No one forecast Bret Bielema’s bombshell in December when he announced he was accepting the football coaching job at Arkansas. After the dust settled, Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez found a suitable successor in Gary Andersen.
With a new coaching staff comes a new philosophy and a different temperament. Mix in some varied schemes and alternative coaching techniques and there are bound to be a few surprises as the Badgers’ season unfolds.
With the Bielema departure a distant memory, it’s time to embark on a new chapter in Wisconsin football. Here are three players who will look to escape the shadows and become fixtures in the starting lineup this season.
Doe started only one game for the Badgers in 2012, but the junior wide receiver showed in the spring game why he might be a pleasant surprise this fall. With star wideout Jared Abbrederis kept out of action, Doe made the most of his opportunity by catching eight passes for 93 yards.
Wisconsin will need someone besides Abbrederis to give the aerial attack a boost in 2013. The Badgers finished last in the Big Ten in passing yards per game (156.9) a year ago with Jordan Fredrick, Jeff Duckworth and Chase Hammond splitting time with Doe opposite Abbrederis.
Doe can also be a weapon on special teams. He returned a punt 82 yards for a touchdown against Utah State last year and averaged 27.9 yards on seven kickoff returns.
“Kenzel had a really good spring all around,” Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave told reporters after the spring game. “He just continues to get better.”
If Doe continues to jell with the quarterback corps, he could make a splash this year.
Anyone who watches Reynard’s highlight reel from his freshman season at Independence (Kan.) Community College will be impressed with his ball-hawking skills and his closing speed. He made 11.3 tackles per game from his safety position last year, good for 11th in the NJCAA, but the 5’11” Virginia Beach, Va., native will play cornerback at Wisconsin.
Aside from returning starter Dezmen Southward at safety, the Badgers are largely unproven in the defensive backfield. Junior Peniel Jean and sophomore Darius Hillary are penciled in for starting cornerback nods, but Reynard could displace one of them with a strong showing in fall camp.
Until April, Reynard was poised to stay another year at Independence, but Colorado, Kentucky and Georgia Southern started to show interest. Shortly thereafter, Wisconsin swooped in and Reynard accepted a scholarship in early May.
This might be a bit of a stretch, but if Reynard earns playing time, he could be a pleasant surprise in the Badgers’ secondary.
Wisconsin will field one of the best linebacker units in the Big Ten this year, and to make things more interesting, the new coaching staff will deploy a 3-4 defensive scheme. Chris Borland and Ethan Armstrong return to the starting unit and will anchor the middle, but Schobert could sneak into the rotation at outside linebacker.
A converted safety, the 6’2” speedster played in eight games as a freshman. The sophomore walk-on from Waukesha, Wis., had a solid spring and made seven tackles, including one sack, in the spring game.
Badgers coaches would like Schobert to add some weight to his 225-pound frame as he fully transitions into a position that head coach Gary Andersen calls “a glorified rolled-down safety.”
Wisconsin has a huge void to fill with the departure of linebacker Mike Taylor, who finished second in the Big Ten with 123 total tackles last year. If Schobert’s upward progression is any indication, expect him to make some noise this fall and earn a scholarship.