Wisconsin Football: Previewing the 5 Biggest Position Battles in Fall Practice
Position battles have been on hold for quite some time now for Wisconsin football, but they're about to pick back up with the start of fall practice next week.
The dog days of summer have just about arrived, but fall camp should help to keep us occupied until the start of the season on Aug. 31. It gives new head coach Gary Andersen just a few weeks to sort out the unsettled positions not only on offense and defense, but special teams as well.
Last season, it took far too long for the Badgers to get settled in at multiple positions, and some of them never came to fruition. That's why it's important for Andersen to figure out the best men for the jobs available during fall practice, or at least before Wisconsin's first test Week 3 at Arizona State.
So what jobs are up for grabs? Let's preview the biggest position battles set to take place during fall practice for the Badgers.
The Wisconsin secondary is in all sorts of flux, and somehow, most of the attention has been at safety despite the Badgers losing both of their starting corners from a season ago.
Entering fall camp, junior Peniel Jean, who has battled injury during his time at Madison, and sophomore Darius Hillary, who spent a majority of 2012 as Wisconsin's nickel corner, are in the No. 1 unit, but there's a true freshman by the name of Sojourn Shelton who could give them a run for their money.
Shelton was one of Wisconsin's top recruits from the class of 2013, and by enrolling early, he was able to participate in spring practice. As a result, Shelton was able to make a lasting impression following an impressive spring game.
It could be Hillary in the most trouble, as he looked shaky at times as a freshman, but he has slightly more experience than Jean. Regardless, it will likely be Hillary, Jean and Shelton entering the season as the top three corners, with one having to settle for the nickel role. Devin Gaulden and Hugs Etienne will also try to throw their names in the hat.
The Badgers really didn't lose anything from their wide receiver corps. The question is whether or not this is a good thing aside from enjoying one more year of Jared Abbrederis.
Having Abbrederis is a luxury, but if Wisconsin could just have one more receiver step up and pose a legitimate threat, it wouldn't be opposed. Last season, redshirt freshman Jordan Fredrick had the tall task of being Wisconsin's No. 2 receiver, but he was only able to muster 196 yards on 17 catches.
Junior Kenzel Doe fits the mold of a slot receiver, so he's likely not someone built to see the field for every snap. Other players have shown flashes, like Chase Hammond and Jeff Duckworth, but there is simply a lack of consistency past Abbrederis on Wisconsin's receiver depth chart.
That's why incoming freshman Jazz Peavy and Robert Wheelwright will garner plenty of attention during fall practice, but it's asking a lot of true freshman to step in and contribute right away at a skill position. If either are deserving, however, don't put it past Andersen to throw them into the fire.
We're beginning to think the safety position at Wisconsin is cursed, because two players that were projected to start at the position just weeks ago aren't even on the roster.
Redshirt freshman and one-time wide receiver Reggie Mitchell and junior college recruit Donnell Vercher were expected to be the frontrunners to start alongside Dezmen Southward, but Mitchell transferred to Pitt and Vercher was denied admission. He will instead attend his hometown school of Fresno State.
Not that there's a lack of options at safety for the Badgers, but now the position battle is wide open. Fortunately, another JUCO recruit by the name of Tekeim "T.J." Reynard has experience playing both safety and cornerback, so he will be in the mix along with Michael Trotter and Leo Musso.
Another name to keep an eye on? Jeff Lewis, who is making the switch from running back to safety. Reynard believes he has what it takes to start and Trotter has some starting experience, but Lewis has jumped out to Andersen and has plenty of talent. Who wins out is anybody's guess.
It was believed that sixth-year senior Brendan Kelly was making the transition to linebacker following the shift to a 3-4 formation, but the latest word from Benjamin Worgull of Badger Nation is that Kelly will remain on the line along with Beau Allen and Ethan Hemer.
Fellow senior Tyler Dippel, on the other hand, should be completing the move from end to linebacker after missing the entire spring with injury. With David Gilbert out of the picture, he has a great chance to start at one of the outside linebacker positions.
Another player that might see plenty of the field this season is redshirt freshman Vince Biegel, who had an excellent spring for the Badgers. He should be in the mix for a starting job.
Some dark horse candidates to keep an eye on are Jesse Hayes and Joe Schobert, while veterans Derek Landisch and Conor O'Neill will also scrap for playing time. It will be an important spring for all the aforementioned players, but only two will emerge as starters after fall camp.
One year after being spoiled with the services of Russell Wilson, the Badgers came crashing back down to Earth with Danny O'Brien under center. Joel Stave helped to save face, only to break his collarbone at the end of October, and Curt Phillips closed out the season at quarterback.
After successfully petitioning for a sixth year, Phillips will join Stave in the quarterback competition, but you can throw one more name into the mix—Tanner McEvoy.
McEvoy was Andersen's first big get as head coach at Wisconsin, a JUCO dual-threat quarterback who previously had a cup of coffee with South Carolina. Some feel that McEvoy may have the edge because he was the only one out of the three to be recruited by Andersen, but Phillips is revered by his fellow teammates and Stave was impressive during his stint as a starter last season.
According to Andersen from his time at B1G Media Days, it's a wide open race—a three-way battle for the starting quarterback job. Just one of several positions up for grabs at fall practice for Wisconsin.