corner on the outside, with Hicks moving into the slot.

Safety: Leonhard told reporters on Aug. 16 that Nelson is the one defensive back “that has flashed big play ability,” and from my count, he had four interceptions in those practices open to the media. Dixon is physical, and those two form an extremely solid pairing (both are close off the field as well, as they have been frequently seen working together). Leonhard also mentioned that those two and Johnson have separated themselves from the pack in that position group. With Burrell having that game experience of being the third safety in a subpackage designed to counter multiple tight end sets and me seeing him in there during camp, I added him as the presumed fourth safety of the group. I also believe true freshman Reggie Pearson quietly played a very solid camp.

Specialists

Position First Team Second Team
Position First Team Second Team
Placekicker Rafael Gaglianone Collin Larsh
Kickoff Specialist Zach Hintze P.J. Rosowski
Longsnapper Adam Bay Josh Bernhagen
Punter Anthony Lotti Connor Allen
Holder Connor Allen P.J. Rosowski
Kickoff Return Kendric Pryor Aron Cruickshank
Punt Return Jack Dunn Aron Cruickshank

All of the specialists are really accounted for, but I will be interested in seeing the kickoff and punt returners.

Kickoff Returner: Pryor and Taylor told the Wisconsin State Journal’s Jason Galloway earlier this week that Pryor is the No. 1 guy back there, and Wisconsin has not been shy using their starters as kickoff returners (Taylor and Derrick Tindal both returned kickoffs last season). If there is any concern about depth at wide receiver though, and as Pryor mentioned Cruickshank being potentially No. 2, does the coaching staff put the true freshman in?

Punt Returner: In that same tweet, Pryor mentioned Davis and Dunn. During last Saturday’s scrimmage we saw both working on returns. With Davis suspended, Dunn could be the guy. I’ll throw Cruickshank in there just because, though throughout camp we also saw Cade Green back practice that phase of the special teams game.