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Wisconsin Badgers Spring Ball Day 1 Breakdown: Offense

The Wisconsin Badgers kicked off spring ball on Saturday for the first time under Luke Fickell.

The Wisconsin Badgers began spring ball on Saturday, marking the first time that media were in attendance for a practice under new head coach Luke Fickell, and it was certainly an intriguing watch with tons of moving parts.


Here were the rotations on offense on Day 1.


As expected, SMU transfer Tanner Mordecai took all the reps as the starting quarterback, although the Badgers mixed and matched both receivers and offensive line units to incorporate different rotations.

However, the backup to Mordecai wasn’t highly-touted Oklahoma transfer Nick Evers, but rather Mississippi State transfer Braedyn Locke, who took a majority of the second-team reps.

There wasn’t much action from the quarterbacks on Day 1, who fixated more on shorter and intermediate throws as practice unfolded, looking to work through progressions and hit checkdowns.

Still, there were some beautiful throws, as Evers found redshirt freshman Chris Brooks Jr. for a nice 40-yard throw on the sideline, which the wideout high-pointed, while keeping his feet inbounds.

Evers’s arm was certainly seen with the play, as the redshirt freshman possesses a quick release and a cannon for an arm, although it may seem like the processing element is where the young quarterback needs improvement.

The accuracy was a little questionable from Locke, who had an up-and-down day, seeming to miss high multiple times, while nearly throwing an interception on a deep ball, but the Badgers allowed the redshirt freshman to continue working through the ebbs.

Another common theme seemed to be holding onto the ball a little too long after the initial reads weren’t available, but that trait showcased a similarity between most of Wisconsin’s quarterbacks: the ability to move around in and outside of the pocket.

Mordecai isn’t the fastest quarterback, but he displayed some short-area quickness when evading the pocket on a scramble, while Locke had some solid pocket awareness to take off on certain plays.

Despite the up-and-down day, there were certainly some promising plays in the early outlook of the Badgers’ quarterback room, with head coach Luke Fickell specifically pointing out the confidence of his signal-callers as a positive takeaway from Day 1.

In injury news, freshman Cole LaCrue did not practice, as his arm was in a sling.

Running Backs

The running back room was one of the few position groups that didn’t experience much of a shakeup this offseason at the top, as the only transfer news was the loss of Isaac Guerendo to Louisville.

Braelon Allen, now standing at 240 pounds after adding weight in the offseason, was the top running back, while Chez Mellusi sprinkled in reps between the top two teams on offense.

The biggest takeaway from the running back room was the two-back looks that Wisconsin displayed, as certain sets had both Mellusi and Allen out of the backfield, potentially showcasing some of the new flavor that offensive coordinator Phil Longo is incorporating in his offense.

Behind the top two backs, the Badgers saw two new faces in the running back room, as Jackson Acker and Cade Yacamelli worked in, sometimes even as a part of the two-back sets.

Acker, a converted fullback-turned-tailback, earned high praise from head coach Luke Fickell following practice.

“I think Jackson is a really good football player. We’ll find ways to use him. It might be some tailback, it might be some h back, it might be some fullback. As of right now, we’re just having him try to learn multiple things, but we will find a way to play with him on the football field,” Fickell said. “What he did last year and evaluating his film was really impressive. So right now it might just be a little bit more of tailback, but he’ll be a guy that we’ll use in many different ways.”

Yacamelli flashed in the air, catching a pass out of the flat, and his athletic profile is certainly intriguing as a future option out of the backfield for the Badgers.

His receiving ability could be a factor to watch, especially if the Badgers do continue to utilize two-back sets.

Wide Receivers

The wide receivers were the most intriguing position group to watch on offense on Saturday, and deservedly so, as the Badgers added several reinforcements to their rotation following the arrival of Fickell.

Despite the number of marquee acquisitions, the Badgers continued with their starting trio as the No. 1 group on Saturday, as Chimere Dike, Skyler Bell, and Keontez Lewis all saw significant action.

But, the winners of the day were both on the second-team offense: Chris Brooks Jr. and Will Pauling, who both flashed in individual and team drills in an effort to crack the six-man rotation at receiver that coach Mike Brown hinted at during his presser earlier this offseason.

Brooks made a number of catches from the three quarterbacks, with his best play coming off a nice pass from Nick Evers on the sideline for a deep grab.

Additionally, Pauling flashed, first in individual drills where his quickness and fluid route-running were on display, and then in team drills, where he was also able to reel in a few passes, including a touchdown catch.

Pauling’s combination of speed and route running is certainly intriguing, and he could be used in a gadget role or in space this season to best incorporate those talents.

C.J. Williams was also a part of the second-team offense, working on the outside with Brooks, while Pauling saw time in the slot, and Markus Allen also saw a good amount of reps with the reserves.

Allen, sporting No. 14, saw time in the slot, as he did last season, and dropped a bullet pass over the middle, but got a good amount of run overall.

Redshirt freshman Vinny Anthony also worked in with the third-team offense, seeing reps behind the players listed above.

In injury news, top transfer Bryson Green did not practice on Saturday, although he was seen running sprints off the side of the field and catching passes after practice.

Tight Ends

The tight end unit, like the running back group, was very similar to last season, as Jack Eschenbach, Hayden Rucci, and Jack Pugh took the top reps at the position on Saturday.

Eschenbach took several reps with the first-team offense in team drills, while Pugh saw the second-team reps, with the group seeing action specifically on shorter checkdown routes, which seemed to be the focus of the day.

In injury news, tight end Clay Cundiff did not practice, but was seen on the side as well.

Earlier in the week, head coach Luke Fickell indicated that those returning from ACL and long-term injuries were likely to be limited or wear non-contact jerseys, with Cundiff falling into that bunch.

Additionally, tight ends Cole Dakovich and Cam Large didn't practice due to injury.

Offensive Line

The starting offensive line didn't change too much from the end of last season, as Cincinnati transfer Jake Renfro replaced center Joe Tippmann, complementing left tackle Jack Nelson, left guard Tanor Bortolini, right guard Michael Furtney, and right tackle Riley Mahlman.

But, much of the intrigue came with the second unit, as highly-touted prospects Nolan Rucci and Joe Brunner worked side-by-side as the left tackle and left guard, joining center Dylan Barrett, right guard Joe Huber(Cincinnati transfer), and right tackle Trey Wedig.

The third team was filled out by North Dakota State transfer Max Rader at left tackle, Kerry Kodanko at left guard, Drew Evans at center, JP Benzschawel at right guard, and Barrett Nelson at right tackle.

With the offensive line, it’ll be extremely tough to truly evaluate their play until pads come on, but there seems to be continuity along the starting line for now, which was an issue last year with numerous injuries and transitions.

While it seems that Renfro and Nelson are pegged as likely starters on the Badgers, it'll be interesting to note the progress from the second unit to see if any players can push the first-team starters in a competition.

In injury news, offensive lineman Sean Timmis did not practice on Saturday.