Fall Camp Preview: Wide Receivers

The third of our nine-part series, Badger Nation breaks down each position in the first Wisconsin fall camp of the Gary Andersen era. Today, we examine the wide receivers, a group that has one proven playmaker and a lot of question marks.

This is the third in a series of nine previews leading up to the Wisconsin football team's Aug. 5 start of practice.

July 28: Quarterbacks

July 29: Running backs

Today: Receivers

July 31: Tight ends

Aug 1: Offensive linemen

Aug. 2: Defensive linemen

Aug. 3: Linebackers

Aug. 4: Defensive backs

Aug. 5: Specialists

Projected starters:Jared Abbrederis (redshirt senior) and Jordan Fredrick (redshirt sophomore)

Key backups: Reggie Love (sophomore), Kenzel Doe (junior), Jeff Duckworth (redshirt senior), A.J. Jordan (redshirt sophomore)

Departed Players: None, but Marquis Mason (knee injury) and Isaiah Williams (position change) are not options this season.

The breakdown:

With a dangerous threat in Abbrederis, Wisconsin heads into its second season looking for a consistent player to back him up and add depth to the roster. Abbrederis has incredible consistency and pass-catching ability, but he didn't have the opportunity to be an elite receiver on the national stage last season because of injuries and a lack of a No.2 receiver.

Even during a frustrating junior campaign, Abbrederis still caught 49 passes for 837 yards with five touchdowns. But as pressure from opposing defenses increased, eyeing him during game planning, Abbrederis averaged 2.8 catches per game and 40.1 yards during a 4-4 stretch to end the season. He also didn't register a touchdown.

"Ultimately I was disappointed just with how things went last year for me," Abbrederis said in the spring. "I wish I would have had a better year. I had those concussions, missed some time, got on a roll a little bit and then fell off. It makes me want to work harder to make sure that I can keep getting better each game and not have it fall off."

If it wasn't for Abbrederis, things would have been really ugly for Wisconsin's passing game, which finished 111th out of 120 FBS teams in passing offense (averaging 156.9 yards per game).To say the Badgers underachieved last season was an understatement to the program.

Abbrederis accounted for 39 percent of UW's passing offense last season and a whopping 65.2 percent of all yards by UW receivers. His 837 receiving yards were more than double that of second-place Jacob Pedersen's 355 yards, and his 49 catches were one more than that of all other Badger receivers combined last year.

The receiving core, which has normally been overshadowed by the dangerous run game, will need to rely on Abbrederis and those younger role players to make a bigger impact, especially when it comes to the play-action pass. The new coaching staff wants to open the playbook in order to spread the field more, but that won't happen until UW develops some confident, consistent receivers.

"Guys have a year of experience now and they know what to expect in spring, summer and when fall comes with games," Abbrederis said. "The level of comfort they have being out on the field and having that veteran feeling allows you to go out there and play with a lot more confidence. We had all spring, all summer and fall to keep improving on our game and work on the things we need to get better at."

Fredrick hauled in 17 passes for 196 yards with a touchdown and Doe contributed 16 catches for 121 yards. While both played a significant role in blocking downfield, something that was consistently preached to them by then-receivers coach Zach Azzanni, both players are expected to contribute in a more significant role.

With head coach Gary Andersen bringing in his own coaches, the receiving core has been working with receiving coach Chris Beatty, who the developing Fredrick spoke highly of as someone who is going to make the group better as a whole.

"Coach Beatty is teaching us a lot of the game," Fredrick said. "We got a lot of experience last year, finally, so he doesn't need to teach us the early stage things as much as build from that. He's trying to make bigger, more compete wide receivers."

Wisconsin will also use the fall to take a close look at Love (one catch for 19 yards last year), sophomore A.J. Jordan (no catches), senior Jeff Duckworth (two catches for five yards in the final 12 games last season) and freshman Rob Wheelwright, a 6-1, 179-pound four-star prospect who finished his prep career with 26 touchdowns.

The new coaching staff is all about balance and wants the number two, three and four receivers to compliment the offense. With the clear number one receiver there, the coaching staff will need to work on establishing a consistent downfield presence each and every play. Consistency and balance will most likely be the major key this season.

The wide receiver position is looking to make an impact in the air this season, and have embraced the fact that UW is planning to throw the ball more. Now they just have to step up.

"As a receiver, you want to hear that there are more passes going around," said Jordan. "We're all excited about that and looking forward to it."

Burning Question: Who are the likely No.2 and No.3 receivers this season?

With a reasonable amount of depth for the coaching staff, it is tough to tell who will be the clear No.2 and No.3 receivers currently are. Based on experience and their work in spring, I believe that initially Fredrick and Doe will be the clear choices. With the amount of talent at the coaches' disposal, look for Beatty to use many different player combinations on the field to find what works.

Biggest Strength: Blocking strength/technique. With Coach Azzanni preaching those attributes last season, the work the Badgers put in on blocking and being technically sound showed. The returnees will use their blocking experience to their advantage and can be a nightmare to opposing cornerbacks.

Biggest Problem Area: Repeat of last season. The personnel remains the same and the spring was less than reassuring. Wisconsin cannot have another season where its offense lacked a receiving attack game in and game out.

Final Thought: Abbrederis will have a great season like he usually seems to, but he will also allow for the other players to prosper with him. His consistency should rub off on the younger receivers and the coaching staff will look to throw the ball more and more. If UW can establish a passing game, the Badgers will be able to open up the field and allow for the run game to be even more dangerous.

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