Fall camp got underway on Saturday morning for the Wisconsin Badgers, and the now long slog to the season opener against Utah State begins.
Even with the camp underway, we’ve got four weeks to get to the season and extra days added on thanks to the NCAA eliminating two-a-day practices. It means one day isn’t going to make or break a fall camp. It also gives a good idea of where the Badgers are starting from.
With that said, what are the storylines we’ll be watching as UW’s fall camp? If you don’t have time to follow all the time, we’ve got the storylines you need to be paying attention to.
Offensive Line Shuffle
After a few years of less-than-competitive play from the Badgers offensive line, it appears Paul Chryst an Joe Rudolph have a lot of really good players fighting for just five starting spots. No headline going in to fall camp was bigger than the news that star center Michael Dieter was moving out to left tackle, with redshirt freshman Tyler Biadasz taking over at center.
It also means expected left tackle, David Edwards, is moving back to his original spot of right tackle for now.
But, that also means Jacob Maxwell and Patrick Kasl, who were in a heated battle out of spring ball, move further down the depth chart. It also means that left guard is likely a battle between Jon Dietzen and Micah Kapoi only.
For as much talent as is on the Badgers depth chart, there may be no bigger storyline to watch than how Rudolph and Co. sort out the competition and settle on a starting group. The sooner that happens, the better off this team will be heading in to the opener. Should we see a competition running deep in to camp, I’d become worried about continuity and ability to gel together.
I know it’s a good problem to have all this talent, but this is where coaching comes in. Can Rudolph get it figured out and stick with his guns?
If you think the offensive line is loaded, let me introduce you to Wisconsin’s linebacking group. Whether it is inside or outside linebacker, the Badgers appear to be loaded with talent. However, outside linebacker is the bigger storyline to watch if you ask me.
That’s because the pair of starting positions are up for grabs and it appears Garrett Dooley and Leon Jacobs are first in line to get starting play time. Dooley proved he could be up to the task last season, but there are a lot of questions opposite of him and a rotation to figure out as well.
Jacobs moved back to outside linebacker late in the spring and apparently impressed enough to be named the starter after the spring. But, names like Zack Baun, Andrew Van Ginkel, Christian Bell and Izayah Green-May are certainly going to push for bigger roles.
There’s a ton of talent to sort out at this position group, but it may come down to actual production once the games get going. Can Jacobs continue his progression from the spring? Will Baun recover and take over? What about the size and athleticism of Green-May?
As you can see, this may be the best problem new defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard has on his hands heading in to 2017.
As much attention as the offensive line shuffle got heading in to camp, there has been little chatter of the changes happening in the secondary. No doubt, Derrick Tindal and D’Cota Dixon are good leaders and solid players at cornerback and safety respectively.
But, this team is very young and inexperienced overall in the secondary. The good news is that Hawaii transfer Nick Nelson appears to be ready to be a solid starter opposite of Tindal. But, what do we know about redshirt freshman Dontye Carriere-Williams, Caesar Williams and Faion Hicks? We know all three impressed at times in the spring, but there’s a big difference between spring standout and solid contributor in the fall.
Sophomore Titus Booker could be a good option at nickel back, but again, there’s a lot of inexperience to his game.
Depth at safety is also inexperienced, as Eric Burrell, Patrick Johnson II, Scott Nelson and Seth Currens have a lot to prove. Joe Ferguson appears to be the front-runner to start opposite of Dixon, and as a senior he should be ready to go. But, due to the depth at the position over the last few years, Ferguson doesn’t have the experience that a lot of seniors would have.
How Leonhard sorts out a talented group, but one that needs to show it can hold up to challenges, will be very interesting to watch.
Starting Running Back Situation
Once again, after a few down years and wonder over the true depth of the running back position, it appears things are back to normal. UW has at least three capable running backs with plenty of experience in Bradrick Shaw, Pitt transfer Chris James and Taiwan Deal.
Not a bad group of different looking players to throw at opponents in your backfield. Now add in incoming freshman and back-to-back New Jersey 100-meter dash champion, Jonathan Taylor, and you could have four guys capable of taking carries this season.
However, the biggest storyline appears to be who will be the one lining up behind the quarterback in 2017. The race was way closer than some thought heading in to camp between Shaw and James. It is going to be interesting to see if James’ versatility or Shaw’s rugged and tenacious running style win out.
Or, will UW really use them as 1a and 1b and who cares who is the “starter” on paper? I think the latter may be the case, because it is really hard to see James being just a “change of pace” or third down-only back. He’s just too talented than that, while Shaw appears to be a very special talent.
Both will get opportunities and once again, plenty of coaches in the country would love to be deciding on a starting running back because of the competition in the group and not because they aren’t sure if they have anyone they like.
I can’t wait to watch these two when the pads get put on and the team drills get going.