The entire crop of incoming freshmen and junior college recruits for Wisconsin football has finally arrived in Madison and is looking to make an impression in a hurry as fall practice has finally begun.
You can throw spring practice out the window—now is the time for players to prove themselves to first-year head coach Gary Andersen.
Some don't have much to worry about, but several positions are up for grabs and many players missed all of spring camp with injuries. Considering the changes made, especially on defense, there are only four weeks to not only grow comfortable with new concepts, but to show you belong on the field.
After one week, it's difficult to get a read on Andersen and which direction he wants to go at certain positions. Here's another disclaimer—because of NCAA rules, teams aren't allowed to put on full pads until the fifth practice, which is Aug. 9.
But some players stood out during the first week while others have plenty of work to do. With three weeks to go until opening weekend, here is the Week 1 stock report for the Wisconsin Badgers.
Year: Freshman (Redshirt)
We've heard a lot about players switching from the offensive backfield to play in the defensive backfield, including Jeff Lewis and Kyle Zuleger. But one name that's flown under the radar is converted running back Leo Musso—until now.
When fall camp opened up on Aug. 5, it was Musso lined up next to senior Dezmen Southward in the No. 1 safety pairing, much to everyone's surprise. Andersen had high praise for the former Waunakee High School standout (via Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel):
Athletically is No. 1. He runs. He is instinctive. He is a well-rounded athlete and his quickness and his speed shows. He has the smarts to get back there and align and I think he is a tough, physical kid. Those are all things that a safety has to do.
We are going to look at four or five kids in that spot. But Moose did a good job this summer of what we were looking for, improving himself mentally. That was encouraging.
The No. 2 safety pairing to kick off camp was Michael Caputo and the aforementioned Lewis, so we'll see if Musso sticks with the No. 1 tandem.
One of the final pieces of Andersen's 2013 class, T.J. Reynard has three years of eligibility remaining after playing his junior college ball at Independence (Kan.) Community College. Just like any other newcomer, Reynard will have to prove himself and won't be handed anything right away.
Thought to be a contender for the starting safety vacancy with the absences of Reggie Mitchell (transfer) and Donnell Vercher (denied admissions), Reynard spent his time with the cornerbacks in Week 1, seeing some time with the No. 2 unit along with true freshman Sojourn Shelton and Hugs Etienne.
While the Badgers lack experience in the secondary, they certainly don't lack personnel. Reynard will need to fight his way through the crowd to start at corner, which feels like a long shot. Safety appears to be a much easier path to playing time for Reynard, but it remains to be seen if he'll get a shot there.
His prior game experience should help him along the way, but we'll have to wait and see if this statement from Reynard himself has any bearing.
Photo courtesy of 247sports
Position: Outside linebacker
We've heard nothing but positive things about Schobert dating back to spring practice, and coaches are dying to find a way to get him on the field this fall.
At the start of fall camp, Schobert lined up in the No. 2 defense at outside linebacker, but since regular starter Ethan Armstrong went down with a leg injury that could keep him out for the rest of fall camp, Schobert has stepped in with the No. 1 unit.
Along with redshirt freshman Vince Biegel, Schobert had a solid spring game, and that effort has carried over to the fall. That effort certainly hasn't gone unnoticed based off of Andersen's recent comments at the team's media day last week (h/t Jesse Temple of Fox Sports Wisconsin):
He deserves to play after spring. Everywhere we put him, he just simply made plays. He's young. Obviously, didn’t play a lot last year, involved on special teams and did some good things. But he's a very athletic young man, and his expectations of himself are high.
There's no question that Schobert is a dark horse people need to keep an eye on this fall.
Photo courtesy of 247sports
As a sophomore last season, Michael Trotter received an unexpected opportunity when starter Shelton Johnson broke his arm in Week 3. Trotter, the backup, was thrust into the starting 11 on defense, a position he held until Johnson was healthy enough to return.
With Johnson graduated, the logical step for Trotter seemed to be to seize the starting job opposite of Southward, but when camp opened up, he wasn't even on the two-deep chart. It has to be frustrating for Trotter, who understands that he doesn't possess the same speed as others at his position.
Speed and talent are what have allowed two former running backs to earn more reps at safety than Trotter so far, but defensive coordinator Dave Aranda has been using some sets in which four safeties are on the field at the same time.
This has provided Trotter a chance to see the field, basically playing the role of linebacker near the line of scrimmage. Again, it's early, but when it comes to Trotter being an every-down safety, the chances appear slim.
Position: Wide receiver
Year: Redshirt freshman
The Badgers desperately need someone to step up at No. 2 receiver opposite of standout Jared Abbrederis, and the player who is impressing so far probably doesn't ring a bell.
His name is Alex Erickson, a redshirt freshman listed at 6'0" and 198 pounds out of Darlington, Wis. During the Aug. 6 practice, Erickson made several nice plays, and that drew the attention of wide receivers coach Chris Beatty (h/t Jesse Temple of Fox Sports Wisconsin):
I do feel good about him as far as he's been giving us quality reps when Jared comes out. I'd like for him to be able to be a solid backup to him to where I don’t have to flip-flop other guys around. We want one guy we feel comfortable with to back up Jared. He's been able to do that. He's impressed so far.
Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig also had high praise for Erickson. Other receivers who have looked good in camp so far are Chase Hammond and true freshman Robert Wheelwright, who is catching on quickly.
Position: Inside linebacker
Conor O'Neill has been waiting five years for his shot at Wisconsin, and with Ethan Armstrong shifting over to outside linebacker, that leaves an opening to be seized in the middle next to Chris Borland.
If the first week of fall practice is any indication, O'Neill appears to have an inside shot at the job. The other serious contender appears to be junior Derek Landisch, but O'Neill opened up camp with the No. 1 defense ahead of Landisch and recorded a sack in the first practice with shoulder pads.
Of course, it's difficult to get a read on anything Andersen is doing—especially with it being the first week, because Landisch also saw some time with the No. 1 defense.
Andersen's entire front seven as it stands would be seniors, and it makes sense that he would ride it out with his upperclassmen until someone comes along and proves otherwise. For now, it's O'Neill's job to lose, but there's plenty of time before we get to Wisconsin's season opener on Aug. 31.