Spring Practice Report - March 13

Tanner McEvoy maintained last fall that even though he was playing and contributing as a safety, his goal was to play quarterback and put himself in position to start for Wisconsin. If the partial scrimmage during Thursday's spring practice is any indication, McEvoy is on his way.

MADISON - The quarterback race isn't going to be deciding until fall camp and the University of Wisconsin has yet to have one spring practice in its home stadium, but the work Tanner McEvoy continues to display shows that the junior is confident and ready to battle the incumbent Joel Stave.

Running a refereed scrimmage of approximately 30 plays before dismissing the team for spring break, McEvoy was the top quarterback on the field, as his seven reps showed a balance of run and pass that reiterated why Wisconsin recruited him in the first place.

McEvoy completed the best pass of the open portion of the scrimmage, a 30-yard back-shoulder throw that receiver Kenzel Doe brought down in one-on-one coverage, and arguably the best play when he tucked the ball, made multiple defenders miss and picked up a healthy gain on the ground. McEvoy also drew a pass interference flag on safety Peniel Jean and scrambled to his left for a five-yard touchdown when his receivers were covered.

McEvoy is just one of several players on both sides of the ball the Wisconsin's coaching staff should feel excited about with six practices in the books and the team off until March 25.

* You can Michael Deiter's name to the list of players who have benefited from enrolling a semester early. With Dallas Lewallen and Dan Voltz recovering from off-season surgery, the 6-5, 310-pound true freshman has played well enough with the No.1 offensive line to earn practice from offensive line coach T.J. Woods, offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig and Coach Gary Andersen, the latter coming yesterday.

"Michael has come in and been the starting center and handled it well," he said. "He is going against a very good nose guard in Warren (Herring), and I think Warren is playing at a pretty high level right now. Mentally I would say he has been very stable throughout the semester. As the offense grows, with different plays that they're putting in, he has seemed to handle it well. For him to be able to handle it physically, and on top of that the mental part of it, is impressive."

* UW should feel good about D.J. Gillins' development as a future quarterback. Although he likely is too raw to realistically compete for the starting job this season, Gillins has shown enough promise with his arm strength and maneuverability to carve out a role for himself this season. If he polishes up his footwork, delivering and learns the playbook, he could easily be a multi-year starter. Gillins had about 14 reps during the scrimmage.

Bart Houston got eight reps during the scrimmage and while he was sacked twice (not tackled), he completed a nice out route on 3rd-and-13.

* Defensively, the Badgers have to be encouraged with the positive early returns from their offseason makeover, moving defensive backs to linebackers, linebackers to defensive ends and tweaking player's roles left and right. Leon Jacobs' role will expand this season after doing special teams as a freshman last season, since his athleticism is just what UW coaches are looking for, and Alec James (three sacks in two practices) has as high of a ceiling as anyone on the team. I'd argue he's been the standout defensive player thus far.

* A close second to James would be Devin Gaulden, as the junior has gone through numerous stress fractures and a torn knee to be in position to be a contributor on the field at the cornerback position.

"It feels great," said Gaulden. "I'm not thinking about (my injuries). I am just thinking about the responsibilities that I have out here."

But while UW is starting to fit some pieces in place, there are some gaping holes that will have to be addressed if Wisconsin will be successful in 2014. Defensively, the biggest issue isn't who is going to start in the front seven, but who is going to start at the safety position.

* For all intensive purposes Wisconsin lost three safeties this spring with Dezmen Southward graduating, Michael Caputo moving to outside linebacker and McEvoy transitioning back to quarterback. Junior A.J. Jordan, a former wide receiver who moved to cornerback during bowl practices, has been getting the most reps with the starters, as sophomore Leo Musso and junior Peniel Jean have been also been rotating in.

"Going from corner hasn't been too big of a transition, but I definitely like it," said Jordan. "There's a lot more mental aspects with making calls."

Jean committed two pass interference penalties during the scrimmage, and has struggled in coverage. Austin Hudson, another early enrollee, has been doing a lot of work with the second-team defense and has shown his speed at times, but Andersen would like to see some kids from his 2014 recruiting class come in and help right away in the fall camp. The problem is that the Badgers don't know if they will be a true cornerback or safety until they get them on the field.

"They are tall kids who can run," said Andersen. "It'd be nice to have a couple come in and play. I don't know who that will be."

* The same can be said about the wide receivers. Sophomore Rob Wheelwright needed to have a big spring to help cope with the loss of Jared Abbrederis (even wearing Abbrederis old number four) but has missed all this week with an injury.

Junior Jordan Fredrick has battled through camp and looks to be the team's top option right now, as UW only has between five and six healthy receivers at the moment and not a lot of solid playmakers.

UW is going to count on one of five receivers it signed in 2014 – Natrell Jamerson, Chris Jones, George Rushing, Krenwick Sanders or Dareian Watkins – to play right away.

"We need a couple wide receivers who can help us and step up as we move forward, but who is that going to be?" questioned Andersen. "It's a big work in progress when it comes to those kids and the kids in the program right now. All that stuff will define itself the last third of spring ball for us as a team and the young kids that will get their chances when they walk in here. They will get an opportunity day one of fall camp."

* The media got to see both junior Jack Russell and sophomore Andrew Endicott kick for the first time in spring. Russell made kicks from 38 and 48 yards but missed a 32-yard kick during team drills following McEvoy's touchdown. Endicott made kicks of 34 and 43 yards during team drills.

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