Wisconsin Spring Storylines

With Wisconsin opening up spring camp this afternoon and having a ton of questions that need to be answered before the season opener, BadgerNation looks at some of the storylines.

1, Who steps up to challenge Joel Stave for the job?

Coming into spring camp, Stave finds himself behind the curve after being sidelined for most of winter recovering from a shoulder injury sustained in the bowl game. Stave, the incumbent starter, will have his work cut out for him with three scholarship quarterbacks and a talented walk-on in Wisconsin's spring camp.

In his absence, the competition will be fierce between young, athletic quarterbacks, something head coach Gary Andersen used at Utah State.

The 6-6 McEvoy showed his athleticism enough to get on the field, playing in 11 games while making three starts at safety. McEvoy is a mobile quarterback that would ideally be suited for Wisconsin's offense. Outside Stave, McEvoy may be the most game-ready quarterback the Badgers have on the roster. Time will tell if he can learn quick enough to get the nod.

Bart Houston has been in the system the second-longest of the batch of quarterbacks. Coming off a shoulder injury, Houston is ready to prove his throwing ability and has learned the intricate details of the playbook after studying with sixth-year senior Curt Phillips for much of last season.

Near the bottom of the depth chart are redshirt freshman Connor Senger and true freshman D.J. Gillins. Senger and Gillins both fit the mold for Wisconsin's offense. Senger is a redshirt freshman so this will be his first chance to compete in camp after running the scout team offense last season.

Gillins enrolled early at Wisconsin to get a jumpstart on the playbook. Gillins threw for 76 touchdowns during his prep career, not to mention running for 13 others, and appears to be fully recovered from the ACL injury he suffered at the beginning of the 2012 season.

Both players could be compared to a raw version of former UW quarterback Russell Wilson, which may help them get the nod over Houston and Stave if they can pick up the offense quickly.

-Erik Lewis

2) How does the secondary improve after falling apart in the final two games of the season?

With the amount of defensive personnel departures off last year's team, Wisconsin's unit will need plenty of new bodies stepping into bigger roles. But while the secondary returns a good portion of last year's contributors, that group might need to make the biggest leap forward in terms of production.

Wisconsin finished 17th in the country in pass defense last season (202.5 yards per game), a misleading statistic considering how poorly they played against above-average quarterbacks against Arizona State, Ohio State, Penn State and South Carolina.

With the offense being a story in itself the final two games of the season, the major lapses in the game came from the secondary play of the Badgers. In the regular season finale against the Nittany Lions, the Badgers were poised to complete a 10-win season under first year coach Gary Andersen, but Penn State completely stunned the Camp Randall crowd by putting up 339 passing yards on only 21 receptions by the team, including three receptions of 50 plays or longer.

The story for the Capitol One Bowl was exactly the same with the secondary gave up a blistering 321 passing yards on 23 total receptions. This time around, the Badgers gave up two plays longer than 39 yards.

The secondary was always being questioned, especially at the beginning of the 2013 because of their inexperience with only one returning starter in Dezmen Southward. The Badgers will luckily have more experience this upcoming season with cornerbacks Sojourn Shelton, Darius Hillary and Peniel Jean to name a few. Shelton gained valuable experience by starting every game his freshman season, but has plenty of "freshman mistakes" that he will need to work on this spring.

The Badgers will also need to rely on help from redshirt sophomores Nate Hammon and Leo Musso considering Southward has graduated, Michael Caputo has moved to outside linebacker and Tanner McEvoy is working at quarterback.

UW needs to increase its speed, agility and aggressiveness. If the Badgers can even eliminate one or two of these big plays a game, they will be a whole different team from a defensive aspect.

-Chris Fowler

3) Can any of the four early enrollees (Michael Deiter, Jaden Gault, Gillins and Austin Hudson) play an early impact on the team?

Over the last two recruiting cycles, Wisconsin has seen parts of its recruiting classes enroll early. In 2012 Hugs Etienne, Vonte Jackson and Dan Voltz enrolled early and in the 2013 class Keelon Brookins and Sojourn Shelton were early enrollees. Those five all benefited from enrolling early in one way or the other if it was to help heal an injury, gain weight or get a jump on possible early playing time.

Wisconsin's four early enrollees from this year's class are no different, as all are physically ready and mature enough to start their college careers. With those four enrolling early, they have set themselves up to succeed and possibly see the field early on in their careers.

Gault and Deiter both in particular have a chance to see the field early, will get plenty of reps during spring camp and have a chance to appear in the two deep. The coaches plan on holding out Dallas Lewallen and Voltz during spring camp so they can nurse their injuries. The coaches will also limit Kyle Costigan and Rob Havenstein reps. With how thin the line will be during spring camp, Gault and Deiter will have a chance to work with the number one unit and gain some valuable reps.

"With Jaden (Gault) and Michael (Deiter) coming in at the break for the semester, already being involved in the program, they have a tremendous opportunity to do that," Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said during national signing day. "Jaden will be in the mix. Michael may be the starting center with the injuries at this point to Dan (Voltz) and to Dallas (Lewallen). So that is a tremendous opportunity for a young freshman at the center spot. Very challenging, but a great opportunity."

Gault will start out at tackle and even if he doesn't get as many first team reps as Deiter, he has a good frame at 6-6 and 310 pounds to be able to compete. Gault displays a good punch off the line and he has consistently shown that he can get leverage at the line of scrimmage.

As Andersen said with Lewallen and Voltz being out it will allow Deiter to be the number one center. The center position may not necessarily be the position that best suits Deiter, who may be more of a natural guard, but with him learning multiple positions it will help him down the line if an injury occurs.

Gillins and the rest of the quarterbacks will be the focal point until Wisconsin plays LSU in the season opener. Gillins coming in a semester early gives him a better chance of being the starter or being the backup. He's still raw as a prospect and needs to work on his mechanics, but has abilities with his legs the other UW quarterbacks don't have. The more realistic option with Gillins is if offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig develops some sort of special package for him to run, something similar to the barge that Wisconsin has run over the last two years.

Hudson might struggle to crack the two deep at safety due to how deep the position is but what helps him is that Dave Aranda enjoys utilizing safeties in his defense. Last year alone Aranda used up to five safeties in a game in different packages that were interchangeable.

But with McEvoy getting another chance at quarterback and Caputo moving to the field outside linebacker spot, it does allow Hudson a chance to see some playing time early. Even if he can't crack the two deep, he could be an asset to Wisconsin on special teams, where he can utilize his athleticism.

-Brian Becker

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