As the calendar flips to August, it's finally time for football season—almost. Through the first four days of fall camp, the Wisconsin football team is progressing a bit ahead of schedule in some spots and lagging far behind in others.
Turning over their entire front seven and replacing two of the best in school history (Jared Abbrederis and Chris Borland) will lead to some inevitable growing pains. Let's go through the biggest observations from the first week of fall camp.
There's still very much a quarterback competition
Who do you think should be the starting quarterback?
In an effort to have everyone see as many reps as possible, head coach Gary Andersen ran the team as a split squad, with half the guys going in the morning sessions and the other half practicing in the afternoons. In the morning sessions, the starters typically practiced while the afternoons saw more of the backups and freshmen.
Joel Stave played with the ones on Monday and Wednesday, with Tanner McEvoy getting the majority of the reps with the ones on Tuesday and Thursday. Through the first four days of practice, it looks like Stave has taken the driver's seat in the quarterback competition though it's still very early in the process.
Tuesday's practice was closed to the media, so McEvoy could have shined, but no one was there to see it other than the coaching staff. With that in mind, some of these numbers may be a bit skewed.
On Wednesday, the first day with shoulder pads, McEvoy and Bart Houston, likely the third- or fourth-string quarterback, took all of the live reps. According to Rexford Sheild of Bucky's 5th Quarter, McEvoy unofficially went 7-of-14 with two interceptions while Houston went 5-of-8.
On QBs, so hard to gauge. Tanner McEvoy had no starters against 5 def. starters. 6 for 10 in skeleton drills with 1 INT, 1 TD to WR Jamerson— Jesse Temple (@jessetemple) August 6, 2014
On Thursday, according to Benjamin Worgull of Badger Nation, it was Stave and Houston who took the live reps. Stave went 5-of-10 in the seven-on-seven portion of practice with two touchdowns while Houston went 1-of-4. In 11-on-11, Stave went 4-of-8 while Houston went 0-of-2.
If not for a few drops, Joel Stave would have put up some nice stats working with the twos. Looked good in 7-7 and team drills.— Benjamin Worgull (@TheBadgerNation) August 7, 2014
So what can we gleam from these numbers? Not a lot.
Houston is two heads and shoulders below Stave and McEvoy, but we all knew that going into fall camp anyway. Furthermore, Houston isn't planning on transferring, per Jesse Temple of Fox Sports Wisconsin, despite seeing his window of opportunity to see meaningful snaps rapidly shrink.
Per Worgull, "Andersen admitted that it was tough to gauge the play of both Stave and junior Tanner McEvoy since he believed it was easier to have success during the morning practices with the veteran offensive line and skill position players."
There is still very much a kicking competition
Three men entered, three remain. Per Temple, after Monday's practice, it looked like true freshman Rafael Gaglianone should be the one to beat, going 5-of-5 on his attempts, including makes from 39, 44 and 49 yards.
But incumbent starter Jack Russell's first day was nothing to bark at, either. Russell went 3-of-3 on the first day, hitting from 21, 39 and 49 yards. Throwing more confusion into the mix was that last year's kickoff specialist Andrew Endicott also hit all three of his field-goal attempts from the same distances as Russell.
During Wednesday's practice, according to Sheild, it was Endicott who hit all three of his attempts from 28, 45 and 59 yards away while Gaglianone hit two of three, with his attempt from the 41-yard line coming up short and going left.
Rafael Gaglianone, the talk of Day 1, made 2 of 3 FGs. Hit from 28 and 45, short from 60. Still Jeff Genyk says he's hit 85% so far #Badgers— Jesse Temple (@jessetemple) August 6, 2014
It will be interesting to see how this all shakes out, as Gaglianone appears to be the long-term answer for the team with a powerful leg and consistency that Russell has yet to show. Gaglianone also appears to have the edge over Endicott, who seems like the third horse in this race, albeit one that has certainly shown why he is still in the running.
Who will be the backup nose guard?
If you thought Warren Herring was important on this year's defense because he is one of a small number of guys with any experience, you would be correct. But somehow, he may be even more important now than he was at this point last week.
After the departure of backup nose guard Bryce Gilbert, everyone knew that someone would need to step up in his stead. Finding that replacement has been like pulling teeth for the coaching staff, as no one seems to be ready to play real minutes at this point.
Andersen said, per Worgull:
We've talked about Warren playing a lot of snaps. Right now Warren would have to play every snap, which is a concern. Who is going to come in at the nose guard spot?
We have a ways to go and that worried me ... When I say physically not ready, I would say with the technique (we're) not ready (and) definitely an issue.
Behind Herring is sophomore Arthur Goldberg and true freshmen Jeremy Patterson and Conor Sheehy, none of whom have looked the part of a FBS nose guard.
While the loss of Beau Allen was big—as the Badgers didn't really have anyone who could fill the massive shoes of Allen, who clocks in at 333 pounds while Herring only weighs 294—they didn't realize such a massive burden would be placed on Herring's shoulders.
Between now and the opening kickoff of their game against LSU, someone between Goldberg, Patterson and Sheehy is going to have to step up, or someone between defensive ends Konrad Zagzebski and Jake Keefer may need to slide over to the nose to give Herring a play or two off.
Seven or more true freshmen could play this season
While nose guard may be a problem spot for the Badgers, they have seen some good production out of numerous true freshmen. In fact, Andersen said that seven true freshmen could see the field this season, according to Worgull.
Going through the freshmen, the first is Michael Deiter. Deiter, who enrolled early, was one of the standouts in the spring and has looked good throughout the fall. With likely starting center Dan Voltz sitting out the spring to recover from an injury, Deiter took the first-team snaps as the center and looked the part while doing it. He will be in line for snaps along the crowded, experienced and talented line.
GA said Michael Deiter will likely play this year on the OL and the other true freshmen OLs will likely redshirt #Badgers— Benjamin Worgull (@TheBadgerNation) August 7, 2014
The next true freshman who should see snaps is Taiwan Deal. Deal is looking to lock up that coveted third running back spot, which has been a springboard for underclassmen running backs over the past few seasons.
Everyone from Montee Ball to Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement have held that spot in the past few seasons. Gordon compiled 621 yards on 62 carries as the third running back, and Clement picked up 547 yards on 67 carries in that spot.
Deal is a sturdy 6'0", 216 pounds and runs downhill the way Ball did. While he could probably stand to bulk up a bit, his physicality certainly makes him a prime candidate to see 50 or so carries this season and step into a larger role as his collegiate career progresses.
Of the receivers, George Rushing, Natrell Jamerson and Krenwick Sanders have each had strong moments throughout the course of the first week of practice.
It was Rushing who made the best impression on Day 1.
George Rushing appeared to have best day of #Badgers 3 frosh WRs. Smooth.— Jeff Potrykus (@jaypo1961) August 4, 2014
On Wednesday, it was Sanders who made the best impression. Sanders looks to be the most talented of the bunch coming in and definitely has a chance to make a big impact on the program, starting with this season.
Krenwick Sanders is long and lengthy while Natrell Jamerson is short and has good straight-ahead speed. Both balled today @ WR.— Rexford Sheild (@RexfordJunior) August 6, 2014
For Jamerson, while he may be behind as a receiver, his speed may make him an asset early in his career on special teams. On Thursday, according to Shield, he was fielding punts from freshman punter P.J. Rosowski.
Leaving #Badgers practice. One takeaway: Natrell Jamerson can ball. Made a couple of deep catches today. Freshman has elite speed.— Evan Flood (@Evan_Flood) August 6, 2014
While Kenzel Doe's name is written in Sharpie on the depth chart as the lead punt returner, Jamerson could help alleviate some of Doe's return duties to focus on being a starting wide receiver. With that being said, Abbrederis was able to balance both throughout his career, so Jamerson may not take over until next season.
"Two of the three [true freshmen receivers] need to get on the airplane and fly to the LSU game for us," Andersen said, via The Detroit News, at Big Ten media days prior to the start of fall practice. "So we'll see how all that boils down."
I would expect Rushing and Sanders to make the trip down unless Jamerson stands out on special teams. Eventually, I think Jamerson will travel with the team, but it will be interesting to see if he makes the cut by the end of August.
Freshman CB D’Cota Dixon will get some reps as an ILB in sub packages, according to Landisch and DC Dave Aranda. #Badgers— John Veldhuis (@JohnVeldhuis) August 1, 2014
On the defensive side of the ball, one name that has stood out throughout the first week of practice has been D'Cota Dixon. Dixon will be used as an inside linebacker in some sub packages, according to both starting linebacker Derek Landisch and defensive coordinator Dave Aranda.
D'cota Dixon continues to impress at LB. Picked off Houston on a leaping grab over the middle while backpedaling during 7-on-7. #Badgers— Benjamin Worgull (@TheBadgerNation) August 7, 2014
Furthermore, Dixon picked off Houston during Thursday's practice, a play that caused more than a few heads to turn.
Two more players in the secondary, Austin Hudson and Lubern Figaro, are both in line to see snaps, with Hudson, an early enrollee, fighting for the second starting spot alongside Michael Caputo.
Outside of those eight, Gaglianone has to be in the mix for playing time, and at least one of the two freshmen in the mix for the backup nose guard spot will probably see snaps this season, making 10 or more true freshmen in line for meaningful snaps this season.
Junior college transfer Serge Trezy's status is very much still up in the air. He has not yet made it to campus, and with every passing day and practice that he misses, it looks like he will likely redshirt and join the team in January.
GA on S Serge Trezy. Likely to enroll in Jan. and take a redshirt: "Every day that goes by, less chance he'll be here with us this fall."— Jesse Temple (@jessetemple) August 7, 2014
Last, but not least, the Badgers have a scrimmage set for Sunday, August 10 at 11 a.m. CT. According to Bucky's 5th Quarter, the scrimmage will run until 12:45 p.m. and is open to the public. According to Worgull, they will run about 100 plays, and it will be live, with everyone getting hit except running backs Gordon and Clement.