Spring Practice has began…and someone should tell the weather. The Wisconsin Badgers will be looking to win the new Big 10 West division this year; they may be the early favorites to do so. But that goal’s realization starts with the work put in by the players in the spring.
Graduation took a bite out of Wisconsin’s star players reserves but Spring practices are all about developing new stars. Sure, we are still six months away from the season but we at Badger of Honor think it’s never too early to talk Wisconsin football.
As we head into the spring (I’m going to keep saying spring in hopes of tricking myself into thinking that this winter is actually, finally, winding down) there are many questions surrounding the Badgers and its roster.
Wisconsin lost numerous key players at various positions to graduation this year. It will have to rely on younger players to step up if it wants to win the Big 10 West in 2014.
We focused on three positions in which unproven players will have to step up for Bucky this year. These position battles will be some of the most fun to watch as the season grows nearer.
The Badgers are losing senior Jared Abbrederis to the NFL draft. Abbrederis led the team in receptions with 78 for 1,081 yards. All other Badgers wide receivers combined for only 40 catches. Not to mention, he caught 77% of the touchdowns caught by Badgers receivers. No other team in the Big 10 relied as heavily on one receiver as the Badgers did on “Abby.” His contribution will be tough to replace, it’s almost impossible to think it can be replaced (check out some of his best plays). But, there are numerous young Badgers who could make the loss of Abbrederis easier to swallow.
Top 5 Candidates to Step-Up In Abbrederis’ absence in the 2014 season:
- Senior Kenzel Doe, 5-foot-8, 170 pounds.
- Redshirt Junior Jordan Fredrick, 6-foot-4, 210 pounds.
- Redshirt Sophomore Alex Erickson, 6-foot-0, 198 pounds.
- Sophomore Robert Wheelwright, 6-foot-2, 198 pounds.
- Redshirt Freshman Jazz Peavy, 6-foot-0, 182 pounds.
My prediction is that Wheelwright will develop into the Badgers’ top receiver. Look for him to have a breakout year as a possession receiver. His role may be similar to that of Abbrederis’. Look for Doe and possibly even Peavy to stretch the field with their speed creating more opportunities for Wheelwright and the tight ends.
Prolific four-year starter Chris Borland is about to cause mayhem on Sundays (check out some of the devastation he caused on Saturdays). His absence will be incredibly noticeable as the Badgers’ season rolls on. But Borland wasn’t the only valuable senior linebacker that won’t be wearing the cardinal red and white on Saturdays next fall. Ethan Armstrong played extremely well for the Badgers last year. But we can’t forget Brendan Kelly and Conor O’Neill, either. That’s four senior linebackers the Badgers have to replace. Wisconsin is going to be very inexperienced at linebacker. This issue is exasperated because the Badgers really value linebackers, as they are the only team in the Big 10 which runs a 3-4 defense.
Top 5 Candidates to Step-Up In Borland and Armstrong’s absence in the 2014 season.
- Senior Marcus Trotter, 6-foot-0, 233 pounds.
- Senior Derek Landisch, 6-foot-0, 230 pounds.
- Redshirt Sophomore Vince Biegel, 6-foot-4, 233 pounds.
- Sophomore Leon Jacobs, 6-foot-2, 225 pounds.
- Redshirt Freshman Alec James, 6-foot-4, 239 pounds.
My prediction is that Trotter, who played wonderfully in-place of an injured Borland last year, will develop into a team leader and will be recognized as one of the top linebackers in the Big 10. Jacobs and James both are incredibly athletic and could create much havoc for opposing teams. Look for both to contribute despite their inexperience.
The Badgers’ top safety for the past few seasons, Dezmen Southward, is heading to the NFL. He impressively ran a 4.35 forty-yard dash and posted a 42-inch vertical at the Badgers Pro Day. His draft stock is rising and his athleticism will be hard to replace this year. Also, junior Tanner McEvoy, who played surprisingly well at safety last season, is moving back to quarterback for the 2014 season. That’s a lot of playmaking ability for the next crop of Badgers safeties to make up for. Junior Michael Caputo will most-likely start at free safety and the Badgers need to find out who will start opposite him.
Top 5 Candidates to Step-Up In Southward’s Absence in the 2014 Season.
- Redshirt Sophomore Nate Hammon, 6-foot-1, 196 pounds.
- Redshirt Sophomore Leo Musso, 5-foot-10, 195 pounds.
- Redshirt Freshman Keelon Brookins, 5-foot-10, 193 pounds.
- Sophomore Joe Ferguson, 6-foot-1, 197 pounds.
- Redshirt Senior Michael Trotter, 6-foot-0, 205 pounds.
My prediction is that Hammon will step up and fill the role of strong safety for the Badgers in 2014. The Badgers have a stable of similarly-sized safeties that could fulfill the duty Wisconsin will need to be successful this year. Look for Hammon and Brookins to make the biggest impact in the defensive backfield this year at the SS position; both are very athletic.
If some of these players at WR, LB and S step up for the Badgers this year, Wisconsin could really make some noise. The depth chart will begin to look a bit more clear as Spring practices continue but it’s never too early to start making predictions for the 2014 season. Here’s to hoping that many of these young players become the players head coach Gary Andersen and Wisconsin needs them to be in 2014.