1, Melvin Gordon - No.25 cardinal
With Montee Ball (rest) and James White (knee) being held out of the spring game, expect to see what the media have seen all spring long, which is a heavy dose of Gordon. Gordon has really improved from what he saw from him last fall, especially when it comes to running down hill and between the tackles. He's started to transform his body, chiseling out his frame to 205 pounds, getting rid of some fat and looking to boost his size upwards of 215 by the season opener.
The most impressive thing about Gordon now is his patience. Often during the spring season, Gordon has taken the handoff, waited a split second for his blockers to get in place, finds the alley and is off to the races. Unofficially, he probably had more plays of 10 yards or more than all offensive players combined. With Wisconsin likely to use three healthy running backs in a given season, Gordon has a stranglehold on that spot, and fans will see why.
2, Chris Borland - No.44 cardinal
His shoulders are healthy and he is a year more experienced, which means Borland will be the lead dog on a defensive unit that is full of returning experience. Finally healthy for a prolonged period of time, Borland increased his weight to 250 pounds, adding some added muscle to his frame to be more explosive in shedding blocks and protecting two surgically repaired shoulders.
A consensus first-team All-Big Ten and tied for seventh in the country and ranked second in the Big Ten (behind teammate Mike Taylor) with 143 tackles last season, Borland did all of that after being switched from the outside linebacker position to the inside linebacker position and playing with some rust. Admitted to being frustrated the first part of the season, Borland's confidence has ballooned after a year of experience and offseason film study.
With only four senior starters on defense (four guys that aren't the most vocal of players), expect Borland to be a team captain … not a real stretch since his leadership has been on display throughout camp. Defensive coordinator Chris Ash said Borland may be limited somewhat Saturday, but admitted it's always hard to keep Borland off the field.
3, Sam Arneson - No.49 cardinal
With inconsistencies at wide receiver, both quarterbacks have latched on to targeting Arneson, who has proven over the weeks to be the most consistent receiver on the roster right now. Pushing his weight over 250 pounds, Arneson has shown to be a tough matchup for opposing defenses in the passing game and has held his own against some of UW's talented defensive ends, giving UW's coaches confidence that the in-state sophomore will be able to contribute in a bigger role next season.
"I feel like I am night and day from last year with the experience that I got," he said. "I am so much more confident, and it comes also from being stronger. The confidence I have now in making my blocks, making plays and it's been really big learning the offense."
4, Warren Herring - No.45 white
Moving from outside to inside, Herring has continued to be a run-stopping, aggressive player despite the change in position. Always a player that goes a hundred miles an hour, Herring's speed has allowed him to compensate for him just learning to shed blocks with his hands and learn the little techniques needed to be a run stuffer.
"The reason we moved him inside was during one on ones during (Rose) Bowl prep, he was a traditional always an outside pass rusher," said UW coach Bret Bielema. "We put him inside on the center and guard, and all of a sudden he was winning a lot of his one on ones. He blew by (Travis Frederick) the other day. I think everybody just kind of stood there and watched that happen."
Herring's emergence over the past several weeks could mean the Badgers have four game-ready defensive tackles to help a defensive rotation become even stronger and more active in the backfield next season.
5, James Adeyanju - No.99 white - and Jesse Hayes - No.41 white
Wisconsin could go nine or 10 deep on its line if defensive line coach Charlie Partridge really wants to and the Badgers' depth won't be in question going forward with the work that redshirt freshmen Adeyanju and Hayes have put in. Hayes has a leg up on the competition because his dad, Jay, was an assistant coach at Wisconsin from 1995-98 and currently the defensive line coach with the Cincinnati Bengals.
According to Bielema, Hayes is fundamentally strong, very athletic and plays leg free as good as anybody he's ever seen. On the flip side, Adeyanju is a powerful player who has added 15 pounds since last season, making him bigger and stronger than he was a year ago. Adeyanju has worked primarily with the third-team defense, some with the second team, simply because there are so many returning players at the position. With the two units split up, I expect Adeyanju to have an impressive showing.
6, Joel Stave
Stave appears to have an edge over redshirt sophomore Joe Brennan on the depth chart because he's begun working out with the No. 1 offense for the last week. The reason for the switch was for Stave's ability to take command of the huddle and make accurate throws … also because Brennan has been stuck in neutral throughout camp. Stave has been far from perfect, as well, but admits that it's been a process with learning the new offense and thrust into a mega amount of reps considering UW only has two fully healthy quarterbacks.
"It's not going to come overnight, but we've got to keep working at it," Stave said. "Definitely working and learning over the summer will help, so by the time fall camp gets here – we'll hit the ground running. We'll know everything."
After watching these quarterbacks intently over the last three weeks, I have a hard time believing Danny O'Brien won't be the starting quarterback in the fall, meaning this spring game will give somebody the leg up on being the No.2 quarterback.