On Friday afternoon, Wisconsin Badgers defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard and offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph were made available to us, the unwashed media, via Zoom. The two coordinators touched on almost all of the position groups and both seem happy to be back to some semblance of normalcy after an extremely abnormal offseason.
Here are a few highlights from their media availability:
- Leonhard started off his portion by discussing the safeties. As you may know, Reggie Pearson will not be playing football this season and Leonhard was asked about who might step up and fill in for Pearson, who Leonhard said “did a great job last season for us and we were really going to rely on him to be a big time playmaker.”
"Titus Toler, another young safety that is a very gifted kid. The light has come on." DC Jim Leonhard— BOOky’s 5th Quarter (@B5Q) October 2, 2020
Leonhard also went on to say that Scott Nelson appears to be well on his way to being back on the field.
"It will be great to get Scott Nelson back. I thought he really made some huge strides after his first season. He feels confident with where he's at physically." DC Jim Leonhard— BOOky’s 5th Quarter (@B5Q) October 2, 2020
- The depth of the defensive line is something that has been a problem in recent years, most notably two years ago, but that is no longer the case. Wisconsin now has two starting caliber nose tackles and three defensive ends that they can rotate throughout games. Obviously, this excites the defensive coordinator.
Jim Leonhard is excited about the depth on the d-line this year. Thinks Keeanu Benton can be a playmaker this year, and has the DE position has three guys (next up is Isaiah Mullens) who have great experience.— BOOky’s 5th Quarter (@B5Q) October 2, 2020
- “There is definitely uncertainty when you talk both linebacker spots, inside and outside...there are a lot of question marks, a lot of youth. I think we can have a dynamic group, the names are just going to be a little bit different,” Leonhard said when asked about the outside linebackers.
Leonhard also says he expects starting OLB Noah Burks to “take another big jump forward” and “we like having a healthy Izayah Green-May going into this season.”
Jim Leonhard says having Jack Sanborn is "priceless" and they'll be asking him to "be that playmaker at times."— BOOky’s 5th Quarter (@B5Q) October 2, 2020
- Even though the offseason was particularly difficult for players and coaches, Leonhard feels blessed for having the players he has.
"We are fortunate to be around the kids that we have. We are very lucky and in a great spot from a mental standpoint." Leonhard says about how the unprecedented offseason went.— BOOky’s 5th Quarter (@B5Q) October 2, 2020
- Next up we turned to the offensive side of the ball with Rudolph answering questions. He was asked about the backfield first, which will obviously be a position where much of the media’s focus will be on since a new starting tailback is in order.
"The biggest thing I've seen out of him (Isaac Guerendo) is big play potential. The battle will be to see if he can become a consistent player." Offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph— BOOky’s 5th Quarter (@B5Q) October 2, 2020
"(Nakia Watson) is really hungry. He's ready to be the guy. He's also been really humble and had a maturity in every rep...I'm excited for him." OC Joe Rudolph— BOOky’s 5th Quarter (@B5Q) October 2, 2020
Rudolph also talked at length on how important having Garrett Groshek in the running backs room is. He mentioned how he is a veteran presence that brings the team together, across position groups, and helps the young guys fit in.
- With top WR Quintez Cephus off to the NFL and A.J. Taylor exhausting his eligibility there are questions about who will step up next and catch passes from Jack Coan beyond Danny Davis III and Kendric Pryor.
"I think A.J. Abbott has taken a really good, positive step...Taj (Mustapha) has flashed at times. Alvis (Whitted) has been doing a great job connecting with the guys." Joe Rudolph says about the young wideouts.— BOOky’s 5th Quarter (@B5Q) October 2, 2020
- The tight ends have a lot of talent, most of it young and unproven, and added a new weapon this year in converted OLB Jaylan Franklin who Rudolph says “flashes route running ability” but still has work to do.
Rudolph mentions that converted OLB Jaylan Franklin has show great vertical ability but needs to learn the blocking schemes as a tight end.— BOOky’s 5th Quarter (@B5Q) October 2, 2020
The veteran of the group, Jake Ferguson, has taken on a larger leadership role according to Rudolph and has also looked really good in practice.
"Ferg (TE Jake Ferguson) is as good as I've ever seen him. He has a maturity about him this year that is a little different. He's really taken on a leadership role in the room."— BOOky’s 5th Quarter (@B5Q) October 2, 2020
- While it isn’t a sure thing to happen, if Coan takes a step forward this year the Badgers might not miss Taylor as much as everyone thinks. Mentally, it appears, Coan is right where Rudolph wants him to be.
"His anticipation has been really good. That reflects confidence. I feel like he's really in tune with coach Budmayr. His leadership was always outstanding." Joe Rudolph on QB Jack Coan— BOOky’s 5th Quarter (@B5Q) October 2, 2020
- It wouldn’t be a Wisconsin press conference if the offensive line wasn’t discussed at length. Rudolph had nice things to say about Jon Dietzen, and how versatile he is, Logan Brown, and how much potential he has, and the center position, where a number of players are competing for snaps.
"Every time you see Logs (OL Logan Brown) you'll see this flash. Now it's about making him a consistent player. You're battling a little bit of makeup time from last year. He's taking steps and getting closer and closer to where he needs to be." Joe Rudolph— BOOky’s 5th Quarter (@B5Q) October 2, 2020
Kayden Lyles, Cormac Sampson, Joe Tippman, Blake Smithback all mentioned by Rudolph as guys who are in the discussion for the center position.— BOOky’s 5th Quarter (@B5Q) October 2, 2020
"We'll end up with a really good center."