Wisconsin Football: Coach Andersen's 5 Biggest Concerns Post-Spring Practice
Leading up to the NFL draft, we got a nice little taste of football with the Wisconsin Badgers’ five-week spring practice session, culminating in the spring game on April 20.
Because the spring game was televised, head coach Gary Andersen didn't want to tip his hand to opposing coaches, so we didn't get a good look at the changes he's made on the football field at Wisconsin.
Come the end of August, there will be no hiding it—the Badgers will look like a much different football team, on defense with the 3-4 formation and offense with some read option.
With spring practice in the books, it's time for Andersen to assess what he saw in the past five weeks and for us to determine his five biggest concerns.
Holy smokes did the Badgers deal with a lot of injuries this spring, including one that was severe enough to force David Gilbert to put an end to his college football career.
Among the list of players who missed the spring practice slate were offensive lineman Kyle Costigan, nose tackle Beau Allen, linebackers Tyler Dippel, Brendan Kelly and Ethan Armstrong, cornerback Devin Gaulden and running back Vonte Jackson.
There were several others who dealt with knocks throughout the spring, and while Andersen played it safe with a lot of key contributors, it delayed Wisconsin in regards to getting players accustomed to new philosophies on offense and defense.
It was nice for Andersen to get a look at some younger players as a result, but he needs more healthy bodies come the fall so he can get his starters familiar with the changing ways in Madison.
Getting Players Adjusted to New Positions
Playing off the last slide a bit, Andersen has to be concerned about making sure players who are shifting to new positions are comfortable in their new roles.
Kelly and Dippel, who will be healthy come fall practice, each played defensive end under the Bret Bielema regime and were known for their pass-rushing abilities. Now, both are expected to shift to outside linebacker in the new 3-4 defense, where they will have to learn about coverage schemes and blitzing packages.
There are others who find themselves at new positions, including running back-turned-safety Kyle Zuleger and wide receiver-turned-safety Isaiah Williams. But they were each healthy during spring practice while Kelly and Dippel didn't participate at all.
Both are seniors, which should help with the learning curve, but they have some catch-up to play.
The Offensive Line
There is plenty of experience on Wisconsin's offensive line, but that doesn't mean it will translate to success.
The Badgers have their third offensive line coach in the past nine months in T.J. Woods, who followed Andersen from Utah State over to Madison. They also lost their two best linemen from a season ago, left tackle Ricky Wagner and center Travis Frederick.
Kyle Costigan, who is expected to start at right guard, missed the spring with an injury, and there are still a few spots across the offensive line that need to be locked down.
Andersen could begin recruiting differently when it comes to the offensive line because of the changes he wants to make on offense. Moving around the quarterback means having offensive linemen who are fleeter of foot, and Andersen may not have the right personnel in place to do that just yet.
Sorting out the Quarterback Battle
One position where the Badgers were completely healthy this spring was quarterback, and that set up a difficult task for Andersen—how to split the reps.
Senior Danny O'Brien and redshirt freshman Bart Houston have been all but weeded out of the competition, leaving sixth-year senior Curt Phillips and sophomore Joel Stave, who each started a handful of games for Wisconsin last season.
The two are neck-and-neck following the spring game, with Stave perhaps gaining a slight lead in the battle thanks to his performance on April 20. But junior college transfer Tanner McEvoy is set to join the team this summer, which leaves Andersen with three proven quarterbacks to choose from.
That might sound like a good problem to have, but the Badgers' success in 2013 could hinge on Andersen making the right decision come Wisconsin's opener on Aug. 31.
Getting Receiver, Defensive Back to Step Up
No matter what schemes you implement on offense or defense, it comes down to performance and having players capable of executing and making plays on a regular basis. The Badgers need consistency at the No. 2 receiver spot as well as in their inexperienced secondary after the departure of three seniors.
There were some bright spots in these two areas during the spring game. Sophomore Jordan Fredrick made some nice grabs, and junior Kenzel Doe, who is expected to assume the slot receiver role, was involved often as well.
At cornerback, early enrolled freshman Sojourn Shelton made a couple of excellent plays in coverage and could work his way into the No. 1 group as a result. Andersen just needs to hope these weren't merely flashes and are actually signs of things to come next season.