Wisconsin Football: Previewing 4 Biggest Position Battles Heading into Fall Camp
Coming into fall camp, the Wisconsin football team has the unfortunate circumstance of turning over quite a few players, with numerous departures at key spots on both sides of the ball. Adding to the team's woes is that some of their biggest position battles occur in places that feature a returning starter.
Special teams, offense, defense—you name it, the Badgers have holes to fill. Whereas in some places, such as tight end, the Badgers have a natural replacement for Jacob Pedersen in Sam Arneson, other spots are a bit more nebulous.
To figure out the most important position battles, I looked at how important the position is to the success of the team and how close the competition is between the two (or more) players.
No. 4: Defensive End
This competition isn't the most competitive, but it's a competition nonetheless. Konrad Zagzebski is firmly entrenched on one side, while Chikwe Obasih has been phenomenal throughout the spring and has both coaches and fans noticing him. The third piece of the equation is Alec James, who would be starting on any number of teams.
Obasih will almost definitely get the nod over James, with the latter playing some end as well as some linebacker. Going forward, James and Obasih will be a pair of athletic defensive ends that will haunt opposing coaches.
Starters: Konrad Zagzebski and Chikwe Obasih
No. 3: Wide Receiver
This position is almost impossible to parse out until the freshmen start in earnest, but I'll try. Kenzel Doe probably has a spot in the starting lineup thanks to being the last man standing in the spring. His ability to play nearly every snap throughout spring practice with the first and second team will make him almost a given to be on the outside against LSU.
The second starting receiver spot is totally up for grabs. Krenwick Sanders, a freshman out of Georgia, will likely claim this spot sooner rather than later, but for now it's hard to pencil him into the starting lineup on Day 1, as he's yet to go through a practice with pads.
Jazz Peavy wins the award for best name and had a pretty good spring, but I can't imagine seeing him on the outside to open the season. The same goes for Reggie Love, who has a tremendous name but probably won't be starting anytime soon.
That leaves two main competitors for the second receiver spot. The first challenger is Robert Wheelwright. Coaches have been raving about him ever since he first stepped on campus, and in the extremely limited action he's seen, fans have to believe that he's the real deal—or as close as the Badgers have to the real deal.
While speaking to Mike Lucas of UWBadgers.com, wide receivers coach Chris Beatty said in August 2013,
"He has a good rangy body so he has some things to work with. He's quick, he's sudden and he has got to translate that to game action."
The other option is Jordan Fredrick. He caught 17 passes as a freshman and then 10 more last season, providing the only other help from the receiver spot last season outside of Jared Abbrederis.
Fredrick's experience may give him the upper hand as he's been pretty sure-handed throughout his collegiate career, though he seemed more comfortable in the slot, while Wheelwright is better on the outside.
Starters: Kenzel Doe and Jordan Fredrick
No. 2: Kicker
One may ask why kicker is above both defensive end and wide receiver in terms of importance. The easy answer? Resolving this position will prevent the Badgers from pondering whether or not to use their All-American linebacker at kicker again.
Both Chris Borland, said All-American linebacker, and Kyle French are gone. While many thought French's departure would instantly lead to stability in the kicking game, surprise, it didn't. French went 5-of-8 on field goals last season and never had a chance to take the 32-yarder to beat Arizona State that he deserved.
Replacing him was Jack Russell, which led to relative stability. Russell went 9-of-12 once he replaced French last season; however, he hit only one 40-plus yarder.
Also in the mix is kickoff specialist Andrew Endicott, who handled the kicking duties for the White team in the spring game and went 1-of-2, hitting from 36 yards. He should factor in throughout the fall and could keep his kickoff spot, but I don't think he will be the starting kicker against LSU.
This leaves the wild card of the bunch, Rafael Gaglianone. The class of 2014 recruit hit a 57-yarder at a camp and has by far the strongest leg of this trio of kickers. His age will be the only thing holding him back, but I won't be surprised to see him handling the kicking duties in Houston.
Starter: Rafael Gaglianone
No. 1: Quarterback
Here's the position everyone was waiting for. Will all due respect to Thad Armstrong, D.J. Gillins and Bart Houston, there is a two-man race for the starting quarterback spot between Tanner McEvoy and Joel Stave.
Stave, the incumbent, is on the Davey O'Brien watch list, but that doesn't really give any clues as to whether or not he will be the starting quarterback. McEvoy, the former South Carolina commit turned junior college standout and then starting safety for the Badgers, is running as 1b to Stave's 1a right now.
Stave missed much of the spring including the spring game thanks to an injured shoulder. He suffered the injury in the bowl game against South Carolina.
Fans have been clamoring for McEvoy quite a bit after Stave's struggles down the stretch last season, and with coach Gary Andersen bringing in the types of quarterbacks that he is—mostly mobile quarterbacks with strong arms—McEvoy fits the bill considerably more than Stave does.
McEvoy's unconventional delivery has held him back a bit, and his lack of experience playing quarterback at any level—he only played quarterback for one year in high school and hasn't taken an FBS snap under center—could be a problem, but when the starting lineups are announced in Houston, it will be McEvoy who gets his name called.
Starter: Tanner McEvoy