Today the Badgers engaged in a 120 play scrimmage and according to all sources things went well. The Badgers are now only 2 weeks away from the annual Spring Game on April 23rd. Now that things have picked up a bit I thought it would be a good time to look at what I consider the most important stories developing this Spring. Here are my 5 Things to Watch for this Spring.
1. Wide Receiver: Outside of the running game a new QB's best friend is a deep and productive WR group and that's just what Wisconsin is lacking at the moment. They do have a solid 1-2 combo with Senior Nick Toon and Sophomore Jared Abbrederis. Toon will not take part in Spring Drills, so that opens up even more opportunities for someone to step to the plate and build some depth at this position. Abbrederis is a great story, going from walk-on to star in his 1st season, and will be counted on as a leader in only his Sophomore season. This spring is going to be a huge test for Redshirt Freshman Marquis Mason and Chase Hammond and I will be keenly interested in how they show in the Spring Game. Additionally true Freshman Kenzel Doe is only one of two freshman to enroll early and has created some buzz early in the Spring Season and should be a huge weapon for years to come. If quality depth is present this offense can be really dangerous.
2. Offensive Line: The staple of the Wisconsin program is the running game and that is all predicated on the Offensive Line. The 2011 season could well hinge on how they cope with the loss of Outland Trophy winner Gabe Carimi at LT and LG John Moffitt. As a result the Badgers are moving Ricky Wagner from RT over to LT and will be giving a number of guys a shot to win the RT role. With all the shifting on the line I will be keeping an eye on Moffitt's replacement at LG, Travis Fredrick, who has the make up to become another great one along the lines of Dan Buenning. So far in spring the biggest buzz around camp has been the battle to take over at RT. The man creating the buzz and the other guy I'm keeping an eye on this spring is Redshirt Freshman Rob Havenstein. Everyone expects the role to go to Josh Oglesby when he's back to full strength but it appears that Havenstein is going to make him work for it in fall camp.
3. Tight End: Over the past dozen years or so the TE position has become one of the biggest, if not THE biggest weapon in the Badgers passing game. 2011 will see a very untested group taking over for the graduated Lance Kendricks. Luckily they do have one tested member of this group and that's Jacob Pederson who only had 8 catches for 132 yards and 2 TD's. Outside of Pederson there are a lot of unknows. This offense also makes extensive use of the "H-Back" role and that role should fall to Redshirt Freshman Sherrad Cadogan. His 6'3" frame and 240lbs. put him in the perfect physical category to perform those duties and a year on the scout team should allow him to grow into this position throughout the Spring. Outside of Cadogan I am also going to be keeping an eye on Sophomore Manasseh Garner. He was one of only 4 true freshman to play last season, but at 213lbs. he is a bit of tweener and is just settling in at the TE position this Spring.
4. Linebacker: This could be one of the most talented groups that the Badgers have, but also the one with the most question marks as well. Mike Taylor will be the anchor of the LB's from his weakside position. He was second on the team in TFL's and Interceptions and will need to lead by example this season as well. The biggest question mark is just how effective can Chris Borland be in the middle. He had a very promising Freshman year along with Taylor in 2009, but a series of shoulder surgeries has put him on the shelf over the past year. He must prove he can stay healthy and will be limited in the Spring, so building depth there is going to be important. Keep an eye out for the battle behind Borland as they have a pair of talented Redshirt Freshman in Marcus Trotter and Josh Harrison that will look to impress this Spring. The other question mark on this team is at the sam spot. Senior Kevin Claxton will fill that spot, but has had some off the field issues that nearly got him kicked out of the program and must prove he's beyond that with a solid showing in the Spring camp. If he isn't able to stay clear of trouble or stay focused look for Sophomore A.J. Fenton to step in to that role.
5. Quarterback: Bucky has had a stable to exceptional signal caller and will enter 2011 with a new QB behind center. Jon Budmayr is the leading candidate but must prove he can lead from the start of the Spring. Early indications are that he is more than capable of handling the starting role and his performance in mop up duty in 2010 gave Badger fans plenty of hope that he will be another good one. If things slip a bit look for Curt Phillips to try his luck, but he won't be a full participant in Spring ball thanks to a 2 time ACL tear in the same knee. The guy I'm most intrigued by is the other early enrollee, Joel Stave, who could be a guy to lead the Badgers down the road.
The 2011 Spring game should give us a great look at what Bucky has in store for us fans and as always... ON WISCONSIN!!