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Wisconsin football: three players that will use spring practice as a launching pad

Jake names three players he expects to have big seasons after using spring practice to hone their skills.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 20 Nebraska at Wisconsin
Dean Engram will be trying to make plays like this on offense this season.
Photo by Lawrence Iles/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Spring football is finally underway and it has allowed us to see some new (and old) faces that may have taken a step forward during the offseason. Here are three players who I believe are going to turn some heads this season, including one who is flipping sides of the football.

Wide receiver Dean Engram

Wisconsin’s No. 1 ranked defense is going to see almost a complete turnover in 2022. Although he isn’t graduating or heading to the draft, Engram, who was expected to lead the Badger secondary as a junior, will be switching to wide receiver this fall.

Engram played wide receiver in high school at Gonzaga College (D.C.) High School where he caught passes from he who shall not be named...okay fine, Caleb Williams. Because of his familiarity with the position, Engram called the switch a “natural fit” and “the best move for the team overall”.

The wide receiver room is going to look very interesting this year. Given the departures of Danny Davis, Kendrick Pryor and Jake Ferguson, Chimere Dike is the clear No. 1 receiver, but there isn’t much proven talent behind him. Engram’s switch to WR not only provides another weapon for Graham Mertz, but provides some much needed depth.

As a former wide receiver and college cornerback, Engram knows just as much about catching the football as anyone. Given the fact that the Badgers are thin at cornerback, Paul Chryst must’ve been very impressed with what Engram is able to do as a receiver to allow him to switch from one position of need to another. I’m really looking forward to seeing what Engram is able to do on the offensive side of the ball.

Inside linebacker Jordan Turner

A major defensive position of need is inside linebacker and someone’s going to need to step up. One name that has been very popular this spring is redshirt sophomore Jordan Turner.

Turner played a total of 24 snaps last season (missed multiple games due to injury) but made the most of them. Somehow, Turner compiled six tackles and two interceptions while on the field.

Wisconsin v Rutgers
Turner had an interception against Rutgers last year.
Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

When given more snaps, these numbers are going to drop, but in order to average an interception every 12 snaps you have to be doing something right. Four of Turner’s six tackles came in the Las Vegas Bowl where he, along with many fellow underclassman, saw their playing time increase in preparation for the coming season.

During spring practice, Turner has been one of four linebackers receiving the majority of the snaps with the first and second units. It is yet to be determined exactly what his role is going to be, but don’t be surprised if Turner takes the field with the starting unit when the Badgers host Illinois State on Sept. 3.

Quarterback Graham Mertz

Now here’s a name you didn’t expect to see on this list. I’m a Graham Mertz believer and tend to think that the kid has been set up to fail. Mertz arrived in Madison as the Badgers’ highest ranked quarterback commit ever fresh off of winning the MVP award at the 2019 All-America Bowl after throwing for 188 yards and five touchdowns.

Now, to say that Mertz has lived up to expectations would be a ridiculous statement. However, has he been put in the right situations to do so? As a redshirt freshman, Mertz was thrown into the fire following an injury to Jack Coan and in his first career start, he excelled. Mertz was 20-of-21 in the air with five touchdowns. He had arrived. Following that performance, the entire team got COVID and the Badgers didn’t play for three weeks. Mertz hasn’t been the same since.

Whether it’s been a lack of being able to get in a rhythm or a lack of confidence, Mertz hasn’t been the same quarterback that Badgers fans expected to see. I really thought Mertz was beginning to turn a corner in the loss to Michigan in early October, and then he went down with an injury. At times, Mertz makes some ridiculously impressive throws. It’s all about stringing them together and being consistent.

As a junior, I expect Chyrst to take the training wheels off and let Mertz be Mertz. I don’t expect him to be a Heisman trophy finalist, but he’ll remind everyone why he was as highly touted coming into Madison as he was.