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Wisconsin football: winter conditioning watch list

Who are the players that have the most to gain from a strong winter in the weight room?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 28 Northwestern at Wisconsin Photo by Dan Sanger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With the spring semester under way at the University of Wisconsin, students are back to their regular classwork grind. In addition to balancing the books, the Wisconsin Badgers football team is back in the weight room under the tutelage of strength coach Ross Kolodziej.

While many of the coaches are busy away from the current players due to NCAA contact rules at various times of the year, Kolodziej is a consistent presence. The former star defensive lineman played seven seasons in the NFL after his time at Wisconsin, and is now one of the most highly regarded strength coaches in the country.

Each season Kolodziej and his cohort of strength coaches, such as former Badger offensive lineman Kyle Costigan, team up with Football Performance Dietician Sophie Pomrehn to utilize their advanced knowledge of strength and development to help create an all-encompassing workout and dietary regimen for each player. The player specific plans are put in place to meet the various needs and goals of each athlete. The process is arduous, but in the end it is necessary for the Wisconsin program, and it’s athletes to perform at the highest level.

Paul Chryst has highlighted that the football calendar never stops, and that the regular season is only one of the many phases within the yearly calendar. This winter, the Badgers enter the first phase of the 2020 season, winter conditioning.

Winter conditioning is a vital time for established starters to get healthy, and to improve their strength and explosiveness. For younger, rising players, it is an opportunity for them to make the necessary physical gains to prepare them for spring practices, where they can put themselves in a position to claim additional playing time.

Here are a dozen players who have a lot to gain from a strong winter:

*** Eligibility listed is based on upcoming 2020 season ***

No. 12: Cam Phillips (redshirt freshman)

A late addition to the 2019 recruiting class, Cam Phillips joined the Badgers as a preferred walk on over high level scholarship offers that disintegrated after he tore his knee during practices at IMG Academy. Originally one of the receivers atop the Badgers recruiting board for the class, Wisconsin opted to take a chance on the 6-foot, 176 pound prospect out of Ohio after the injury. Now over a year removed from that life altering injury, Phillips will have the chance to get back on the football field this spring.

Phillips will need to add additional size and strength to his frame after missing a lot of time due to injury, but if he puts together a big winter, it could give him added opportunities come spring. A player with a high ceiling, Phillips is a player to watch, especially considering Stephan Bracey was the only scholarship receiver that entered at the same time as him.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: AUG 30 Wisconsin at USF Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

No. 11: Jack Eschenbach (redshirt sophomore)

Jack Eschenbach was listed as the primary backup to Jake Ferguson some of last season. Although he did not record a reception, the 6-foot-6 walk-on tight end, did see action in four games. Eschenbach has some intriguing size and speed, and exhibited good hands in fall camp after a rash of injuries decimated the position.

Eschenbach will have stiff competition for playing time once again next season, but if he adds weight to his 224 frame, he could be a nice complimentary weapon for the Badgers at a position that needs contributors.

No. 10: Logan Brown (redshirt freshman)

The former five-star prospect had his pick of colleges as a senior in high school. He chose Wisconsin over offers from all over the country, and already has an impressive frame at 6-foot-6 and 311 pounds. An injury hindered his progress last season, but his potential, and talent is unquestionable. Coming off of a redshirt season, Brown enters winter conditioning with a chance to set himself up to join the two-deep as the heir apparent behind Cole Van Lanen.

One of the more exciting recruits to ever sign with Wisconsin, Logan Brown will need to continue to develop his footwork and upper-body strength, but it will be crucial for him to also get healthy for spring practice. With reps available at the tackle positions for spring ball, and fall camp, this off-season could go a long way in setting Brown up to be a multi-year starter.

No. 9: Spencer Lytle (redshirt freshman)

A highly sought after high school prospect, the Wisconsin coaching staff was excited by Spencer Lytle’s work last spring as an early enrollee. Unfortunately, an injury would derail his fall camp, and he ultimately redshirted during his freshman season.

One of the better outside linebackers on the roster in coverage, Lytle is a player that will need to continue to add bulk this winter, and get his body right for spring ball. Outside linebacker coach Bobby April praised his talent when we talked about Lytle in fall camp, it is just a matter of being healthy moving forward. With at least two spots available in the two-deep at his position, a great winter could propel him into early contention.

No. 8: Chimere Dike (true freshman)

The only true freshman to make the list, Chimere Dike enters the receiving room at a perfect time. Quintez Cephus, A.J. Taylor and Aron Cruickshank are all gone. The trio of departures combined for well over 1,000 yards of total offense, and Dike is an exceptional athlete who played four sports in high school. The in-state product is one of the most heralded receiving prospects from Wisconsin in a long time, and should have opportunities to earn reps this spring if he puts together a nice winter.

Dike reportedly stands at 6-foot and 185 pounds, so added strength from the winter would go a long way in helping him be ready to contribute as a freshman. Signing as an athlete, it is not 100% confirmed that Dike will play receiver, but his athletic pedigree suggests that he is a player to monitor regardless of his future position. At this juncture, receiver seems like the most likely destination, and there will be room to have an impact if he can flash.

No. 7: Isaac Guerendo (redshirt sophomore)

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 01 Rose Bowl - Oregon v Wisconsin Photo by Adam Davis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After joining the team as a projected wide receiver, Isaac Guerendo transitioned to running back prior to last season. The speedster from Indiana is one of the fastest players on the team, and drew the praise of Jonathan Taylor during fall camp, and during the season for his natural abilities. After struggling with injuries the first few year of his career, he started to make an impact in the latter stages of last season when finally healthy.

At 6-foot and 213 pounds, he has has great size for a running back, and flashed his speed on a 49-yard kickoff return against Minnesota. Guerendo saw some action in the Rose Bowl game, where he earned a carry and a reception in limited duty. Now a redshirt sophomore, the path for extended playing time is in front of him both as a tailback, but also as a return man after the departure of Aron Cruickshank. Guerendo is an athlete that the Badgers would love to see breakout and put together a big off-season, will it happen?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 27 Pinstripe Bowl - Miami v Wisconsin Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

No. 6: Jaylan Franklin (redshirt sophomore)

Hailing from Michigan, Jaylan Franklin has been described by outside linebackers coach Bobby April as fast and twitchy. An athletic edge rusher, Franklin played in 14 games last season, primarily in special teams. He is still learning the finer nuances to the position, but at 6-foot-4, he has an excellent frame to grow into for outside linebacker. Listed at 222 pounds this fall, Franklin will need to continue to add size and strength to pair with his athletic traits.

Franklin recorded a sack in the opening game of the season at USF, bursting around the edge for a big tackle for loss on the quarterback. The redshirt sophomore will be an interesting player to watch for when the spring roster comes out, because he has the tools to be a great pass rusher for Wisconsin.

Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual - Oregon v Wisconsin Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

No. 5: Tyler Beach (redshirt junior)

At 6-foot-6 and 309 pounds, Tyler Beach is not a player that necessarily needs to add weight, or get quicker this off-season. Instead, the priority for Beach will be to get physically stronger in his upper body, and show the coaching staff that he is ready to take the next step.

After playing in 13 games this season, and being the backup at left tackle, Beach could be in store for a larger work load next year. With the loss of three interior starters, Joe Rudolph will have some decisions to make in order to get his top five lineman on the field at the same time. Right tackle Logan Bruss has shown the ability to play inside at right guard. If Beach has a great winter and spring, he may find himself at right tackle. Entering as a junior eligibility wise, his time is now.

Big Ten Football Championship - Ohio State v Wisconsin Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

No. 4: Semar Melvin (redshirt freshman)

In fall camp, Semar Melvin was one of the only true freshman to see reps at times in the two-deep. As the season progressed, he saw more opportunities open up for him in games, earning a start against Minnesota at the nickel.

The quick Florida cornerback has great length at 5-11, but is still fairly thin at only 166 pounds. Melvin is one of the key up and coming defensive backs on the roster. If he can continue to build on a strong freshman campaign in which he maintained his redshirt, he could be primed to be a starter within the next couple of seasons. This off-season will be important for Melvin to add some weight and strength, while retaining his quickness.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 05 Kent State at Wisconsin Photo by Lawrence Iles/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

No. 3: Leo Chenal (sophomore)

After being the top performer from spring practices last year as an early enrollee, Leo Chenal saw extensive playing time last season as a true freshman. Built like a Brinks truck, the younger Chenal brother showed coaches early on last winter that he was physically ready for the rigors of the Big Ten. An absolute weight room warrior, it should be fun to see the pictures and videos of what he can do this winter.

While his weight room accolades are notable, he had a nice freshman season on the field with 20 tackles, one sack, and a fumble recovery as a reserve inside linebacker. With Chris Orr gone, Chenal is the most likely replacement. At a whopping 250 pounds already, he does not need to add more weight to his frame. A solid off-season though, would only increase the odds of him starting alongside Jack Sanborn, who followed a very similar path to his starting spot last year.

No. 2: Julius Davis (redshirt freshman)

After accepting a scholarship offer from Wisconsin over pursuit from LSU, USC and Notre Dame, Julius Davis was sidelined for the majority of his senior year due to a sports hernia. After another procedure was done during the summer to further address the injury, he proceeded to miss reps in fall camp, and was forced to redshirt last season. Beginning to be healthy during the latter stages of the season, Davis will have a huge opportunity in front of him this winter.

With Jonathan Taylor leaving early for the NFL Draft, Davis will be one of the running backs vying for carries come fall. Given his talents, if he can continue to get healthy, and return all of his explosiveness, he could be a big addition to the backfield.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 05 Kent State at Wisconsin Photo by Lawrence Iles/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

No. 1: Izayah Green-May (redshirt junior)

After taking the majority of reps at outside linebacker during fall camp, Green-May was at the precipice of a breakout season a year ago. In the first game of the year, the redshirt sophomore was credited with a sack, but would later suffer a right arm injury in the early part of the season that quickly hampered the rest of his sophomore stanza. With standout outside backer Zack Baun exhausting his eligibility, a starting position is up for grabs as a pass rusher.

Green-May entered college as a three-star prospect that had exciting measurables at 6-foot-6 and 205 pounds. In his three seasons on campus, adding the necessary weight to compete in the Big Ten has been a difficult process. During the 2019 season, he was listed at 221 pounds, with the goal of adding additional weight during the year. With another off-season taking shape, it will be interesting to see if Green-May is able to add bulk to pair with his unique length and skill set, because replacing Baun’s 12.5 sacks will be a tall task.