With over a week in the books and the pads finally on for a good amount of time, we’ve been better able to assess what the 2017 Wisconsin Badgers are going to look like.
Part of that assessment is looking in to the names that are standing out the most. You know, the ones that writers are featuring and we’re all buzzing about early on in camp.
So, let’s look at the 5 players who are standing out the most so far in 2017 Badgers fall camp.
Patrick Johnson, Safety
Sure, starting roles are likely locked up in Natrell Jamerson and D’Cota Dixon, but that doesn’t mean a few of the younger safeties on the roster aren’t playing their way on to the field in 2017 either.
Topping that list is sophomore Patrick Johnson II, who slimmed down over the offseason and has seen his game take off as a result. He’s making interception after interception and flying all over the field. In fact, his versatility makes him an excellent candidate to get snaps in 2017. Look for him to be able to fill in at either spot and to be a special player in the box even if he has slimmed down to around the 200-pound mark.
Not only is Johnson likely to be in the mix for serious playing time in 2017, he’s also putting his name at the front of the list for a starting role next season. Few defensive players have had a better camp than he has so far in 2017….except…
Leon Jacobs, OLB
Few players have impressed as much as Jacobs has already in camp. Few have also worked as hard from spring to now, and it has shown on the field. Jacobs has added plenty of bulk since moving in to the starting outside linebacker spot following spring ball.
That initial move raised some eyebrows, but Jacobs has made Jim Leonhard and Co. look very smart. In fact, many reports say David Edwards isn’t exactly enjoying his time trying to block Jacobs on the outside. One report even indicated Edwards was lifted off the ground in a pass-rushing drill.
Let’s just say Jacobs is putting any doubts over his move away and doing it quickly. He’s been disruptive with the pads on in more than just rushing the passer as well. Combined with fellow senior Garrett Dooley, it appears it will be plug-and-play after losing multiple NFL draft picks over the past few years.
It is truly impressive to see his transformation physically and to see him finally get the chance to make a contribution after all the years of transformation and position changes. Badgers fans should be really excited to see him on the field on Sept. 1.
Quintez Cephus, Wide Receiver
There isn’t a Bader fan, player or coach who hasn’t been buzzing about the potential that Quintez Cephus showed in his freshman season in 2016. That buzz only grew with a highlight-full spring ball.
However, tragedy off the field struck when his dad was murdered in his hometown towards the end of spring. Fans didn’t get to see much of him in the spring game as he took time with his family to mourn.
Cephus has returned to doing work on the football field despite all that he is still processing off of it. Some believed he was in a battle with senior George Rushing for the No. 2 wide receiver role. It hasn’t been much of a battle though, with Cephus grabbing a firm grip on the role with his play early in camp.
UW hasn’t been known for dynamic wide receivers all that often, but Cephus has a chance to team up with Jazz Peavy to really change that perception in the modern game. It could be the best duo UW has had since Nick Toon and Jared Abbrederis lined up next to each other.
Danny Davis, Wide Receiver
This will be an interesting situation, as the Badgers appear to have a loaded wide receiver group heading in to 2017. Yes, I just said loaded and wide receivers in the same sentence, but it is true with the group this year.
Davis is one of three true freshman receivers in this class, but he hasn’t been playing much like a freshman at all. I guess that should be expected considering Davis was a national signing day get for the Badgers, who won out for the 247Sports composite 4-star player and the No. 32-ranked wide receiver in this class.
Just how much trust has he gotten from the coaching staff? He’s played with both the first and second team offense at different points in the beginning of camp.
Wide Receivers coach Ted Gilmore hasn’t been afraid to test his young potential star either.
“Very smooth,” Gilmore told the Wisconsin State Journal. “Runs better than I thought. Runs a lot better than I thought. And might have some of the softest hands in the group. I mean, he catches the ball really natural, and things we’re working on, because he’s such a long guy, is learning how to transition, sink your hips and get out of breaks that way.
“We’re putting more information on him. We’re trying to see what he can handle and what he can’t handle, but I’m very pleased with what I’ve seen so far.”
Will the staff use him enough in 2017 to warrant not redshirting him? It may end up coming down to his ability on special teams, where he has been taking snaps as a punt returner. If he gets that gig, look for UW to use him, if not there’s no need to rush him on the field giving the depth already there.
Alex Hornibrook, Quarterback
If two wide receivers are making big impressions, someone is throwing good footballs their way. That would be redshirt sophomore Alex Hornibrook for the most part.
While a lot of attention has gone to the race for the backup spot behind him, Hornibrook has been a steady hand and a confident player as the anointed starter all offseason.
That hasn’t changed in fall camp at all, in fact, he’s looked much more like the version that got him the starting gig early last season than the one that faded away late in 2016.
The zip is back on the ball, he’s throwing in to tight windows and being smart with the football. Overall, his game has stepped up a level both mentally and physically. We’re guessing that is only good news for an offense that is going to need him to stay healthy and to grow in order to succeed in 2017.