Friday night under the lights of Camp Randall gave us all the final glimpse of this Wisconsin Badgers football team until August. It also meant 15 practices were in the books and now is the perfect time for reflection.
It is what the coaching staff will be doing while they hit the recruiting circuit in earnest.
So, we’ll follow suit all week here and take a look back at the 2017 spring football camp.
That will start with a look at the unanswered questions coming out of spring camp, and for a team with a lot of turnover there are plenty left to be answered.
What Will the Offensive Line Look Like?
The spring was a bit of a mixed bag for the offensive line. On the one hand, there are plenty of players with starting experience in the mix. On the other hand, a lot of those players were missing from spring football.
It opened opportunities for players like Tyler Biadasz and Micah Kapoi, both of whom had solid spring camps. However, it also puts offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Joe Rudolph in a very interesting position.
Many thought the offensive line was pretty easily set, lining up like this from left to right — David Edwards, Jon Dietzen, Michael Deiter, Beau Benzschawel and either Jacob Maxwell or Patrick Kasl at right tackle.
But, Edwards, Dietzen, Benzschawel and Maxwell all missed parts or the whole of spring camp. It meant Biadasz playing a lot of center and playing it at such a high level he may be pushing Dieter out to a different position come the fall.
If that happens, we’re likely to see Deiter at left tackle and Edwards back at right tackle. But, that is all a big if at this point.
While there are some really good pieces to the puzzle in play, figuring out the five best players and where they belong will be a huge challenge for Rudolph and Co. come the fall. At least this group has the depth to worry about who the best five are and not just finding five capable players anymore.
Depth isn’t a concern, just chemistry and the best thing for this offense overall.
Who Is the Backup Quarterback?
As deep as the offensive line is, Wisconsin is razor-thin at quarterback. It was easy to see why sophomore Alex Hornibrook was named the starter before spring camp even broke for the first time. He’s lightyears ahead of early enrollee Jack Coan and redshirt freshman Karé Lyles.
In fact, if the spring game was any indication, UW may be in some serious trouble if something happens to Hornibrook.
Lyles looked timid at times, while Coan is clearly still trying to develop within a college offense. At least the raw tools seem to be there for Coan and the confidence was also more evident. But, he’s got a lot of progressing to do if he wants to have that redshirt taken off of him.
It is also incumbent on Lyles to become more comfortable throwing in the pocket over the tall offensive line in front of him. Can he overcome the biggest issue we see in his game to overtake Coan and become the backup?
If the Badgers really want to redshirt Coan, Lyles is going to have to give the coaching staff a reason to beat out the other freshman on the roster. Summer workouts and fall camp are going to be vital to the progression of the quarterback position as a whole.
Right now, it is difficult to be confident that this group can be more than a game-managing one at best.
Is There Enough Playing Time For All The Talent at Linebacker?
A lot of teams would love to be in the position the Wisconsin Badgers find themselves in at the linebacker position. Not only does UW have four returning starters at inside linebacker, it also had two players who made a case to be starters after spring football — Griffin Grady and walk-on Mike Maskalunas.
We should see the full return of players like Jack Cichy, Chris Orr, T.J. Edwards and Ryan Connelly. So, if you’re counting along with us at home that makes six really good players for two positions at inside linebacker. It also means there is going to be a huge fight for snaps come the fall.
You could say the same thing at outside linebacker where Zak Buan and Garrett Dooley have starting experience, but there’s a host of talented and exciting options outside of those two names. Players like Andrew Van Ginkel and Alabama transfer Christian Bell have stepped up and so has the returning Leon Jacobs (who moves back to where he started his career in a Badgers uniform) along with sophomore Griffin Grady and freshman Izayah Green-May.
All could stake a claim to being good enough to start, and all are likely to see the field in some capacity this season.
That’s where the interesting part of Jim Leonhard’s first year in charge of the defense will come. How does he rotate and get players the snaps they need based off production in camps? There may simply not be enough snaps to go around and patience may be key at this position in 2017.
Will Move of Natrell Jamerson to Safety Be the Right One?
There’s no questioning that Natrell Jamerson is one of the four best defensive backs the Wisconsin Badgers have. However, the bigger question is if the role they have put him in — strong safety — is the right one for this team.
Let us flashback to Penn State and even Western Michigan torching the UW secondary last year. Jamerson wasn’t one of those players getting regularly torched and that was due to his ability to be a rangy player in the back of the defense. He also was one of the three best cornerbacks UW had.
Fast forward and Jamerson won’t be a starter at cornerback thanks to Nick Nelson’s emergence after transferring and sitting out last season. Still, the Badgers have very little experience or quality behind the starters.
Would Jamerson be better suited at a less-loaded position like cornerback and allow for younger players like Eric Burrell and Patrick Johnson III to settle in at safety? A lot of the answers are going to come from the play of Donyte Carriere-Williams and Lubern Figaro.
If Figaro can figure out how to stop getting burned and Carriere-Williams can continue his strong progress from the spring to the fall, then Jamerson’s move to safety could be the best for this defense. However, don’t be surprised to see more tweaks to the secondary from defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard.
Can Rafael Gaglianone Be the Weapon He Was Supposed to Be as Kicker?
When you hear the words back surgery and kicker in the same sentence, one gets a bit squeamish. That is exactly what happened to Rafael Gaglianone last season and it was for the second time in his life too.
That has to be worrisome for a kicker who relies on power and a kicking style that is hard on the body. He also has been a huge weapon in knowing he can kick deep field goals at a good clip.
In the spring game we saw him hammer a few home from 42 yards out and that is a good sign that the strength is still there. Still, one has to wonder if 42 yards was put out there on Friday night because that was as far as Gaglianone could comfortably kick or not.
How Does Running Back Group Shape Up?
We know a lot about Bradrick Shaw, and he seems to be the most decisive and downhill runner the Badgers have in the backfield this season. However, Pitt transfer Chris James was neck-and-neck with him throughout most of spring.
Some believe he may even have a leg up thanks to his better pass protection and ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. Oh, and then there is Taiwan Deal, who is coming off ankle surgery in the hopes of staying healthy.
When healthy, Deal has shown enough to be considered in the race for the No. 1 spot. But, can the affects of surgery and injury be shaken off in time to catch up to Shaw and James during fall camp?
Competition is great, and a welcome sight to a running back group that has been depleted over the past few years beyond the starter. It also means that fall camp will have a lot of the answers to the question of how this group shapes up.
It will certainly be a fun group to watch compete and work in camp, that’s for sure.