UW Spring Game: Five Players to Watch

With the annual Wisconsin spring game set for this afternoon, BadgerNation gives its five players to watch.

RT Hayden Biegel No.74

There are many gaps to fill on Wisconsin’s offensive line and none may be bigger than right tackle because of the player Wisconsin is losing. For the past three years and 41 games, Rob Havenstein commanded the position for the Badgers and was a model of consistency. Now UW is looking at a redshirt freshman in Biegel to carry on that level of play.

It’s a mammoth task but one Biegel has been embracing this spring. He has missed very few reps, has added on significant weight since his senior year of high school to better handle the physicality and has been better at developing a consistency, although it’s something the entire unit is still working at.

“I appreciate the way Hayden works, and I think he has done some good things,” said Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst. “Probably across the board on the offensive line, really a lot of spots on offense, it’s the consistency (we’re missing). I appreciate the way Hayden goes about it. He does some good things.”

The line is still clearly a work in progress, but Biegel has the tools to be a multi-year starter in much the same way his predecessor was.

ILB T.J. Edwards No.53

Wisconsin lost both of its senior starting inside linebackers to graduation, causing a major hole at one of the most important positions on the football field. Those concerns have started to dissipate with the emergence of Edwards throughout spring practices.

“I think T.J. has done a nice job, and I love the way he’s approached it,” said Chryst. “He’s done well, so that gives him some confidence, and I’d say he’s building on that. I like the way that he’s going about it. It’s important to him. Every snap, he’s wanting to grow, wanting to learn from him. You see him a little bit more comfortable in the situations … He certainly needs to keep going, but I like the way he’s progressed this spring.”

Edwards was close to playing a season ago but former Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen decided to redshirt the 229-pound linebacker instead of use him on special teams. It turned out to be a critical decision, as Edwards improved his footwork, strength and knowledge by going against the starting offense in practice. It’s a decision that could yielded some major benefits for the Badgers over the next four seasons.

“It’s definitely a huge opportunity right there, and it’s waiting for somebody to grab it,” said Edwards. “That’s what I’m trying to do. I still got a long way to go, still got some work to do in the film room and working on my keys and stuff like that. It’s a great opportunity to have so early on.”

QB D.J. Gillins No.7

He’s likely still a year away from having a real chance at competing for the starting quarterback job, but Gillins has a chance to open some eyes in the spring game. Likely today’s starter for the No.2 offense going against the first-team defense, Gillins has impressed onlookers with his development over the course of the last year. His passing mechanics are better, his reads are better and his maneuverability is a big weapon.

In the most recent scrimmage, Gillins went 5-for-8 on his five series for 66 yards and two touchdowns and registered 64 yards on six scrambles, turning sure-fire negative plays into big gains for the offense.

“I just like the way he compete,” said offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph of Gillins. “I think it’s starting to slow down a little bit for him, so he’s getting the words out, the verbage and the calls. As he goes on through the spring you can see that emerge. That’s what you are hoping to see.”

CB Sojourn Shelton No.8

After bursting on to the scene as a true freshman, finishing with 36 tackles and four interception, Shelton had high expectations from everybody coming into the 2014 season. Nobody has higher expectations for him to succeed, however, than himself. That ultimately led an up-and-down campaign when he finished with no interceptions, more pass interference penalties than he wanted to count and, worst yet, a loss of confidence.

“Being the confident person that I am, I just think over the first couple weeks of the season I was feeling the pressure that I had to perform, just for all the hype coming into the season,” said Shelton. “I have to forget about that and just play football, understand that I’m a special player and can do some special things.”

Shelton has been special this spring, unofficially leading the team in interceptions and putting himself in position to generate many more big plays for the defense. With a younger front seven around him (despite both outside linebackers returning), the secondary will be counted on to make more plays, as no UW cornerback registered an interception a year ago.

Shelton has related well to secondary coach Daronte Jones, who the cornerback admits is a little bit of a trash talker and shares a similar personality to him. That’s help Shelton get some of his swagger back.

“He’s playing with confidence, and that is good,” said Jones of Shelton. “He’s playing within his personality, which is good. That gives him some flexibility to know when to jump some balls and when not to. Better to do it now in practice than in a game, know what you can and can’t do. We encourage him to play aggressive.”

TE Austin Traylor No.46

The lasting memory of Traylor from a season ago was his inability to be a factor in passing routes, and when he did get the opportunity to make a play, he would either drop the pass or fumble it after the catch. It’s part of the reason why Chryst said the junior tight end spent the offseason catching 100 passes daily to become comfortable with that aspect, especially since the tight end plays such a big role in Chryst’s offense.

The work has shown, as Traylor looks more comfortable and confident in his routes and with his hands, as he’s made a number of plays both in the flat and down the field in scrimmage situations to give the offense a boost.

“Austin is an example of what you want your guys to do,” said Chryst. “(Catching that many passes) gives you confidence. You know you’ve put the work in. Austin has got good hands. I think he’s a good route runner. That’s part of it. He had one night where he was hanging his head a little bit. You’ve got to keep grinding away. I think he’s got confidence in himself.”

It’s expected that redshirt freshman Troy Fumagalli will be the team’s starting tight end after catching 14 passes a season ago, but Traylor’s emergence gives hope that the Badgers have another potential option in the passing game.

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