A part of those changes was the hiring of offensive coordinator Phil Longo, whose fast-paced offense was on display during spring ball, a vast change from the previous norms at Wisconsin, which was matched by defensive coordinator Mike Tressel’s creativity with unique formations.
While some elected to transfer, a majority of Badgers players chose to stay and compete with incoming transfers in Wisconsin’s new systems, with some players “breaking out” during the 15-practice schedule over the past month.
Be it transfers or incumbents on the rosters, let’s detail five Badgers who stood out during spring ball.
5. Jeff Pietrowski
Pietrowski’s appearance on this list is intriguing, given that an illness sidelined him for a significant portion of the spring.
However, when the Michigan State transfer was on the field, it was clear that the outside linebacker is poised to make an impact this season, both in the passing game and against the run.
Pietrowski did well in 1-on-1 reps against offensive tackles, winning with speed, power, and pass-rushing moves, while working his way into first-team reps along breakout candidate Darryl Peterson.
Not only has Pietrowski made an impact on the field, but the outside linebacker has already established himself as a leader in the room, while outside linebackers coach Matt Mitchell raved about his talent during media availability earlier in the spring.
“He’s got a great strike,” Mitchell said, via Badger247’s Mike Hogan. “I think he’s going to be really good in the run game, and I think he does have a good get-off. Maybe he’s not the longest-levered guy that I have, but I think his get-off... and sometimes when you can get underneath pad-level and impact tackles with some power, I think he has the ability to do that. He is an extremely powerful athlete.”
The Badgers are going to need some pass-rushing out of a defensive group that lost Keeanu Benton and Nick Herbig, and Pietrowski flashed the impact he could make with a strong spring during the time he was on the field.
4. QB Braedyn Locke
Tanner Mordecai was the headline of the offseason at the quarterback position after the veteran quarterback transferred from SMU, but Braedyn Locke was the biggest riser, joining a loaded group and establishing himself as the clear-cut No. 2 quarterback heading into the summer.
Locke has impressed in the spring with his accuracy and ability to make throws at all three levels of the field.
However, off the field, Locke has impressed offensive coordinator Phil Longo with his understanding of the offense, which has translated to significant reps in practice, allowing him to display his abilities.
While Locke isn’t the most athletic quarterback of the bunch, he displays enough athleticism to move around in the pocket and comfortably make throws on the run.
Mordecai should be the Week 1 starter for the Badgers in what should be his final collegiate season, but Locke should keep fans excited as he suits up to potentially be the quarterback of the future in Phil Longo’s Air-Raid system.
3. WR C.J. Williams
The Badgers were poised to have a shakeup at the receiver position after bringing in four receivers via the transfer portal: C.J. Williams, Will Pauling, Quincy Burroughs, and Bryson Green, all of whom have been names to watch this offseason for one reason or another.
However, after a four-star rating in the 2022 cycle, Williams came in with the most hype, and has delivered in spring, working his way to becoming a consistent feature with the first-team offense alongside Pauling and incumbent Chimere Dike.
Williams may not have the elite top-end speed of other receivers, but his play speed, blended with great route-running and hands, has translated very well in the spring, and he should find his way on the field, despite a crowded receiver room, given his talent.
Williams found an early connection with Locke on the second-team offense, which led to a number of highlight plays over the past month, and could be a sight to see in 2024.
2. WR Will Pauling
Williams may have been the most-hyped receiver of the transfer cycle, and deservedly so, but Pauling was the wideout that immediately caught eyes, which is why it wasn't a surprise to see the Cincinnati transfer immediately place himself amongst the starters in the slot.
Many point to Pauling’s highlight plays during the spring, which was certainly must-watches, but the receiver immediately impressed me with the fluidity in his movement and crisp route-running during Wisconsin’s first practice, which was displayed throughout the month.
Pauling has the ability to make contested catches with secure hands, despite his smaller frame, and is a complete receiver in the slot, as he possesses the ability to take the top off or win in the short and intermediate levels with his route-running ability.
The biggest question with Pauling is how he’ll work against press coverage in the slot, but everything displayed in the spring suggests that the wideout will play a big role in the fall for the Badgers.
1. CB Ricardo Hallman
We can’t have a spring ball list without mentioning Ricardo Hallman, who showcased all the earmarks of being a starting cornerback in the Big Ten during an impressive month of practices.
Coming into the offseason, there were questions around the Badgers secondary behind sixth-years Alexander Smith and Jason Maitre, but Hallman erased them immediately with sticky coverage against Wisconsin’s top receivers, as well as an incredible display of ball skills, including a two-practice stretch where he caught six interceptions.
Hallman saw his fair share of targets during the spring with Smith working well in press, and gave the offense problems, eliminating many deep shots, and showcasing consistency throughout the spring, which had been his primary problem last season.
Hallman’s height will still be something to watch against bigger receivers in the fall, but his confidence seems to have improved, as well as his ball skills.
Moreover, Hallman seems like a better fit in Mike Tressel’s defensive system, which the cornerback admitted has made his role a little easier.