Game Week Mailbag

What is Wisconsin's plan for wide receiver? Should Chris Borland play more at the end due to the injuries? What's the plan for Montee Ball, James White and Melvin Gordon? There are a lot of good football questions to be answered in this week's Badger Nation mailbag.

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Are the coaches trying different combinations of receivers in practice, or are they trying to coach up the 2-deep as best they can for games?

Receivers coach Zach Azzanni told me prior to the Utah State game that he is not using youth as an excuse for his group because it's a reality. Without Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin is incredibly young and inexperienced at the position. It's also been hard for the team to get quality game repetitions with the issues on the offensive line and at quarterback.

Like many of you, I have been surprised by the lack of production from Jeff Duckworth, who up until now has had his one shining moment (fourth down catch in Indianapolis) and nothing else. Duckworth has seven catches for 55 yards this season, all of which came in the second half of the Oregon State loss when Jared Abbrederis was in the hospital. Talking to Duckworth after the game, he said the only reason he was making those catches was because the Beavers' cornerbacks weren't giving him anything deep.

It appears Azzanni has put most of his efforts in getting sophomore Kenzel Doe and redshirt freshman Jordan Fredrick ready. Azzanni said Fredrick has a ‘high care factor' and ‘wants to get better.' Fredrick has great work ethic, but he is still learning the habits and the techniques. That's caused Fredrick to spend hours in the film room, often after Azzanni has gone home for the night. Other than Abbrederis, these two have gotten the majority of the reps.

True freshman Reggie Love has also been worked in to the unit just to get him used to playing the position. Love first year of organized football was his senior year in high school, so he is still really raw. However, it already appears Love has jumped a number of older players on the depth chart, which is a credit to his work ethic.

If I haven't mention them here, they have yet to make a catch this season, which leads me to believe that this group is what Wisconsin is going to utilize this season unless injuries occur.

Are the coaches considering splitting out White and Ball more often than they have, while giving Gordon more carries, in order to open up more options for Stave on passing downs?

I am going to feature White on Saturday morning, but he said he spent a lot of time learning offensive coordinator Matt Canada's personnel grouping for wide receiver plays, studying what the X, Y and Z receivers and the fullbacks do on each play. White said his main goal this season was to be locked in during practice so the games would come easier. He admits it's been a process, but has been rewarded by the coaching staff putting a lot more trust in his hands with different formations.

Wisconsin coaches are really high on Gordon, but running backs coach Thomas Hammock said Gordon is still learning the integral parts of the playbook (i.e. who to block, w ) and improving his football I.Q. with more game experience. Gordon has looked good on the field without question, but the Badgers coaches are content with gradually expanding his role as he gets more comfortable.

Ball is expecting to play on Saturday, but I would be surprised if they have him split out consistently throughout the game. I would expect, however, to see a lot of Ball and White on the field in different formations. White hasn't received a ton of pass catching opportunities yet and I think it's a play that could prove important against the Cornhuskers defense.

Has there been thought been given to lining up Chris Borland at end permanently (or the foreseeable future) due to all the injuries, and who would take his place in the middle if that were to happen?

The injuries are starting to become a concern at that position without question and against a team like Nebraska, throwing a curveball into the mix is almost required. Some of the Nebraska coaches and players have praised Borland throughout the week and mentioned that they have to know where he is on the field at all times. Putting Borland at the end position is something the UW coaches have not been afraid to do and Borland is more than comfortable rushing the passer. With the depth Wisconsin has at linebacker, the lack of depth at defensive end and the game Borland is coming off of, I would not be surprised if Wisconsin went into its 3-3-5 defense on first or second down and change up some looks.

David Gilbert and Tyler Dippel should be back and Pat Muldoon (hand) and Brendan Kelly (hamstring) are likely out for this weekend's game (we should know more this evening from Bret Bielema). With only two experienced players available on the end, don't be surprised if Borland sneaks up for an outside rush.

Will Danny O'Brien look to transfer yet again? If he does transfer, will he still be able to play right away wherever he goes since he has already graduated or will he now have to sit out a year?

I doubt it. I talked to O'Brien this week and he is still confident in his abilities to lead this football team. He acknowledged that it's not fun getting benched, but has been through this situation before and knows that committing three bad turnovers in less than two games isn't going to help him keep his job. I also believe that O'Brien is still the long-term solution for the Badgers, but my mind could change depending on what happens this weekend.

As to the second part of your question, I read through the entire transfer rule book this morning. I believe O'Brien would have to sit out a year if he transferred to a Division 1 school (and would use up the rest of his eligibility clock since he already redshirted) or transfer and play immediately to a Division II or Division III school.

Again, do I think that's going to happen? No. I think we're going to see O'Brien on the field again this year. Wisconsin wouldn't have spent all that time recruiting O'Brien if a) they didn't have faith in his abilities b) they were going to give the full-time job to Stave four games into the season.

Vince Biegel close to seeing the field as a rush end opposite Borland in any situations yet? We heard good things about him during camp before the toe injury.

That toe injury (which occurred when Rob Havenstein stepped on his foot) knocked Biegel out for roughly two weeks, meaning Biegel is two weeks behind in his conditioning and on-the-field work. For a veteran that's not a huge deal, but that a big deal for a true freshman like Biegel. Defensive coordinator Charlie Partridge was candid last night and said Biegel is still dealing with issues because of it.

Bielema was really impressed with what Biegel could do in fall camp, but he made those comments before Ethan Armstrong really took off. Armstrong is playing some of his best football of his career, mainly because he's healthy and is no longer bothered by two hip injuries. The Badgers also have Derek Landisch, Conor O'Neill and Marcus Trotter in the mix, as well, so there's a lot of depth at the position.

Biegel likely will be out for an extended period of time and I would imagine UW will try to get him a medical redshirt. With the depth UW has at that position, having Biegel come back late in the season for special teams work doesn't make much sense.

Any freshman that have not played yet that may still see the field this year verse redshirt?

Cornerback Reggie Mitchell will play this season if another defensive back goes down with an injury before Peniel Jean returns sometime in October. Mitchell is being used a lot like Darius Hillary was used last year (i.e. traveled to every road game, works with the second-team defense instead of the scout team, etc.) and would be the guy inserted into the mix.

Another guy I thought we would have seen by now is Dan Voltz. After enrolling for spring semester, Voltz spent a lot of time working with the first-team and second-team offense. He is not listed on the previous four game's participation charts, so he may be a guy who is used in an emergency, as well.

Other than him, I would say we've seen all the scholarship players we're going to see. Hugs Etienne, Bart Houston and Vonte Jackson are redshirting because of injury, Arthur Goldberg, Jake Meador, Leo Musso and Walker Williams are redshirting to build size and Love has already played. By my count Alex Erickson and Joe Schobert are the only preferred walk-on true freshman who have played on special teams.

Any updates/thoughts on the younger TEs and HBs? Austin Maly etc?

I spoke to tight end coach Eddie Faulkner a couple weeks ago and he was really impressed with the strides Austin Traylor and Austin Maly have made. Traylor at the time was further along than Maly, getting repetitions with the first-team offense when the unit went to a three tight end set. It's a formation that we haven't seen a lot this year, which is surprising for the amount of repetition the Badgers did with it.

Wisconsin has been fortunate this year that Brian Wozniak has finally stayed healthy for an extended period of time and that Brock DeCicco has been a nice addition since coming over from Pittsburgh. A lot like the tailback position, Wisconsin has a ton of depth, meaning not everyone that is ready for game action has the ability to play.

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