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Wisconsin football: spring musings on the offense

Let’s take a look at what we have heard about and learned from UW’s spring practices.

Syndication: Journal Sentinel
Bob Bostad talking to the offensive line during spring practice.
Mike De Sisti / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

While we were unable to have someone attend spring practice this season, we’ve still heard a lot about what happened and Nick wanted to get some of his thoughts down on paper. Here we have his musings on the offensive side of the ball and we’ll have another post on the defense and special teams up later this weekend.

The offensive line should be much improved this year

The most improved position group on offense needs to be the offensive line, and if they are not, then that will be a huge disappointment. My understanding is that new (old) OL coach Bob Bostad is the polar opposite from Joe Rudolph as far as coaching style goes. I’m not saying that one is better than the other. They are just different.

Production from this unit was so hit or miss last year and has been for a number of years so the coaching change by Paul Chryst is welcomed. In my opinion, part of the reason QB Graham Mertz has struggled is because he hasn’t had time to do anything when he drops back. On top of that, countless times last year we watched offensive line penalties negate plays and that can’t happen this year. The margin for error is too thin right now. First and second and long are unacceptable if they are due to penalties.

The starting group is going to be somewhat similar to what we saw last year but positions may be different. Left tackle Jack Nelson has moved from right guard with the starting group and left guard is Tyler Beach, who moves from right tackle.

Center will be Joe Tippmann who did not practice this spring but should be healthy for the fall. Right guard Michael Furtney and right tackle Logan Brown are the two most uncertain “starters” at this point.

Tanor Bortolini filled in at center this spring with Tippmann unable to participate and it sounds like he will his way to starting somewhere on the line next year. It’s fair to say the right guard is most likely but don’t be surprised if Logan Brown is surpassed at right tackle before the opener. It sounds like he has struggled to be consistent all spring.

Behind them are LT Riley Mahlman, LG Dylan Barrett, C Cormac Sampson, RG Trey Wedig and RT Nolan Rucci. This room is absolutely stacked with talent, as it should be. I am hoping that this year this group plays to the level they are capable of. Theoretically this has been the Badgers most talented room ever based off of recruiting rankings. At some point that has to translate to success on the field. This should be the year that happens.

The offense has all the tools they need but they still have unanswered questions at QB

Running Back

Going into spring, I didn’t care what strides the running backs took as long as Braelon Allen stayed healthy. It sounds like he did, which is awesome. Did you know he’s only 18 and this is his first year of spring practice??? Do you also live under a rock???

Aside from Allen, this room is talented but regularly banged up. Chez Mellusi should be healthy at some point this fall. I have my fingers crossed that speedster Isaac Guerendo can find a way to stay healthy for a full season when he gets back this spring and I’m hopeful that Julius Davis can emerge as well after being running back number two all spring.

Tight End

Please God do not let this unit continue to be decimated with injuries this year. Spring ball wasn’t going to tell us much from this position to begin with as presumed starters Clay Cudiff and Jack Eschenbach never saw the field after they both continued to rehab from injuries suffered last season. Hopefully they can get in shape in time for the season because UW will need them.

Right now they are the primary pass catching tight ends and without them there are a bunch of younger, unproven guys who will have to take a big step between now and fall. Jack Pugh sounds very promising and was making all kinds of noise this spring until he also got hurt during one of the final practices.

Jaylan Franklin is another guy who may be able to prove himself this fall but there also wasn’t very much said about him this spring which could be an indicator as to where he is.

Hayden Rucci should play primarily as blocking TE (VERY IMPORTANT) but again, he hasn’t really been in pass catching situations since being on campus. The room is littered with guys who aren’t healthy. Hopefully fall practice, and the trainer, tells us a little more about where this unit will be heading into the season.

Wide Receiver

Look, I’d love to head down this road, but I’m struggling. I thought last year should’ve been a great year for this group. I also thought the same thing in 2020. This year I may need to set the bar lower so I can be surprised. I do not believe it is anyone in the WR’s room’s fault though. It’s the lack of opportunities and the uncertain and inconsistent play of Mertz.

I am not quite ready to say things will be different this year. However, if new offensive coordinator Bobby Engram can help get these guys involved this year without Mertz turning the ball over I will be ready to hang banners.

I think Chimere Dike is a Stud. The rest? Sounds like each had their moments this spring. There is talent in this room. Skyler Bell is starting to take the next step, Markus Allen flashed this spring, UCLA transfer Keontez Lewis should definitely be involved, former cornerback Dean Engram is coming along and Jack Dunn is probably back for year eight or nine somewhere.

But I also have no idea if the ball is going to make it to them this year. It all depends on Mertz. He’s gotta get the ball to them consistently. I like the players in this room a lot. They are young and they sound hungry but that doesn’t mean that they are getting the ball more than a few times a game. You can operate under a different assumption if you want, but I’m hoping to be pleasantly surprised this year. I’m sure by the end of the first quarter against Illinois State my tune will change and you’ll all have to talk me down but for now my expectations are tempered.

Quarterback

Hey Graham,

Just want you to know I’ve been thinking about you a lot, and…well, I want you back. But this time things need to be different. I think we start slow and see where things go from there. Improve on the little things first. Rather than throwing balls deep down field on broken plays, I’d prefer that you take the check down or throw it out of bounds. More touchdowns and fewer interceptions.

Sincerely,

A Desperate and Concerned Badger Fan

It actually sounds like Mertz made some nice throws this spring but was also inconsistent at times which means...we may be back where we started last year? That’s kind of concerning. I’m hopeful that things can be different but also I’m worried they won’t be. Time will tell but this offense definitely goes as far as Mertz takes them.

I am hopeful Bobby Engram can at least help improve on where Mertz was last year. They need him to limit the turnovers, hand the ball off to Allen, and get the hell out of the way more often than not.

As far as QB2 goes, It sounds like Chase Wolf had a nice spring but I don’t think he is close to challenging for the starting spot this fall and if he is, then that’ll be a large reason for concern. QB3 Deacon Hill is also starting to make strides after his first year at spring practice. We know he has the arm talent but I wouldn’t expect to see him for a few years yet. True freshman Myles Burkett will likely spend his first year trying to learn the offense, similar to Hill last year.

We will have a similar post covering the defense and special teams coming this weekend.