Last year the Wisconsin Badgers had some growing pains on the offensive side of the football that led to a down year overall. The run game struggled, the pass game was hindered and the play-calling just did not mesh or flow the way it has in years past.
There were some changes ahead of this season with the big one being Paul Chryst resuming play-calling duties, but aside from that many of the same faces will return personnel-wise.
After taking in multiple practices and listening to what some of the players and staff had to say, we can piece together an educated guess as to what the depth chart might look like for the opening game against Penn State that is just over a week away.
One note, for clarity’s sake, we put Wisconsin in the 21 personnel package (two backs, one tight end). The Badgers will use plenty of 11, 12, 22, even some 23 packages but 21 allows us to get as many different positions on the field for a projection. Obviously, the wideouts would be split out but for spacing sake, we have them tight (don’t come for me X’s and O’s Twitter!).
If Wisconsin were to receive the opening kickoff against Penn State and run out in 21 personnel I think this is the lineup you’d see at this point in time.
At the skill positions, you’ve got a pretty straightforward lineup. QB1 is of course Graham Mertz, and with the release of the depth chart Monday it appears Chez Mellusi has taken the top spot at tailback. Berger will get plenty of runs as well, but it’s good to see that Mellusi has progressed since coming to UW. Braelon Allen is the wild card right now. The fullback should be primarily John Chenal this year.
At wideout and tight end, things are pretty simple as well. Danny Davis III and Kendric Pryor are your two shown above, and Chimere Dike would likely be your third depending on the package. At tight end you have Jake Ferguson as the clear starter and I think Jack Eschenbach is the number two at this point. If the Badgers were to go to 22 personnel (two tight ends, two backs) I think you’d see Hayden Rucci out there used as more of a blocking tight end with Ferguson, but in other packages, I think Eschenbach is your number two.
If there was a passing down where the Badgers went with 11 personnel I think you’d see something like this with Pryor working in the slot, and Davis/Dike on the outside. At running back, Brady Schipper could be a guy that works in as a pass blocker as well.
Overall the skill positions are pretty set and the more interesting conversation comes up front. Joe Rudolph cross-trains each of his linemen to get the best five on the field and there is competition all over the board.
Tyler Beach has been banged up this fall but it sounds like he is expecting to be ready for Penn State and will start at left tackle. Left guard is a contentious spot with Josh Seltzner likely in there right now, but Cormac Sampson could certainly push his way in before things kickoff.
At the center spot, it looks like Joe Tippman has surpassed Kayden Lyles after a very strong camp. He was getting most of the reps with the starters, and Rudolph said he has earned that spot thus far. The right guard spot is pretty clearly Jack Nelson’s spot, and the right tackle spot is Logan Bruss assuming he’s good to go as well.
The #Badgers starting O-line could be especially tall in 2021:— Matt Belz (@savedbythebelz) August 24, 2021
LT) Beach (6-foot-6, 312lbs)
LG) Seltzner (6-foot-4, 310lbs)
C) Tippmann (6-foot-6, 320lbs)
RG) Jack Nelson (6-foot-7, 304lbs)
RT) Logan Bruss (6-foot-5, 316lbs)
You very rarely see both C+RG taller than the RT.
I think the questions start to arise in the secondary spots, especially if injures occur. If there was an injury to either Seltzner or Nelson you can probably rely on Cormac Sampson to be your swing guy and take either guard spot. If Tippman we’re banged up at center, Lyles likely takes right over.
The tackle spots are interesting as both Beach and Bruss have been banged up, and Logan Brown has been as well. If Beach was hurt and Brown wasn’t able to go you could fill that again with Cormac Sampson who is incredibly versatile, or you could swing Bruss over and possibly fill the right tackle spot with a youngster like Riley Mahlman, but that would be a worst-case scenario.
I believe If two of the three between Beach, Bruss and Brown are good to go, they’ll be out there but it seems the preference is to keep Brown working at the left tackle spot.
Overall, the offense seems to be in pretty set shape for the opener. The skill positions are set for the most part, and, barring injuries, I think you’ve got a pretty clear picture of what the offensive line room will look like, but change there is much more likely.
The question now becomes if this group is ready to take a big step forward. Last year there were plenty of excuses with COVID, injuries, and play calling but now those things are not as prevalent. I believe they will be much better in 2021, and I am excited to see what this group brings to the table.