Two days after National Signing Day, Gary Andersen jumped on The Big 1070 in Madison and The Big 920 in Milwaukee with Mike Lucas and Matt Lepay to reflect on Wisconsin's 2014 recruiting class and tease what might be in store when spring practice opens March 7.
The nine-minute interview is surely worth a listen, but Andersen dropped a few interesting tidbits worth highlighting.
Replacing Thomas Hammock
Lepay was "shooting the breeze" with Director of Athletics Barry Alvarez (of course he was) the other day, and they came to the agreement that the running backs coach position vacated by Thomas Hammock's jump to the NFL is incredibly appealing. After all, you get to work with Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement, and have two enticing freshmen to develop in Taiwan Deal and Caleb Kinlaw.
"If you're a running backs coach, it's a great job with some unbelievable tradition, which we all know," Andersen said. "Anybody that does not know that there's great running backs in the backfield doesn't know anything about Wisconsin football for the next year. It's a very sought-after job, and my phone's lined up pretty deep messages. So we'll get through it quickly."
As he was in his Wednesday press conference, Andersen was nothing but supportive for Hammock, who has recruited and developed Montee Ball, James White, Gordon and Clement. It's also widely known that Hammock spurned previous NFL jobs, and you certainly can't blame someone for chasing their dreams of coaching at the highest level.
2014 class loaded with athleticism
Andersen said he watched highlights of the 2014 class again Thursday night and was once again taken aback by the clear athleticism of some of its members.
"They just appear to be athletic," Andersen said. "There's a lot of big plays on that tape when you look at it. There's eight kids in that signing class that have returned a kickoff for a touchdown, there's 10,000 yards in the three running backs. A lot of things like that, explosive plays, that's what we need, that's what we look for."
Advantages of enrolling early
Asked about the advantages presented to early enrollees, particularly quarterback D.J. Gillins, Andersen also highlighted another name: safety Austin Hudson.
"It's a huge advantage for D.J. to be early, as well as it is for all the kids," Andersen said. "D.J., a tremendous opportunity to compete, to understand the scheme, know the offense, get to know the ins and outs. We all know how important that is as a quarterback. It also allows him to be around his teammates, which I think is a positive.
"You get in these spots with freshmen quarterbacks, and everybody wants to start talking about, 'Is he going to play? Is he not going to play?' That'll all take care of itself, but he's going to compete and he's going to play at a high level."
While Andersen reiterated Wednesday that Joel Stave will open spring practice as the starting quarterback, it seems clear that the position will field a wide-open battle. Aside from Stave and Gillins, Tanner McEvoy, Bart Houston and Connor Senger will all fight for reps, at least early on.
As for Hudson, Andersen also sees him potentially contributing early on, especially in light of some position changes noted below.
"With Austin Hudson, he walks in here as a safety, a lot of times people say, 'the quarterback of the defense,'" Andersen said. "He kind of is back there. He steers the ship a lot of times, if he ends up being a free safety for us."
Andersen noted there was "definite" need at safety, considering the graduation of Dezmen Southward, McEvoy returning to quarterback and the general lack of experience on the depth chart.
Michael Caputo, who also played 12 games at free safety last year, is moving to outside linebacker, Andersen said. That lead us to...
Andersen did elaborate on Caputo dropping down to linebacker, making clear the move isn't necessarily concrete.
"We know what Michael can do at safety," Andersen said. "If he has to go back, he can in one second. But we really think we need to get more athletic than we were a year ago at that outside linebacker position into the field [side]."
Andersen also confirmed Joe Schobert will be moving to inside linebacker from the outside, and Alec James will move up to play a sort of hybrid defensive end position. James will still be standing up at times, though Andersen now considers him an end.
On offense, Andersen said there weren't any "major" changes that struck him. The spring will still be different, though, considering some areas lack certain depth.
"We only have two tailbacks, and we're not going to run around and tackle Melvin Gordon and we're not going to tackle Corey Clement very much," Andersen said, "so we'll have to be real careful how we practice spring and coordinate spring football with the running game, tackling the running backs and giving the quarterbacks a look."
Super Bowl observations
Andersen had high praise for Seattle Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner, whom he coached at Utah State. Andersen said he could see Wagner would have a future in the NFL during his senior year, when the linebacker made game-clinching plays in three or four separate games to help Utah State get to its first bowl game.
Andersen also said he knows Wagner, Russell Wilson and former Utah State player and current Seahawks running back Robert Turbin have become close friends in Seattle, and that he's "trying like crazy" to get all three to come to Wisconsin's spring game on April 12.
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