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Biggest position battles to watch for in Wisconsin Badgers Spring football game

The good news out of Wisconsin Badgers spring football camp is that there is now real news. It means no injuries, a quiet set of practices and a focus on the little things internally. 

Of course, that also makes for a less-than-fun few weeks on the reporting front.

However, while most of the spring has been quiet, that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been interesting things happening. With seniors gone at some key positions, this spring has been largely about finding the right fits at those positions.

As the Badgers continue to get younger at some key positions, are there battles heating up or are experienced backups stepping up? With the spring game coming at us next week, lets take a look at some of the battles fans should be watching for.

Running Back

One position that needed some competition and some improvement has been running back. Corey Clement largely failed to live up to the lofty potential he showed in his first two years in the program, while Dare Ogunbowale became a decent secondary option.

Both are gone, and the good news appears to be a group of running backs stepping up big time in the spring. There is the known quantity of sophomore Bradrick Shaw, who burst on to the scene after being the fourth running back on the depth chart to start the season. Added to the mix as a potential starter is Pitt transfer Chris James.

It appears the time on the scout team did him a lot of good, as James as closed the gap on Shaw for the starting position. That has come in large part due to his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and be a solid pass protector. Will that be enough to outweigh the pure rushing ability of Shaw?

Don’t sleep on Sam Brodner as well. He’s have one heck of a spring and with Taiwan Deal on the shelf due to surgery this offseason, it sounds like he’s also taking advantage of his opportunities.

After a few down years at running back, it appears the depth and variety of backs UW is used to throwing at opponents is back. It sure will be fun to see James and Shaw battle it out on the field in front of a live crowd next Friday night.

Outside Linebacker

If there is one position battle we shouldn’t be worried about, it is the one at outside linebacker. That’s because this group is talented, deep and showcasing itself very well so far in spring football.

Most assume that Zack Baun and Garrett Dooley have a handle on the starting positions, but transfers Andrew Van Ginkel and Christian Bell are pushing hard. So are names like Griffin Grady and Izayah Green-May.

Depth continues as Keldric Preston and Griffin Grady are showing up well. Noah Burks has moved outside after spending the last two years as an inside linebacker, but 6-2, 240 pounds, likely fits in better at outside backer.

This group will be fun to see shake out and every snap seems to matter given how well this group is playing as a whole.

Safety

We all know that D’Cota Dixon is one of the two starting safeties for the Badgers. What we don’t know yet is which man will line up next to him come the opener against Utah State.

Perhaps one of the bigger surprises in terms of changes to the roster heading in to spring came in the form of Natrell Jamerson’s move to safety. Most assumed he would be battling for starting cornerback spot along with Nick Nelson.

However, it appears that Nelson has locked down that spot and the coaching staff was looking to get the best four defensive backs on the field at the same time. Jamerson has taken well to his move to safety, but this group is deep and competitive to say the least.

Joe Ferguson, Eric Burrell, Patrick Johnson III and Seth Currens have all been competing at a high level this spring as well. It appears that Jamerson is the front-runner, but a great spring game for Ferguson, Burrell or Johnson may get them the upper hand.

While this isn’t the most pressing need for the Badgers, it sure is good to know that four or five guys are legitimate candidates for the starting role. Look for depth to be a huge help for the safety position and DC Leonhard this season.

Third Wide Receiver

Coming in to the spring few knew just who the second wide receiver next to Jazz Peavy would be. That became apparent as sophomore Quintez Cephus took off fast to start the spring.

Now, the question that seems to need answering is who will emerge as the third pass-catching threat at wide receiver. Senior George Rushing is having a good camp, but so are the likes of sophomore A.J. Taylor and redshirt freshman Kendric Pryor.

Those three are the ones to really watch in the spring game next Friday night. Rushing seems to be taking his final chance seriously, while Taylor and Pryor are full of potential that needs to turn in to production.

While the need may not be urgent, knowing the Badger have true depth at wide receiver would be a huge help for the program.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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