First-year offensive coordinator Matt Canada has kept everything vanilla through two days of fall camp and doesn't plan on installing the bulk of the Badgers' 2012 offense until the 12th or 13th practice, which will occur middle to late next week.
"At that point, I'll understand as an offensive staff this is what he does well and what he does well," Canada said Tuesday. "Let's hone in on what he does well and find out who is going to go from there."
As Wisconsin – ranked No.12 in the preseason USA Today coaches poll – gets prepared for its season opener against Northern Iowa 24 days from today, the Badgers appear mostly set with their defensive starters but have work to do developing their 11 starters on offense.
Over the next two weeks, the Badgers will be looking for a quarterback, a number two wide receiver and a right guard in the starting lineup, the latter position falling on the shoulders of first year offensive line coach Mike Markuson, who is looking at fifth-year senior Robby Burge and redshirt sophomore Kyle Costigan, who spent the last two seasons working at defensive tackle.
"I've seen it a lot of times where those fifth-year guys really blossom late where they have their best years," said Markuson, referring to Burge. "They've been around the program a long time, they work hard, they understand the expectations and that's Rob. He's made his body better.
"Kyle is a classic example; high-motor guy, high-energy guy, strong and wants to play. ‘Hey coach, I'll move from d-line to o-line with no problem.' He embraces that and that's a win-win for us."
While Markuson had an opportunity to work with Burge and Costigan in the spring, Canada has two new players he's working with for basically the first time in fifth-year senior Curt Phillips and junior Danny O'Brien.
Phillips, who is looking to make a comeback following three ACL surgeries, hasn't played since the 2009 season, but has impressed teammates and coaches with the work he's put in over the summer months.
"I was excited to see how (Phillips) was going to adapt," said Canada. "Obviously coming off what he did injury-wise, (I'm) anxious to see him move. He's a guy who's worked really hard at it, trying to compete and rehab. After two days he's doing a really good job."
It's hard for Canada to gauge exactly what he has with Phillips because the Badgers' Monday and Tuesday practices were without pads. That changes today when Wisconsin's third practice dons the pads and the tempo gets accelerated a notch.
It's also a mystery to Canada because the Badgers were cautious with Phillips in the spring, withholding him from any team reps in order to allow his surgically repaired knee to have more time to recover.
"Obviously he's got to be full speed physically," said Canada. "I've talked about the character he has, the way he has worked and his football intelligence, but it's a bottom-line business. He's done a good job, but real football isn't here yet … He's probably as healthy as he's going to get."
Another unknown to Canada is what exactly he has with the 6-3 O'Brien. Not arriving on campus until June, Canada was unable to work with O'Brien during the summer because of NCAA rules, meaning all Canada had to go on was O'Brien's resume of 17 starts in his first two seasons.
"Danny's been great," Canada said. "We're excited to have him here. He's jumped right in and competes with the other guys. We've got a real good situation with him, and he throws the football well. He's got game experience, which is hard to get. You've got to play to have it."
With Phillips limited and O'Brien not even on the roster, Canada is distributing out equal reps to both players, Stave and Joe Brennan between the first and second-team offense to see who starts to take advantage of their opportunities.
"Reps come as good plays happen," said Canada. "It's a very fluid situation … It could narrow down tomorrow … The quarterback position will continue to be a position of strength at Wisconsin."
The same goes with the offensive line, as Markuson said the Badgers have a number of options that could include switching junior center Travis Frederick to guard (where he started 11 games last year and 13 in his career) and using junior Ryan Groy or freshman Dan Voltz under center in an emergency.
"You create scenarios, (play) the ‘what if' game," said Markuson. "You never know."
Like Canada, Markuson ideally would like to develop his starting five no later than two weeks to start preparing for the opener and developing the unit's chemistry.
"How we find that out is how they perform in two-a-days and practices," said Markuson. "Some guys have come along nicely."
One position that was a question in the spring was the right tackle position, but sophomore Rob Havenstein (who started one game at right tackle last year) has recovered nicely from the shoulder surgery that knocked him out of spring practices to have a firm grip on the position.
"He's big, he's strong, he's done a great job in the weight room," said Markuson. "For a big man, he can move. That's a big ‘ol man. A big ‘ol body out there. I am glad he's a Badger. I can tell you that. I am really excited about Robby … What a huge addition."
According to Markuson, junior Zac Matthias is currently backing up the left guard position, redshirt freshman Tyler Marz backing up left tackle and redshirt freshman Jonathan Coon backing up right tackle.
"We've got great players who are here and what we've got are a lot of great skill players – running backs, wideouts. We talked to the quarterback about who do you want to throw the ball to and it's guys that make plays. It's a great conversation … Obviously we're working that through. We're going to find the best guys we can play in certain situations. We'll rotate personnel as we need to."
Canada on Abbrederis
"He's awesome. He's a great guy, works hard and, obviously, is a tremendous talent. What he can do and what he brings to the table as far as his leadership and his character for a man … I certainly enjoyed him in the spring, but you watch a guy play up close I really like being around him. He's one of those guys I like coaching."
"If you were at the spring game and watched those guys run the football, we've got great backs. We've got a lot of talent out there. Melvin is talented. James White is a 1,000-yard back a couple years back. They are fun to coach. We really haven't gone against each other yet, but I enjoy being around those guys."