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Badgers depth dropping as two key players may not return for Week 1

The Badgers may be missing two key rotation players for Week 1 after recent injuries.

The Wisconsin Badgers have luckily gone through the offseason without significant injuries to their top players, but some key ones popped up earlier this weekend, which has head coach Luke Fickell doubting whether a Week 1 return is possible.

The Badgers lost center Jake Renfro and tight end Riley Nowakowski to foot injuries, with the return date currently in the air, Fickell said when speaking to reporters following practice Saturday.

On Renfro’s sprained foot, Fickell believes the timetable will be around 3-4 weeks, which is past Week 1, which is coming up in just two weeks.

“We’re hoping it’s three, four weeks,” Fickell said. “We don’t know exactly. We’ll get him back. It’s just how quickly will we get him. I don’t know that we can get him back for game one. Will we get him back game two or three? I hope. We’ll kind of see. It’s just a foot sprain.”

Renfro, who had suffered a stress fracture in his foot during spring practices, was expected to be Wisconsin’s top center upon his arrival via transfer.

Now? The injuries have made his role murky, as Fickell will have to balance recovery with getting the five best players out there.

“I think more than anything based on how it goes,” Fickell said, “that his body has a heck of a lot more time to heal if he doesn’t end up making back into the rotation or even being [a starter]. I think we’ve got some combinations that we can [go with at offensive line].”

The Badgers now face the challenge of hoping to integrate Renfro in midseason, which could disrupt the team’s continuity, an issue seen all of last season along the offensive line.

As for Nowakowski, the converted tight end was expected to see the field in 2023 after offensive coordinator Phil Longo dubbed him the most consistent player at the position in the spring.

However, a foot injury will likely keep him out for four-to-six weeks, according to Fickell.

“We’re hoping maybe four weeks, five weeks, six,” Fickell said, noting there’s still uncertainty regarding a true date for the tight end’s return.

The Badgers are slowly thinning out at tight end, as the team already lost veterans Clay Cundiff and Jack Eschenbach, who were not placed on the fall roster, leaving the team with six total scholarship options at the position.

However, Jack Pugh did not practice on Saturday, as he dealt with an injury of his own, while walk-on Angel Toombs reportedly suffered an injury during practice as well, leaving the Badgers with Hayden Rucci, J.T. Seagraves, Cole Dakovich, and Tucker Ashcraft as the lone players available.

Following practice, Fickell did mention that the team could try out Jackson Acker or Chris Brooks at tight end, should the depth continue to thin, but noted the value that the healthy players have brought to the table thus far.

But, for now, it appears the Badgers will miss both Jake Renfro and Riley Nowakowski when they take the field against Buffalo on September 2nd.

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