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Predicting the Badgers depth chart for 2018 season opener

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Yes, we’re almost to the start of the 2018 season. In fact, come Monday, we’ll know pretty well exactly how the Badgers will line up to face Western Kentucky in the season opener. 

We also have been provided key pieces of news over the past two days, with expected starting wide receivers Quintez Cephus and Danny Davis suspended. 

Davis will be back following the second game, pending any other information coming to light in the Cephus sexual assault cases. 

But, this is all about the opener and how the Badgers will line up. So, let’s take a look at how the depth chart may look when it is released prior to the game. 

Offense

Quarterback: 

Alex Hornbrook; Jack Coan

Any questions as to Hornibrook’s status as a starter were put to rest quickly this offseason — due in large part to his performance against Miami (FL) in the Orange Bowl. Fall camp was about the backup spot, and Coan rebounded from a so-so spring to easily take claim of the second spot on the roster. UW has to feel it is in good hands with its QB situation overall. 

Running Back: 

Jonathan Taylor; Taiwan Deal

If there was a surprise this fall, it was the fact that veteran running back Taiwan Deal looked like a new man. Following so many ankle problems, many wondered if he still had it in him to be a big part of the offense. He looked great in camp and running back coach John Settle made it clear that by the end of the open part of camp, Deal was in line for the primary backup role behind Taylor. Speaking of Taylor, he added a much better pass-catching game to his skill set and that has to be terrifying to opponents. 

Wide Receiver:

WR1: A.J. Taylor, Jack Dunn
WR2: Kendric Pryor; Adam Krumholtz

With the two biggest stars out of the mix for the opener, you can expect veteran (and underrated performer) A.J. Taylor to take on a bigger role than maybe he was prior to the suspensions. But, UW also will see Kendric Pryor step up, which is something he did a lot of in fall camp.

Don’t sleep on the players behind those two either, as both Dunn and Krumholtz have done good things in fall camp as well. There is plenty of quality production available from this group, just not the star power that was there with Cephus and Davis in the mix. 

What will be interesting is what role true freshman Aron Cruickshank will play. Position coach Ted Gilmore has stated Cruickshank has earned a role, but wants to bring him along slowly. Will that plan be sped up (pun intended with Cruickshank) now that they are down a few more bodies in the opening weeks? My guess is we won’t see him in the two-deep but in speciality situations early on this season. 

Tight End: 

TE1: Kyle Penniston; Jake Ferugson
TE2: Zander Nueville, Luke Benzschawel

It appears as if Penniston will get the first crack as the primary pass-catching tight end this season. But, don’t be surprised to see Jake Ferguson’s talent push the coaching staff to play him more as the season goes along. It’s pretty much steady as she goes at a premium position for the Badgers. 

Offensive Line:

LT: Jon Dietzen; Cole Van Lanen
LG: Michael Dieter; Micah Kapoi
C: Tyler Biadsz; Micah Kapoi
RG: Beau Benzschawel; Jason Erdmann
RT: David Edwards; Logan Bruss

Fall camp saw just one real battle along the offensive line, and that came between veteran Jon Dietzen and former U.S. Army All-American Cole Van Lanen. It appears as if offseason hip surgery has allowed Dietzen to get more flexible and helped him win this position battle early on. However, don’t expect this battle to be done just yet. I fully expect both to get snaps with the first team in the opener and the evaluation to continue throughout non-conference play. 

Defense

MADISON, WI – NOVEMBER 11: Wisconsin Nose Tackle Olive Sagapolu (99) sacks Iowa Hawkeye Quarterback Nate Stanley (4) just inches from the end zone during a Big Ten football game between the University of Wisconsin Badgers and the the University of Iowa Hawkeyes on November 11, 2017, at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, WI. (Photo by Lawrence Iles/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Defensive Line:

DE: Matt Henningsen; Aaron Vopal
NT: Olive Sagapolu; Bryson Williams
DE: Kayden Lyles; David Pfaff

There were a lot of questions to answer in fall camp at defensive line. Few of them actually got answered though, and about the only thing that seems set is nose tackle and Isaiahh Loudermilk not being ready to go for the season opener. As such, I expect we’ll see the rising walk-on Matt Henningsen and converted offensive lineman Kayden Lyles to take on the starting roles. What will be interesting to see will be which names appear just behind him on the list, because there’s been a whole lot of inconsistency from everyone in fall camp. 

Linebacker: 

OLB: Zack Baun; Tyler Johnson
ILB: T.J. Edwards; Mason Stokke
ILB: Ryan Connelly; Chris Orr
OLB: Andrew Van Ginkel; Christian Bell

Coming in to fall camp, a big question was depth and quality at outside linebacker. Coming out of fall camp, the bigger question seems to be how to find snaps for all those who flashed in camp. Both expected starters Andrew Van Ginkel and Zack Baun were great all camp long and could form a really difficult duo. Alabama transfer Christian Bell also appears in line for a ton of snaps, while there is a lot of potential on the outside in names like Tyler Johnson, Noah Burks and Izayah Green-May as well. It’s the usual suspects on the inside as well. 

Secondary

CB: Donyte Carriere-Williams; Deron Harrell
S: D’Cota Dixon; Patrick Johnson
S: Scott Nelson; Eric Burrell
CB: Faion Hicks; Madison Cone

Fall camp showed us that the safety position is loaded to bare, but it also showed us that there is more depth and competition at cornerback than originally thought. We’re guessing that Dontye Carriere-Williams gets the nod in the opener, but he was clearly behind Deron Harrell and Faion Hicks in terms of consistency in camp. So, don’t be surprised to see that cornerback spot flipped on us. Hicks was a revelation in camp and true freshman Donte Burton and sophomore Caesar Williams made late impressions in camp as well and likely are in the mix for that slot cornerback role. 

Specialists

K: Collin Larsh; Zach Hintze
P: Anthony Lotti; P.J. Roskowski
PR: Aron Cruickshank; Jack Dunn
KR: Jack Dunn; Cade Green

There weren’t a ton of surprises in fall camp, outside of the fact that Rafael Gaglianone had hip and leg issues creep up thanks to ongoing back issues. He was shut down for a large part of fall camp in the hopes of being ready for the season. We’ll see if his name appears on the depth chart for Week 1, but I expect that won’t happen and we’ll see who won the battle for that role between Larsh and Hintze. 

As for the returning gigs, it is almost impossible to know what the coaching staff is thinking at kick returner since every wide receiver is moving up a level for the first few weeks at least. But, there’s also no way you don’t get the speedy Cruickshank on the field with the punt return unit. 

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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Badgers football

REPORT: Former Badgers QB Hornibrook transfers to FSU

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It apparently didn’t take long for former Wisconsin badgers starting quarterback Alex Hornibrook to find a new home.

After spending a few days on a visit to Florida State, reports indicate he will land with the Seminoles.

Hornibrook announced his intention to graduate in May and move on from the Badgers in a statement at the end of February.

His move to FSU makes a lot of sense, as the Seminoles have a huge void at QB and hardly anyone in the position group this upcoming season.

Following the dismissal of former starting QB Deondre Francois, the Seminoles has just one scholarship quarterback on the roster.

That was redshirt sophomore James Blackman, who has started in the past but also explored his own potential transfer this offseason.

As for the Badgers, this spring will see a wide open competition for the starting quarterback job.

There is four-game starter Jack coan, along with walk-on Danny Vanden Boom. We’ll also get the first big look at redshirt freshman Chase Wolf and the highest rated quarterback to come to Wisconsin in Graham Mertz.

It appears both sides of this transfer are getting what they want and that’s the best outcome you could hope for.

Hornibrook won’t have to compete with four other quarterbacks and the Badgers can get a better read on their realistic options for 2019 and beyond this spring.

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Badgers football

2019 NFL Combine results for Badgers players

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The next step up for many former Wisconsin Badgers is the NFL. For eight players that step included an invite to the annual player combine, where teams test and poke and prod players for an entire weekend.

So, how did the Badgers fare? Let’s take a look at results and talk coming out of the combine.

D’Cota Dixon

40-yard dash: 4.81 seconds
Bench Press: 20 reps
Vertical Jump: 33.5″
Broad Jump: 119.0″

What was said about Dixon (from Lance Zierlein): Although he was an interchangeable, versatile safety in college, Dixon may need a more static position in the pros to minimize his exposure. He can handle man cover duties, but his instincts and anticipation aren’t good enough to make up for his lack of closing burst and his lack of height limits his ability to challenge deep jump balls. He does have some talent, however, and could compete for a backup role with an eye on dime linebacker or a Cover-2, Cover-4 safety.

Prospect Grade: 5.26 (NFL Backup or Special Teams Potential)

Beau Benzschawel

MADISON, WI – NOVEMBER 18: Beau Benzschawel #66 of the Wisconsin Badgers in action during a game against the Michigan Wolverines at Camp Randall Stadium on November 18, 2017 in Madison, Wisconsin. Wisconsin won 24-10. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

40-yard dash: 5.24 seconds
Bench Press: 20 reps

What was said about Benzschawel: Tall, pass-blocking specialist who will need to prove he can be serviceable against NFL power in the run game to become a future starter. Benzschawel plays with good technique and an understanding of blocking concepts in the run game, but might lack the play strength at point of attack NFL teams look for. However, his allure to GMs and offensive coaches could be his ability to match up against athletic, sub-package rushers in today’s quickness-oriented rush approaches.

Prospect Grade: 5.55 (Chance to Become NFL Starter)

Michael Deiter

MADISON, WI – AUGUST 31: Wisconsin offensive lineman Tyler Biadasz (61) and Wisconsin offensive lineman Michael Deiter (63) block for Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook (12) during a college football game between the University of Wisconsin Badgers and the Western Kentucky University Hilltoppers on August 31, 2018 at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, WI. (Photo by Lawrence Iles/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

40-yard dash: 5.23 seconds
Bench Press: 21 reps
Vertical Jump: 28″
Broad Jump: 105.0″
3-cone drill: 7.88 seconds
20-yard shuttle: 4.81 seconds

What was said: Durable, capable guard/center prospect who knows how to play the game but might lack the athletic elements needed to become a full-time starter on the next level. Dieter’s experience in a variety of pro-style rushing schemes and his overall technique work are in his favor while his experience across the line offer flexibility that could lock him into an NFL roster as an early backup with the potential to step in and start if needed.

Prospect Grade: 5.60 (Chance to Become NFL Starter)

David Edwards

MADISON, WI – SEPTEMBER 01: Wisconsin Badger offensive lineman David Edwards (79) looks for someone to block durning an college football game between the Utah State Aggies and the Wisconsin Badgers on September 1st, 2017, at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, WI. Wisconsin defated Utah State 59-10. (Photo by Dan Sanger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

40-yard dash: 5.28 seconds
Bench Press:
Vertical Jump: 25.5″
Broad Jump: 99.0″
3-cone drill: 7.69 seconds
20-yard shuttle: 4.77 seconds

What was said: Quarterback-turned-tight-end-turned-right-tackle who has maintained his light feet but is missing functional strength and body control to hold his ground against NFL power. Edwards isn’t the technician we’ve come to expect from the Wisconsin program and he’ll need additional technique work to help make up for some of his physical deficiencies. He’s still a pup as an offensive lineman and he should improve with more experience and weight room work, but it’s tough to project him behind average backup to low-end starter at this point.

Prospect Grade: 5.44 (NFL Backup or Special Teams Potential)

Ryan Connelly

40-yard dash: 4.66 seconds
Bench Press:
Vertical Jump: 34.5″
Broad Jump: 118.0″
3-cone drill: 7.09 seconds
20-yard shuttle: 4.31 seconds

What was said: Connelly fits the Wisconsin mold of tough, productive linebackers who end up lacking either size or speed as NFL projections. He’s not big enough to play SAM and he’s not fast enough to play WILL so he’ll end up as a slightly smaller/slower 3-4 or 4-3 inside backer. He does a decent job of playing around his deficiencies and finding ways to make impact tackles and he’s fairly instinctive is zone coverage. He has the demeanor and play traits to become a solid special teamer with average backup potential.

Prospect Grade: 5.36 (NFL Backup or Special Teams Potential)

T.J. Edwards

MADISON, WI – SEPTEMBER 08:Wisconsin Badgers inside linebacker T.J. Edwards (53) goes for a diving tackle on New Mexico Lobos wide receiver Jay Griffin IV (23) during an college football game between the New Mexico Lobos and the Wisconsin Badgers on September 8th, 2018 at the Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, WI. Wisconsin defeats New Mexico 45-14. (Photo by Dan Sanger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

40-yard dash:
Bench Press: 16
Vertical Jump:
Broad Jump:
3-cone drill:
20-yard shuttle:

What was said: Stout four-year starter who shows up and does his job each week as a banger in the box with surprising ball skills to flip the field. He improved each season and his off-season weight loss is indicative of how seriously he takes the game. He lacks desired chase speed and might be maxed out as a player, but he doesn’t make many dire mistakes that hurt his team. Edwards is a backup inside linebacker for a 3-4 or 4-3 defense with the ability to step up and handle starter’s duties if needed.

Prospect Grade: 5.47 (NFL Backup or Special Teams Potential)

Andrew Van Ginkel

40-yard dash:
Bench Press: 17
Vertical Jump: 38″
Broad Jump: 123.0″
3-cone drill: 6.89 seconds
20-yard shuttle: 4.14 seconds

What was said: Unimposing 3-4 outside linebacker with decent athletic ability but a concerning lack of aggression as a run blocker and consistency as a pass-rusher. Van Ginkel has the motor to tally stats with effort and secondary rush, but he needs a better rush plan and more proactive hands to set him up for success in attacking the quarterback. He will need a lot more strength and toughness to hold up as a run defender, but his length and production on special teams could give him a shot at the back end of the roster or on a practice squad.

Prospect Grade: 5.0 (50-50 chance to make an NFL roster)

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Badgers football

Hornibrook’s gone, but questions remain the same for Badgers QB’s

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If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?

It’s hard to argue that the formula that the Wisconsin Badgers have used for nearly 30 years has been highly successful. Play great defense, pound your opponent in to submission and catch them with a deep ball or two along the way.

UW has gone to six Rose Bowls, participated in two College Football Playoff bowl games and won six Big Ten titles in those nearly 30 years and with said formula.

But, that last part has been missing from the Badgers offense for awhile now…you know, since Russell Wilson stopped dazzling us with his rocket arm and escapability back in 2011.

From Joel Stave to Alex Hornibrook and other quarterbacks in between, the UW offense has struggled to find that guy who makes opponents respect his arm enough to stop stuffing the line of scrimmage.

With the news on Wednesday that Hornibrook would be transferring from the program for his final season, the competition is now wide open for the next Badgers starting quarterback.

The bar for success is admittedly low, after all, the Badgers finished 102nd in the country last season with 14 interceptions and 119th in passing offense (157.7 passing yards per game). Nearly anything would be better than what the quarterbacks of 2018 produced.

Losing Hornibrook does mean losing an experienced player, but does it matter much when that player had 33 interceptions in as many games played?

Sure, he was 26-6 as a starter over three years. But, was that because of or in spite of him? I’d argue having one of the best defenses and running back groups in the country has been the driver of that success, not Hornibrook.

Which brings me to the question at hand — is there a quarterback on the Badgers roster that can be someone other teams have to respect? Is there another player ala Russell Wilson, who is capable of taking this offense from ground and pound to three dimensional?

Let’s start with a look at the only quarterback on the roster to play a college game — Jack Coan.

Last season we got the biggest glimpse of Coan to date and what was shown wasn’t all that promising. He played in five games, starting four and completed 60.2 percent of his passes for 515 yards and 5 touchdowns to 3 interceptions.

There was plenty left to be desired, but I also wonder if it was because of too much protection from the coaching staff or just not being ready for the situation. Often the game plan called for Coan to dink and dunk the ball and he was never really given the opportunity to unleash the deep ball.

It seemed like the coaching staff was trying hard to get away with not having to put the game on the sophomore quarterback.

Coan now has those four starts under his belt and with Honribrook out of the way has the experience advantage over everyone else. But, is experience enough?

We’re about to find out, because the Badgers have one of the top quarterbacks in the 2019 class in the fold this spring in Graham Mertz.

Last we saw him, he was setting records at The All-American Bowl game en route to MVP honors. He was flinging the ball deep and accurately, something Badgers fans haven’t seen from a quarterback since Wilson came in to save this team in 2011.

But, there is bound to be a learning curve as Mertz transitions away from spread-based concepts to more under center work. How that transition goes this spring and how quickly he understands and executes the playbook will be telling.

The good news is that we’ve seen Mertz challenged against the best competition in the country at the quarterback position and he’s lived up to billing on every occasion. If ever there was a QB up to the challenge of playing early in a Badgers uniform, it is Mertz.

But, that doesn’t mean he has to be “the guy” either. There are other options to consider already on the Badgers roster.

Both Danny Vanden Boom and Chase Wolf flashed moments of potential all last offseason. In fact, Vanden Boom outplayed Coan throughout most of last spring before tailing off a bit in the competition in the fall.

Could Vande Boom pick it back up this spring and become a viable option? The former Kimberly star and walk-on at UW certainly has played at a level that makes giving him a legitimate chance this spring worthwhile.

On the other hand, Wolf was one of five quarterbacks in the mix last offseason and his reps have been limited. He’ll likely see many more this spring and it’s a chance to shine.

There’s no doubt he’s the dark horse in the race to replace Hornibrook, but with a full year of studying and learning the Badgers offense you never know what will happen when he gets his chance this spring.

All of this leads me to this conclusion — no one, not even the coaching staff has a real answer as to whom will lead the Badgers offense in 2019. If anyone tells you they do, it’s just an uneducated guess at best.

But, what I do know is that spring camp provides the coaches and players the best opportunity to fully understand what the quarterbacks could be capable of in 2019.

There’s little need to get work in in the run game save for the offensive line, but what is going to be important is pressure-testing the quarterbacks. Doing so in a controlled environment like spring ball is a great way to do so.

If the Badgers want to transform from a good team to a great one, they’ll need to find that transformational quarterback as soon as possible. It could also be that the coaching staff needs to find ways to transform the Badgers offense in small ways to take advantage of the quarterback’s strengths.

Hopefully there’s a positive answer that emerges following spring ball.

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Badgers football

Hornibrook leaves Badgers, enters name in transfer portal

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The Wisconsin Badgers will have a new starting quarterback in 2019, as senior quarterback Alex Hornibrook announced his departure from the program.

“Alex informed us of his decision to leave the team earlier today,” head coach Paul Chryst said in a statement. “He contributed to a lot of our recent success and we want to thank him for all he did for our program. We wish him the best of luck.”

Not only is Hornibrook not playing for the Badgers next season, he has also entered his name in to the transfer portal and will look to play elsewhere next year.

Hornibrook went 26-6 in three seasons as a starting quarterback for the Badgers, including a 20-4 record in Big Ten games. His .813 winning percentage is the best of any quarterback in program history.

He ranks in a tie for third all-time at Wisconsin in touchdown passes (47), fourth in completion percentage (60.5%) and fifth in passing yards (5,438).

That would normally suggest this loss is a big blow. But, there have always been serious questions as to just how much he was contributing to the cause of that 22-6 record.

Additionally, he benefited from longevity quite a bit. Hornibrook started from his redshirt freshman season played in the majority of three seasons, which hasn’t been the normal rate for quarterbacks in college football or at Wisconsin specifically.

There are also the mounds of interceptions to consider as well, as Hornibrook threw 33 interceptions to just 47 touchdowns in his first three years. He also contributed 11 interceptions towards last season’s 14 total as team. That ranked 102nd in the country.

The Badgers will start their search for a new starting quarterback on March 26.

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