"We're going to call this ‘March Ball' instead of ‘spring ball,'" said Andersen. "It's my own little personal vendetta against Mother Nature."
Addressing the media for the first time since February's national signing day, Andersen made it a point saying that Wisconsin is opening up ‘March Ball' preparing for the 2014 season with the mindset of being able to compete for a Big Ten championship. While the Badgers do have a lot of personnel matters to figure out between now and the August 30th opener vs. LSU, Andersen is not willing to label this year as a rebuilding mode.
"I don't think so," said Andersen. "We're a young football team, and I'm excited about this football team. I do not view it as a rebuilding year. These kids expect to play at a high level every week. We expect to jog out on the field and put ourselves in position to win football games."
Given the amount of youth on his roster (UW lists only 17 seniors in camp), Andersen was pleased with the hustle displayed on the field the first day out of the gates, especially in what he called a "grinder" day with Wisconsin going 22 periods in just helmets.
"For the most part I would say they were prepared," said Andersen. "They took what they had in the weight room. They are not in game-shape mode where I expect them to be, but they came out here and fought through a longer practice than they are used to."
Quickening up the Line
Wisconsin lost its three main defensive ends off last year's roster (Tyler Dippel, Ethan Hemer and Pat Muldoon), a move that caused Andersen and his staff to shift around some numbers. Alec James is back at defensive end after playing at outside linebacker last season. Garret Dooley has also moved from linebacker to the line while Brady Kelliher has transitioned from the long snapper's role.
"We want to be a fast defense," said Andersen, "and I think those will kids will grow into that position. They are very talented players."
Still short on numbers on the offensive line, Wisconsin has moved walk-on tight end Alex Walker to left tackle. UW also flipped Logan Schmidt from defensive line to offensive line a year after moving former DL Trent Denlinger to the unit.
"They've done a nice job," said Andersen of the three walk-ons. "We need the numbers, number one, and they're unselfish kids number two. They do it, they're excited about the opportunity and it is a great opportunity for those kids."
On day one, Wisconsin lined up (from left to right) Tyler Marz, Ray Ball, Michael Deiter, Denlinger and Rob Havenstein with the ones and Walker, Ben Hemer, Aidan McNamara, Hayden Biegel and Walker Williams with the twos.
Joel Stave will be limited in team activities through spring break (March 16-23), after which point the coaching staff will see if they can get the junior up to full steam. Because of that and with four unproven commodities at the position, Wisconsin ran 7-on-7 drills for upwards of 45 minutes, a rarity for UW, to give each player reps, and to take some of the burden off the lack of depth on the offensive line.
"A lot of those kids are going to get in there and get reps," said Andersen, who expects the amount of reps to be fairly balanced through the first few weeks. "Today was a great day for those young kids to stick their flag in the ground and stake claim on their area."
Sophomore Bart Houston took the first snap in team drills and looked sharp with his throws (a big difference from where he was last spring), but had his practice cut short due to class.
"He did some great things," said Andersen. "I thought Bart did a good job. He's a competitive kid and he's looked forward to this opportunity."
Making the switch back to quarterback from the defensive backfield, it was evident that Tanner McEvoy looked much more confident with the playbook and his reads, throwing the ball with good down-field accuracy.
"You look at command and presence, again, it didn't always go his way (but he) moved on to the next snap, made some nice throws," said Andersen. "It was good to see."
Going through his first college practice, D.J. Gillins got plenty of reps and while didn't always show the best accuracy, threw the ball with good upper-body mechanics and plenty of zip.
"D.J. was like a lot of the freshmen out there, there was some good moments and some not-so-good moments," said Andersen. "I think you'll see a big-time difference as he continues to get through the offense."
After working bowl prep at the cornerback spot, redshirt junior A.J. Jordan worked exclusively at cornerback during practice one and flashed on certain plays. He intercepted Gillins during team drills and registered a forced fumble after a catch by Kenzel Doe.
"His mindset is to come in and start, and I am proud of A.J.," said Andersen. "He feels comfortable as far as the way he carries himself back there and his demeanor. He's worked very hard to get the techniques down, and he's worked very hard to understand the playbook. It'll be exciting to watch him."
After losing three senior tight ends and the team's top receiver the past two seasons, Wisconsin was in need of some players to flash during spring football at both positions. On day one, UW got hope that some inexperienced playmakers have the ability to help fill the void.
Wearing Abbrederis' old number four, Rob Wheelwright made a number of catches and utilized his 6-2 frame to make plays in traffic. Although catching only two passes for nine yards last season, Andersen pointed that Wheelwright – along with other freshmen – has seen things slow down after traveling with the team last season and getting into a rhythm.
"That's why you don't redshirt," said Andersen. "That's why you let them run down on kickoffs, kickoff return and travel and all the stuff that comes with it, so they will come back next year and feel comfortable and truly get in a position to compete for a spot. He looked more comfortable and seemed to the catch the ball easier. Second time around, things are lot easier sometimes and I think that's the case."
After playing in 13 games in a reserve role last season, Austin Traylor showed he has the potential to be the team's second tight end behind Sam Arneson, hauling in a variety of passes of various lengths and routes during the opening practice. Redshirt freshman Troy Fumagalli also made his presence known working with the twos.
Extra Points: Tailbacks Corey Clement and Melvin Gordon will not be involved in live tackling drills during spring … Freshman offensive lineman Jaden Gault (knee surgery) will not participate in spring ball, but is expected to be ready for fall camp … Andersen said Derek Watt is the team's starting fullback, but is being moved to H-back to get him some pass-catching reps and give Austin Ramesh work at fullback.