MADISON - With sunglasses positioned on top of his “Motion W” hat and moving through drills in his red Wisconsin windbreaker, Paul Chryst looked right at home in his first practice as the Badgers head coach.
“It’s great being on the field,” Chryst said after Sunday’s first spring practice. “A coach wants to coach … As a head coach, you just want to make sure you’re having a good practice and guys understand what you are doing. It’s always tough with a new group.”
Fresh off an 11-win season and an overtime triumph in the Outback Bowl, Wisconsin’s kicked off its spring schedule with a practice heavy on position work and fundamentals. Considering Chryst and eight of his nine assistants are new to the roster, the Badgers are slowly working their way into spring and evaluating the roster.
That evaluation has already led to some position switches. The first name on that list? Tanner McEvoy.
After winning the job from Joel Stave before the start of the 2014 season, McEvoy struggled under center in the opener, completing just 8 of 24 passes for 50 yards in a loss to LSU. He eventually lost his starting job in the Big Ten opener and, as the season wore on, McEvoy was used sparingly in the shotgun and the read-option offense, where he contributed 574 rushing yards and six touchdowns.
Chryst has already said Stave is the starting quarterback heading into spring, so the athletic McEvoy will most likely be used elsewhere in 2015. On Sunday McEvoy took reps on at safety but will also be looking at getting some work at receiver.
“I had the chance to sit down and talk to him; I think for us to get the most out of this team we’re going to need production out of him,” Chryst said of McEvoy. “I think there’s certainly a need at safety. I think there’s some things he can do offensively. In the short time that I’ve been with him, I think he understands the game. Mentally I think we can do some things without putting too much on his plate.”
Quarterback Connor Senger was getting reps at the wide receiver spot, and wide receiver Natrell Jamerson was working with the defensive backs. Meanwhile senior Derek Watt is staying at fullback after an injury-plagued junior season but could see more work at tight end if need be.
“He’s in the same meeting room (as the tight ends),” Chryst said. “He’s a guy that’s willing to do anything. That’s the point of spring practice, to see what guys can do.”
Life without Melvin Gordon
Wisconsin always has spots to fill on its roster following a season and find players to make up for the lost production. This year is no different with the departure of Melvin Gordon, who declared for the NFL Draft following a junior season that saw him win the Doak Walker Award, finish second in the Heisman Trophy balloting and rush for 2,587 yards and 29 touchdowns.
“I think it’s been a fortunate occurrence around here,” Said Chryst. “Every year there are really good players that graduate from this program, this year being no different. That’s the challenge and the opportunity that we have. Everyone’s got to rise up.”
A lot of the attention in the UW backfield will be placed on junior tailback Corey Clement, who has rushed for 1,496 yards and 16 touchdowns in his first two seasons. Wisconsin enters the spring with three scholarship tailbacks, but with Taiwan Deal and Caleb Kinlaw redshirting last season, Clement is the only scholarship back with collegiate carries.
“First day for a running back, it wasn’t a lot (of work),” Chryst said. “When (Clement) steps on the field he’s all business. I appreciate that.”
Extra Points: Linebacker D’cota Dixon will sit out this spring while recovering from shoulder surgery. Badgers need to replace both inside linebackers after the graduation of Derek Landisch and Marcus Trotter … Offensive lineman Jaden Gault (depression) continues to remain on the roster but is not focusing on any football-related activities currently.