Wisconsin Badgers: 10 "Swing" Players Bret Bielema Needs to Step Up in 2011
In truth, I’m still not sure I’ve titled this show correctly.
The following is a list of 10 under-the-radar Badgers who can make or break the 2011-12 season.
They’re players who are unknown commodities, need to regain form or simply live up to expectations. The list highlights veterans who need to step forward or simply out of the way.
To be clear, I’m not focusing on known quantities like veterans Nick Toon, Peter Konz or Aaron Henry. Head Coach Bret Bielema (and most Badger fans) knows what they’re going to get from these stalwarts.
In short, these are the “swing” Badgers. Enjoy!
10. Josh Oglesby: Right Tackle (Senior)
It’s now or never for “Big Josh.”
The highly recruited tackle has been underwhelming during his three seasons on campus. He’s coming off a torn ACL (and bruised ego), which means he’ll have prove himself in the face of challenges (a repaired knee) and challengers Rob Havenstein and Casey Dehn.
Entering fall camp, it’s J.O.’s J-O-B to lose, and Head Coach Bret Bielema would love to see Oglesby live up to those lofty expectations.
9. Dezmen Southward: Strong Safety (RS Sophomore)
Southward will battle Shelton Johnson and Michael Trotter for the right to replace former captain and loudmouth Jay “Baby Doc” Valai (Valai is no longer a captain but still is a loudmouth). I always thought Valai was more bark than bite, and in veteran free safety Aaron Henry, the Badgers have plenty of bark and bite in the defensive backfield.
Southward, who played only a year of high school football, is a freak athlete with tremendous range and leaping ability. His play versus the run and overall consistency will be paramount for the Badgers.
Valai was literally “hit or miss” (a new nickname, perhaps?), and Wisconsin simply cannot afford to give up big plays on defense.
8. Travis Frederick: Left Guard (RS Sophomore)
Let’s cut right to it—I’m not the least bit concerned about the redshirt sophomore from Big Foot, Wisconsin. However, let’s remember that despite the title “first true freshman in school history to start a season-opener on the offensive line,” Frederick only has five games under his (massive) belt and only two starts a guard.
Pencil Frederick to replace John Moffitt and write in ink that I think he’s going to be special. Still, he’s a “swing” player for Wisconsin who I think we’ll enjoy watch swinging out wide and destroying opposing linebackers and defensive backs.
7. Brendan Kelly: Defensive End (RS Junior)
Kelly is another player who showed his stuff as a true freshman.
Unfortunately, injuries derailed his freshman and sophomore seasons and shelved him entirely in 2010.
Now a red-shirt junior, Kelly is clearly one of the top three defensive ends for Defensive Coordinators Chris Ash and Charlie Partridge after a stand out spring session.
With JJ Watt in Houston, it’ll be “quarterback sack by committee,” and the addition of Kelly will only booster the Badgers’ chances of matching Watt’s unbelievable production.
To be fair, Kelly can’t break the Badgers season; he’s playing with house money as it is. But a productive, steady rotation at end can only benefit UW’s chances.
Kelly’s motto for 2011: Dream Big, Stay Healthy.
6. Jake Byrne: Tight End (Senior)
Byrne’s time in Madison has been nondescript.
Perpetually in the shadows of former tight ends Lance Kendricks, Garrett Graham and Mickey Turner, Byrne has only five career catches for 43 yards and a touchdown.
He’s a tremendous blocker, but if Byrne wants to follow in his predecessor’s footsteps (to the NFL), he’s going to have to prove himself a capable weapon in the passing game.
Is there a chance he loses his starting job? It’s highly unlikely, but there are plenty of young and eager Badgers behind him on the depth chart.
5. Marcus Cromartie: Cornerback (RS Junior)
Cromartie was a prized recruit coming out of Mansfield, Texas, flaunting offers from schools like Texas A&M, Kansas and Florida.
He’s played in 11 games in three seasons on campus, and thus far, there simply hasn’t been much to “Cro” about.
The third, or nickel-back, entering fall camp, Cromartie will have plenty of opportunities to impress. As one Badger insider told me point-blank, “Cromartie shows flashes, but never really puts in 100 percent. He could be really good if he wanted to.”
4. Kevin Claxton: Linebacker (Senior)
Kevin “Action” Claxton has played in a remarkable 31 games (only one start) for the Badgers. Yeah, I was surprised to see that too.
The Fort Lauderdale product sees his name atop the depth chart at WLB.
Claxton’s shining moment was last season when he replaced injured Mike Taylor and came up with six tackles against No. 1 Ohio State.
Largely a special teamer and backup during his time in Madison, Claxton provides a modicum of experience at what is a very young position group. How he handles playing in the base is a crucial question for the Badgers defense in 2011.
3. Manasseh Garner: Tight End (Sophomore)
Garner made his Badger debut on September 25, 2010 against Austin Peay and played both wide receiver and defensive end.
Think about that.
Most freshmen don’t know one position well enough to see the field, yet Garner played both ways some four weeks into his college career.
Publicly, the coaches have told the media Garner will play and stay at tight end this fall. Personally, I think Offensive Coordinator Paul Chryst will create special packages for the dynamic playmaker from Western PA.
Would it shock me if he moved back over to defense? No. In truth, it may not matter where he lines up- Manasseh Garner is a future star for Wisconsin and key figure in their title defense...on offense...or defense.
2. Chris Borland: Linebacker (RS Sophomore)
Golf fanatics worry about Tiger Woods’ knee. Hockey fans' concerns center around Sidney Crosby's head. Mets fans it's Johan Sant...ah, forget it. There aren't any Mets fanatics.
Me? I worry about Chris Borland’s shoulder.
The Badgers best “returning” playmaker, Borland missed the majority of the season with a nasty shoulder injury.
The Big Ten Defensive Rookie of the Year and a Freshman All American, Borland moves to the middle linebacker position and claims he is 100 percent healthy heading to Fall camp in August.
His freshman numbers speak for themselves (54 tackles, 10.5 tackles-for-loss, three fumble recoveries, five forced fumbles, an interception, a blocked punt, three passes defended and six kick off returns for over 100 total yards).
In short, "44" returning to form would be like Woods suddenly playing it was 2005 again and Crosby starring in the Vancouver Olympics.
He's is the Badgers best defensive player, and his health is paramount.
1. Jon Budmayr: Quarterback (RS Sophomore)
The short and honest truth is this: The Badgers season comes down to the play of its quarterback.
Anything resembling the efforts of Scott Tolzien and the Badgers should find themselves playing for the Big Ten title in December.
In August, it will be Jon’s job to lose, and in September, it will be his job to win.
I’ll give Budmayr a pass for his abysmal spring game, as his offense was incomplete (And now I hope I’m forever finished writing sentences that include the words “Budmayr,” “pass” and “incomplete”).
I could rattle off Budmayr’s statistics in my sleep, but for kicks, I’ll type them while I’m awake. Eight completions on 10 attempts for 134 yards and a TD (recall the unnecessary bomb he through in the drubbing of Indiana last season). The sample size, much like his debatable six foot frame, is small so I have my concerns.
Thanks for reading the 10 “swing” Badgers for 2011.