Wisconsin Football: Spring Practice Position Battles Tracker

Randy ChambersAnalyst IMarch 8, 2013

Wisconsin Football: Spring Practice Position Battles Tracker

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    One of the teams in college football that must be thankful spring practice exists is the Wisconsin Badgers. With a new coaching staff taking over and a few position battles that will be monitored closely, the 15 practices over the next month or so will be extremely important to this program's success.

    The good thing for the Badgers is that 15 starters are returning, which does give them a leg up on the competition, as this is one of the more experienced teams in the Big Ten. If everything goes well, there is a chance a fourth straight trip to the BCS Rose Bowl is in the cards.

    The Badgers will put in a lot of work over these next several weeks in preparation for the spring game that kicks off on April 20 at 4 p.m. CT.

    With a lot to cover, here is your one-stop shop for the 2013 Wisconsin Badgers spring practice.

    Note: This slideshow will be updated with the latest news, position battles, injuries and more.

Latest News

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    Update: April 12

    Joel Stave is a lot more comfortable at the quarterback position than he was a month ago. He told Jeff Potrykus of the Journal Sentinel that he is picking things up a lot quicker than he was before.

    "I'm picking up everything that is getting put in," Stave said.

    After breaking his collarbone last season and missing a chunk of time, Stave goes on to say that getting back into the swing of things was difficult.

    "It takes awhile to start seeing things quickly again," he said, "because you take two months without taking a snap under center.

    "And then try to get right back out there and prepare for a really big game is different."

    Stave is currently in a quarterback battle with Curt Phillips and Danny O'Brien.

    Update: April 11

    Wisconsin has been known as this power running football team over the years, but there may be a new look coming. According to Tyler Waddell of Fan IQ, head coach Gary Anderson could start using a three tight end spread formation.

    "Just because we play in that personnel group doesn't mean we need to pack it all in there and have 20 guys sitting in the middle of the field with offense and defense smashing on top of each other," Anderson told CoachingSearch.com. "We can still spread it. Our tight ends are skilled, they run well, they're athletic enough to get out in space and cause some mismatches in space as well as they can on or off the line of scrimmage.”

    Update: March 19

    The position that folks are watching the most when it comes to the Badgers is at quarterback. After struggling to develop any type of consistency at the position, somebody needs to step it up this offseason. According to Tom Mulhern of Madison, that guy looks like it is Curt Phillips at the moment.

    Phillips has started off majority of the practices with the first team and has looked terrific according to the report. As for head coach Gary Anderson, he likes what he sees but isn't ready to hand over the starting job just yet.

    There’s a lot of kids competing at that spot and Curt, he kind typifies what you love about college football, it’s important for him to cling on and keep fighting. Andersen said. He loves to be around his teammates, he loves football.

    He’s done a tremendous job of taking care of himself, at least since I’ve been here, watching him go through his daily life and what he does, preparing his body for practices. ... I’m proud of him, the way he’s hung in there. He’s fighting like crazy. Got some good quarterbacks, so it’ll be interesting.

    Update: March 12

    If you were wondering how the players are responding to new head coach Gary Anderson, well the transition has become a rather easy one. Players believe in the new coach and have quickly developed an important relationship in such a short amount of time, according to Tom Oates of Madison.com.

    I love him; he’s been great so far. Senior guard Ryan Groy said. Everything he says, he keeps his word. He says how he’s going to be straight forward with you and at the same time he’ll get after you, but it’s all good stuff. He knows what he’s doing. He knows what he’s coaching.

    There may be plenty of position battles to watch this spring, but getting the coaches and the players on the same page is far more important. If this is any indication of things moving forward, the Badgers are already ahead of the ball game.

    As for the quarterback spot, that is going to remain a work in progress, Anderson told Gary D'Amato of the Journal Sentinel.

    "I thought overall there were some nice balls," he said. "We missed a few (throws). That's to be expected. They've thrown on their own, but they haven't thrown in live situations."

    Update: March 11

    After undergoing two surgeries during the offseason, according to Evan Flood of 247Sports, head coach Gary Anderson has announced linebacker Ethan Armstrong won't participate in spring drills.

    "Our hope is to get him back June 9 or before," Andersen said. "He can come back and start our summer workouts. He got himself cleaned up. He had the two surgeries, just recovering. That was always the plan. He's one tough kid. He had a smile on his face every day. He'll be ready to roll."

    With there being a hole at the linebacker position, Vince Biegel has moved from middle to outside linebacker, while Sherard Cadogan has also made a switch from fullback to outside linebacker. 

    Update: March 8

    It is always interesting to hear what the coaches have to say about the areas that need work.It is even better when the head coach is honest in the interview.

    New head coach Gary Anderson was asked about the positions that he considers to need improvement and according to UW Badgers, this is what he had to say:

    I would say quarterback is obviously, that's a big question mark. That would come up and be No. 1. The defensive line is interesting, a lot of talented kids. A few young men that aren't going to play in spring football, and we all know that. So I'm excited to see the youth at the defensive line spot get 15 practices underneath their belt and watch those young players develop. That's going to be a very interesting.

    And I would say the exact same thing, who's going to come in at the center position? That's a big communication point. It takes a very smart young man and a very durable young man. A tough minded kid that's a great athlete that can play there. So that's why I played center. Just kidding. But it's going to take a special kid to come and get into that spot and replace what was a tremendous player. The defensive line, offensive lines will be very interesting and the quarterback spot.

    As far as the injury situation goes, Anderson wasn't as straightforward, but he did give an update on quarterback Jon Budmayr.

    What Jon's going to do, he's going to work with us as a student coach at this point. He's excited about it, and so are we. It's a great opportunity for young men who may want to turn around and coach one day. So he'll use that window of opportunity.

    The other kids, we'll give you an injury update as we move closer to spring. The young men that had surgeries at the end of the season, we're going to be very smart and very careful with them, as well as we will with the returning players.

    You'll see us as we go through spring football, certain young men that have been in a lot of big-time college football games, we're going to do everything we can to prepare them to get them to understand the scheme, but they don't need to go out to spring ball and get a thousand reps. A lot of those reps will be reserved for young players.

Key Offensive Battles to Watch

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    Regardless of how many experienced players are returning at quarterback, when you rank dead last in the Big Ten in passing offense, you are going to have a quarterback battle in the offseason. Before 2013 recruit Tanner McEvoy arrives in the fall, plenty of guys such as Curt Phillips, Joel Stave, Bart Houston and Danny O'Brien will be fighting for positioning.

    O'Brien failed to live up to expectations last year as a Maryland transfer. Phillips didn't perform any better, and Stave also struggled as the guy who spent a majority of the time at the position. One quarterback the Badgers have yet to see perform is Houston, who was redshirted last year, but was a highly recruited player coming out of the 2012 class.

    This is a position that won't be answered anytime soon, but the spring practice should help provide more answers than we have right now.

    Prediction on Who Wins the Job: Bart Houston

    Actual Winners: TBD


    Wide Receiver

    Jared Abbrederis has shown to be one of the best receivers in the Big Ten over the last three years. He will also remain the starter and the No. 1 option within this Wisconsin offense. However, besides the senior catching a majority of the passes, other players need to step up to help out whoever ends up winning the quarterback job.

    Young receivers such as Kenzel Doe and Jordan Fredrick were thrown into the rotation, but neither was consistent enough to be considered much of a threat. We could blame some of this on horrible quarterback play, but these are still receivers that must prove themselves by taking charge. Some sleepers in the competition include Jeff Duckworth, Reggie Love and Chase Hammond.

    We know what Abbrederis is capable of, but he can’t do everything on his own.

    Prediction on Who Wins the Job: Jared Abbrederis and Jordan Fredrick

    Actual Winners: TBD

Key Defensive Battles to Watch

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    The entire Wisconsin secondary heads into spring practice as a giant question mark. With only one starter returning in the defensive backfield, players need to answer the bell and show that the defense will be better off than it was a year ago. There isn't one answer at cornerback with both Devin Smith and Marcus Cromartie no longer on the roster.

    This is an area that was hit hard in the recruiting process with the addition of one of the top JUCO players in Donnell Vercher, as well as two early enrollees in Sojourn Shelton and Keelon Brookins.

    As for experienced players, Darius Hillary should be able to make a push for the starting job as he saw increased playing time last year due to injuries. Peniel Jean is another young player who has the upside to continue to rise up the depth chart for the Badgers.

    Reggie Mitchell didn't receive much playing time last year, but could also put his name into the conversation.

    There are plenty of bodies to choose from to fill in the gaps at corner. Now it comes down to who performs the best in practice.

    Prediction on Who Wins the Job: Darius Hillary and Peniel Jean

    Actual Winners: TBD


    Defensive Line

    The defensive line really isn't going to be a position battle for the Badgers, but more so a transition. Wisconsin has all of its starting line returning this season, but with a new coaching staff running the show, this will now be a defense that shifts between both the 3-4 and 4-3 defense.

    While this may sound like simple math to the average fan, guys now have to learn a different language, different responsibilities and will be asked to do different things throughout a ballgame.

    Also, while some players are effective in a 3-4 defense, they don't always do well in a 4-3 defense. The lines have completely different responsibilities in both looks, and it could be confusing to a young player that has never been in this situation before.

    Here is what head coach Gary Anderson told Brian Bennett of ESPN about the transition:

    I think the challenge is being able to play four-down and the odd front together. We've done that in the past as a staff and it's worked very well. It's not really the technique that changes so much; it's just the learning. There's more to it, and playing in a few different spots. These kids will handle it very well. I have no doubt that they're going to have the ability to line up and get into the different techniques that we're asking them to play and be able to handle it mentally. But there is change, because there's just more movement for the defense. And they were very good on defense last year and for years prior to that. But we want to be able to move around a little bit more, so that requires them to learn a little bit of a new scheme.

    The line is experienced and has enough pieces in place to make things work. However, this will be an area to watch this spring as there are sure to be growing pains as this switch slowly unfolds.

    Prediction on Who Wins the Job: Beau Allen, Ethan Hemer, David Gilbert and Pat Muldoon

    Actual Winners: TBD

Early Enrolees Report Card

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    Sojourn Shelton, 3-Star CB - The concern with Shelton is the fact that he is only 5'10" and 160 pounds. With the desperate need to add weight, I'm not sure if he is in position just yet for immediate playing time. However, this kid has remarkable leaping ability and is quite aggressive for such a small player.

    Despite the issues with his lack of size, Shelton can play the cornerback position fairly well.

    Post Spring Practice Grade: TBD

    Keelon Brookins, 3-Star CB - Brookins has good foot quickness and that allows him to do a solid job in man coverage. He has above-average ball skills and will only continue to bulk up his already 6'0", 170-pound frame.

    The problem is that he is still recovering from a torn ACL, which makes you wonder just how effective he will be this spring.

    Post Spring Practice Grade: TBD

Sleepers to Watch

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    Offensive Sleeper

    Jeffrey Lewis, RB - Even with the quarterback and wide receiver positions needing an upgrade, Wisconsin will always be a run first football team. With Montee Ball preparing for a future in the NFL, the depth in the backfield needs to improve.

    Lewis isn't somebody who will top James White as the projected starter, but he should earn many more carries than he has in the first two years. With his acceleration and ability to make guys miss in the open field, this is a runner who could help add that homerun ability to the running game.

    If Wisconsin needs playmakers, he could be just the guy to help out.

    Defensive Sleeper

    Terrance Floyd, CB - Floyd saw just enough playing time last year to learn the ropes and gain enough experience to better position himself heading into this year. A redshirt freshman back in 2011, he played in seven games last year and finished with one tackle.

    While his career so far isn't enough to impress you, his athletic ability is off the charts and should allow him to see more reps on the defensive side of the ball this year. This is somebody who could have played offense with his quickness, leaping ability and great hands.

    Being an explosive player and having the ability to make plays usually wins coaching staffs over, especially when the secondary lost so much from a season ago.