Wisconsin Football: 3 early takeaways from spring practices

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 27: Jack Coan #17 of the Wisconsin Badgers hands the ball off to teammate Taiwan Deal #28 in the first quarter of the New Era Pinstripe Bowl against the Miami Hurricanes at Yankee Stadium on December 27, 2018 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 27: Jack Coan #17 of the Wisconsin Badgers hands the ball off to teammate Taiwan Deal #28 in the first quarter of the New Era Pinstripe Bowl against the Miami Hurricanes at Yankee Stadium on December 27, 2018 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images) /

Wisconsin Football is in the midst of spring practices, and there have been some notable developments in regards to some key position battles.

Wisconsin is now through the majority of one of the program’s most-hyped spring practice periods in recent memory, and it has been, somewhat surprisingly, relatively low key so far in terms of flashy news stories coming out of Camp Randall. That being said, there have been certainly been some intriguing personnel developments over the last few weeks.

Here are three of my biggest takeaways from the spring so far.

1. Jack Coan is in the driver’s seat to be Paul Chryst’s starting quarterback to open the season.

Given his wealth of experience compared to his three competitors for the starting gig, Coan entered the spring as the clear number one option for Chryst and the initial favorite to ultimately win the job come the fall. That has remained the case throughout the last few weeks of practices, and Coan remains the most likely bet to start under center for Wisconsin against South Florida on August 30th.

According to Jason Galloway of the Wisconsin State Journal, the junior from Long Island has consistently “dominated” the first-team reps at quarterback throughout the spring. Meanwhile, freshman sensation Graham Mertz, Chase Wolf, and Danny Vanden Boom have, as a whole, all received a relatively similar amount of snaps behind him on the second unit in scrimmages and drills so far.

That being said, Mertz and Wolf in particular have both flashed plenty this spring, to the point where it is clear that this competition is very far from over and will continue well into fall camp. My take? While Mertz has unsurprisingly looked every bit the part of a true freshman at times, in general, he has appeared to be considerably farther along than I would have anticipated. Give him the summer months to continue learning the playbook and adapt to the system, and I think he’s got a great chance to close the gap with Coan in a hurry come the fall.

2. Leo Chenal looks ready to play early and often.

It was clear from the minute he stepped on campus that the true freshman ‘backer from Grantsburg was physically ready to hold his own in the Big Ten right away. Indeed, Chenal is already one of the strongest players on the entire roster. However, he has backed up his exploits in the weight room with rock-solid play on the field over the last few weeks, and it is evident that he will see plenty of action come the fall.

Jack Sanborn and Chris Orr have taken most of the snaps as the first-team inside linebackers, but Chenal has already worked himself into consistent second-team looks alongside Mike Maskalunas. He has demonstrated an exciting knack for making plays on the ball, picking off three passes in the practices that have been open to the media, two of which would have likely been returned for touchdowns in a real game.

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It’s obviously still extremely early in his career, but Chenal already looks like a pretty sure bet to follow the likes of T.J. Edwards and Ryan Connelly and become a star on the inside down the road. In the immediate future, he should be a solid rotational piece this season.

3. This outside linebacker group should be up to the task of carrying on Wisconsin’s proud tradition at the position. 

Wisconsin fans have long been spoiled by exceptional play at the outside linebacker spots, and I feel pretty confident in saying the trend will continue this season.

Zach Baun is a lock to start on one side, and as long as he can stay healthy, the talented senior has All-Big Ten potential this season. At the very least, he should be an above-average weapon at the position for the Badgers.

A number of players have been duking it out this spring for the rights to the starting spot across from Baun. At this point, it appears as though Noah Burks is the early leader in that race, as the junior from Indiana has received most of those starting reps throughout the spring. A highly-touted prospect coming out of powerhouse Carmel High School, it seems as though something has clicked for the talented Burks, which would be a very exciting development for the Badgers.

However, competition tends to bring out the best in players, and Burks has not been the only beneficiary of this dynamic in Wisconsin’s outside linebacker battle this spring. Redshirt sophomore Izayah Green-May has been considered one of the highest-upside players on the team since his arrival in Madison, thanks to his athleticism and an impressive 6’6 frame that hint at his potential to one day become a havoc-wreaking weapon on the outside. According to Badger247’s Evan Flood, the light has begun to come on for Green-May this spring, and the Bolingbrook, Illinois native has begun to receive some first-team reps. It will be fascinating to watch his continued development into the fall and throughout the season, as he has superstar potential if he can put it all together.

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Throw Tyler Johnson and Christian Bell (who is sitting out the spring with an injury) into the mix with Baun, Burks, and Green May, and you have to be feeling pretty darn good about Wisconsin’s talent at outside linebacker this season.