After breaking down each position leading up to this week, we look at the top five questions concerning UW football entering the media portion of camp.
1, It's Not Over Yet
For the second straight year, the Badgers have dipped into their ACC farm system to pick up a ready-made quarterback to give the position a boost in the fall. However Danny O'Brien won't be on campus to the end of May, and Bielema should remind Joe Brennan and Joel Stave of that fact heading into this week. Brennan and Stave have a whole month of live action to improve before the real competition begins and past history shows that they could use it.
Brennan is a good quarterback with a strong arm, but his lack of consistency and confidence has been a problem in past camps. It was so much of an issue last fall that then offensive coordinator Paul Chryst admitted that Brennan yelled ‘finally' after he completed a nice 30-yard pass along the sideline during a scrimmage. Brennan needs the repeated reps to prove to himself that he can do it, and not be so hard on himself.
Stave is a talented, smart quarterback that could one day be a starter at Wisconsin, but simply doesn't have the experience yet. With him and Brennan being the only healthy quarterbacks on the roster, the redshirt freshman is going to get a lot of reps and opportunities. Bielema praised the two quarterbacks for their completion percentage during the first few practices, but it'll be a different story with a pressing defense coming at them.
2, Canada Dry?
Other than Thomas Hammock, the Wisconsin assistant coaches will look vastly different, meaning a different set of styles and set of philosophies. While it's important to see how wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni, tight end coach Eddie Faulkner and offensive line coach Mike Markuson interact with their players, the most important one will be offensive coordinator Matt Canada.
Canada has been coaching since 1992 and has been an offensive coordinator at Butler, Indiana and Northern Illinois, so he has experience calling plays. How will he tinker with UW's proven success? How will the UW players respond to him? How will UW's offense look different this season? These are all questions we hope to find out before the season opener September 1.
3, Line of Sight
Former offensive line coach Bob Bostad always said he wanted to know who is starting five was by the time the spring game ended. Markuson may or may not be the same way, but it will be pretty hard for him to gauge this year who will be protecting the backfield from left to right because of injuries and graduation. Three things are for certain – Ricky Wagner will start at left tackle, Ryan Groy at left guard and Travis Frederick at center. Wagner and Frederick are incumbent, experienced players and will be on the field while Groy has been ready to compete for the last two years.
Right tackle will likely be Rob Havenstein, who was Josh Oglesby's backup last season and even started against South Dakota, but he likely won't start practicing at full strength until the fall because of shoulder surgery. The biggest question mark will be at right guard – will the Badgers turn to senior walk-on Robby Burge or true freshman Dan Voltz?
Burge hasn't proven much over his career and neither has Voltz, but the true freshman has only gone through four spring practices. Seeing his development and if he can make enough strides to start will be the big question. Also, how does Casey Dehn fit back into the equation after walking away from the team last season and what will Tyler Marz show after being named offensive scout player of the year?
On the defensive line, Wisconsin will have position battles at defensive end and defensive tackle. At the end, David Gilbert and Brendan Kelly will be the main pass rushers while Tyler Dippel and Pat Muldoon will also be battling for sports in the rotation. Gilbert and Kelly have asserted themselves, while Dippel and Muldoon have both been slowed in their development by ACL injuries. Will this spring be the big step forward?
At the tackle, it's a three-man race for two positions, although all three players will play. Ethan Hemer was just put on scholarship and will likely take the place of Patrick Butrym in terms of an every-down player who is the leader of the defense. Beau Allen continues to impress in his short tenure while Jordan Kohout has been solid, but hasn't quite reached his potential heading into his third spring. With uncertainly on both sides of the line, both units will be going full out, meaning we should get a good indication of who is taking steps forward.
4, Beefy Borland
From fans to former UW running back Brian Calhoun questioning the move of Bielema to move Chris Borland from his comfort level at outside linebacker to inside linebacker, saying that the 2009 conference freshman of the year would lose his ability to be the roaming playmakers. Oops! Even though Borland had basically been sidelined for 18 months, the redshirt sophomore tied for seventh in the country and ranked second in the Big Ten with 143 tackles. He did that when he started the season rusty, so imagine what he can do with a couple healthy months of preparation.
Borland is up to a beefy 250 pounds and apparently still has the same pop, just with more strength. Borland rarely makes it through a camp healthy so if he can do it this spring, the excitement surrounding him heading into next season will be off the charts.
5, A Lonely Island
You are only as good as your weakest link and it's fair to say that heading into next season, the weakest area of the Badgers are the defensive backs. Wisconsin loses two seniors, has one fifth-year senior coming off a broken foot and a bunch of other players who are either raw or unproven. First-year assistant coach Ben Strickland knows what it takes to play football at the Big Ten level at Wisconsin, and hopefully he can install some of the confidence in guys like Marcus Cromartie.
Bielema and his past assistants have been hard on Cromartie because the senior has a lot of talent that he doesn't always put to good use. He has a solid fall camp last year, but had lapses in judgment and fundamentals last season that resulted in big plays for the opposition. Peniel Jean got his feet wet last season and will now have more responsibilities. Dezmen Southward has played organized football for less than five years, but is entering his third season at UW and will likely be in line to start.
Of the four defensive backs positions, senior Shelton Johnson has the least amount of question marks, which means the group needs to instill some confidence in themselves and the coaches going forward.