Wisconsin Football: 5 Things to Look for in the Spring Game
The five-week spring practice session is finally coming to a close, and it's almost time for Wisconsin football to take the field for its annual spring game.
Through all the injuries and schematic changes on offense and defense, the Badgers are ready to show fans how far they have come since ending the season on a sour note in the Rose Bowl. Of course, due to these injuries, we won't get nearly the same product that fans should expect to see come the start of next season.
That doesn't mean there won't be plenty to keep an eye on, as several position battles will be front and center on April 20. Those will be among the five most important things to look out for this Saturday when the Red team takes on the White team.
Youngsters with Something to Prove
For precautionary measures, head coach Gary Andersen said he would hold out several seniors for the spring game, including Jared Abbrederis, James White and Chris Borland (via Tom Mulhern of the Wisconsin State Journal).
That's disappointing from the fans' perspective, but it also means that the next man up will get an opportunity to make an impression on the new coaching staff, even if it means they won't play a big role next season.
There was already going to be plenty of youth on the field in the secondary following three senior departures after last season as well as at wide receiver. Now, with some of the biggest names on the Badger roster sitting out the spring game, even more youngsters will see extended playing time.
Andersen is hoping that this valuable experience for his younger players pays dividends a few years down the road.
Lots of Melvin Gordon
As we just noted, James White won't be making an appearance in this year's spring game, so that will leave plenty of carries to be had for Melvin Gordon.
If White's absence wasn't enough, junior tailback Jeff Lewis was seen in a walking boot due to an ankle injury and won't play either, while leaves the Badgers suddenly thin in the backfield (via Mulhern).
RB depth down to Melvin Gordon and Derek Straus, a former FB, at this point for spring game.
— Tom Mulhern (@TomMulhernWSJ) April 18, 2013
For the sake of fielding two teams, Sconnie will also utilize fullback Derek Watt and perhaps even safety Kyle Zuleger at running back (via Mulhern). Sophomore Vonte Jackson is still recovering from his knee injury, so all eyes will be on sophomore sensation Melvin Gordon come Saturday.
The Quarterback Situation
A previously cloudy quarterback situation has become a little clearer, as Danny O'Brien and Bart Houston have fallen back in the race. That leaves sixth-year senior Curt Phillips and sophomore Joel Stave duking it out for the starting job—at least for now.
Junior college recruit Tanner McEvoy will arrive in Madison this summer, but for now, the stage is set for Phillips and Stave. It was Phillips who closed the season as the starter after Stave went down with a broken collarbone in November.
Considering Andersen's desire to run some read option, this would appear to give Phillips an advantage because of his mobility, but Stave has the better arm. We'll see how each quarterback handles the option on Saturday and who performs better overall, as the two are neck-and-neck for the No. 1 job.
New Wrinkles on Offense, Defense
For basically an entire generation, it's been the same old, same old at Wisconsin—a power-running game on offense and a 4-3 formation with a conservative approach on defense.
Gary Andersen and Co. are here to change that as he brings with him defensive coordinator Dave Aranda as well as former San Diego State offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig.
Aranda will still use some 4-3, but the new base defense at Wisconsin is the 3-4, which resulted in some defensive ends making the transition to outside linebacker this spring. Aranda wants to use a much more aggressive approach, which means more blitzing and taking more chances in the secondary.
With the Aztecs last season, Ludwig moved the quarterback around quite a bit, and that's what Andersen would like to do at Wisconsin. Whether or not a quarterback with sufficient mobility is on the current roster is a different story (See: McEvoy).
Get ready for some new looks and a new feel, Badger fans.
Secondary, Receiver Position Battles
Quarterback isn't the only position that involves competition. Spots are up for grabs on the offensive line and in the front seven as well, but most eyes have shifted to wide receiver and the secondary.
Injuries have decimated the trenches, making it difficult to get a good read on how those positions will shake out, but the Badgers desperately need another threat to emerge alongside Jared Abbrederis at receiver. Currently, sophomores Jordan Fredrick and A.J. Jordan are fighting for that distinction.
Meanwhile, the secondary lost cornerbacks Devin Smith and Marcus Cromartie as well as safety Shelton Johnson to graduation, leaving just senior Dezmen Southward. With Southward sitting out the spring game, that will make for an extremely inexperienced group in the secondary on Saturday.
It will be a great opportunity for Andersen and his staff to see the new cornerback tandem of Darius Hillary and Peniel Jean as well as other underclassmen that could factor into the competition at safety.