Projected Starter: Bart Houston
Projected Backups: Alex Hornibrook
Houston gets the edge in terms of experience, but there’s no question Hornibrook significantly closed the gap in the final two weeks of spring, cutting down the interceptions while improving his accuracy and ability to throw the deep ball.
In the spring game, Houston led a 70-yard scoring drive in nine plays with the first-team offense, but Hornibrook answered right back with the second-team offense with a 70-yard drive in 10 plays that was capped with a 46-yard touchdown pass to George Rushing. The play was successful because Hornibrook showed patience with outside rushers coming in, stepped up in the pocket and delivered a throw on target.
Later, this time with the first-team offense, Hornibrook saw his line pick up the blitz and delivered another strike to Rushing, who beat Derrick Tindal on an inside slant, that went for a 43-yard score.
Head coach Paul Chryst encouraged both quarterbacks to push outside their comfort zone throughout spring camp to improve their overall game. When the team reconvenes in August, we’ll get a better sense of who truly is ahead.
“I think they took advantage of the practices and the meeting times,” Chryst said. “I told them the other day, we're not where we want to be, but I don't think they're behind schedule. With that being said, I think -- and I think this is for our whole team, we've got to have a great summer and be ready to go. We've truly got to take advantage of fall camp and those 29 practice opportunities before we open up, but I think both Alex and Bart did do a lot this spring, and with that I think they've grown. I think they're in a good spot, but we've got a ways to go.”
Projected Starter: Corey Clement
Projected Backups: Dare Ogunbowale, Taiwan Deal
Wildcard: Bradrick Shaw
Clement’s workday for the spring game was brief but effective. He got all his primary scrimmage work done on the first drive, which included a 15-yard burst up the middle that ended with him giving a nasty-looking stiff arm to safety Leo Musso. He followed that up with a 9-yard touchdown run. He and Ogunbowale have rarely scrimmage this spring, but both have taken advantage of the 15 practices.
Clement has proven to himself and others that last year’s injury problems are behind him and that he’s running strong than ever. He also appears more mentally locked into the next task instead of looking ahead. Ogunbowale looks more comfortable in the backfield (he’s only been playing tailback for approx. 19 months) but his better vision on plays has allowed him to be a quicker runner. His ability to catch passes out of the backfield makes him an attractive third-down tailback.
Deal lost a fumble in the spring game, one of the few times all spring he’s put the ball on the ground, but he’s been firmly pushed by running back coach John Settle to be a workhorse tailback. More times than not, Deal has responded and will be a factor in the fall.
Shaw has grown off his redshirt year and has had flashes during spring practices. He’s still a year away from needing to be really counted on, but Shaw count find himself on the field in some situations this fall.
“Certainly should be deeper, you hope, than we were last year with the return of Corey and no one leaving,” Chryst said. “I thought Bradrick took advantage of his first spring … I thought both the young backs did some good things this spring and I thought finished it today, certainly.”
Projected Starter: Alec Ingold
Projected Backup: Austin Ramesh
Wildcard: Leon Jacobs
Ingold is the more reliable running back while Ramesh is better at blocking, although both players are still in their infancy at the fullback spot. Ramesh was hurt at the beginning of last year (not to mention the spring) and got most of his on-field work with Derek Watt in the “31” and “32” personnel. Jacobs just went through his first camp at the fullback spot and by all accounts lived up to expectations. He’s a big-bodied back (he didn’t have to change his linebacker physique) who also has some speed mixed in. This summer will be big for him to build off these past 15 practices.
“I think that it was good for Leon (Jacobs) to get 15 practices and probably double that in meetings and film sessions,” said Chryst. “And Alec Ingold learning -- this is his first spring ball. Last year at this time he's trying to win a state championship in baseball, and Austin Ramesh, we gotta get him healthy, so I think we have a chance to get some depth. There are three good football players in it, and I think we're going to need that position. We're not deep at tight end, so we're going to need guys in that position that can give us something.”
Projected Starters: Rob Wheelwright, Jazz Peavy
Projected Backups: George Rushing, Reggie Love
Wildcard: Krenwick Sanders
There’s a clear separation between the starters and the rest of the group, a group that was hit hard with injuries during spring. Wheelwright has the makings of being a star receiver – a combination of height, speed and gifted athleticism. Problem is he always seems to be injured. If he can stay healthy in 2016, watch out.
Peavy’s game continues to draw praise from Chryst, receives coach Ted Gilmore and his teammates for his consistency on the field. He’s not nearly the athlete Wheelwright is, but his work ethic and reliability make him a solid second option for the quarterbacks.
“For me, I feel like Rob complements me,” Peavy said. “I feel Rob is pushing me. He’s the one, I feel, I have my eyes on. I compete with him every day. He just helps me a lot, and I feel it’s the same for him.”
The spring game further complicated the No.3 receiver battle, as both Love and Rushing flashed during the four scrimmages Wisconsin ran throughout camp. Love caught three touchdowns during an earlier scrimmage, while Rushing capped a strong final two weeks with two 40-yard touchdown catches. He also had a scrimmage where he caught eight passes for 134 yards. Both guys should see the field in the fall but the question is how much?
“It would help us a bunch,” Peavy said about getting a consistent third receiver. “I feel like it would help open the game up, have a deeper rotation and confidence in more guys to make play.”
Sanders is coming off a redshirt season and has taken strides in his game, but he was limited down the stretch and still has work to do to become a consistent option.
Projected Starters: Troy Fumagalli, Eric Steffes
Projected Backup: Kyle Penniston
Wildcard: David Edwards
Fumagalli and Steffes should provide a nice one-two combination for Wisconsin. Fumagalli has improved as a blocker but there’s no question that his strength is pass catching and route running, as the junior holds his own on contested routes over the middle and getting open along the sideline. Steffes is a solid in-line blocker, not to mention capable of catching a pass or two, but his biggest hurdle is staying healthy.
Depth was a big concern entering camp, but Wisconsin liked what it saw from Penniston and Edwards. Penniston’s offensive ability has always been ahead of his blocking but he’s starting to round into form after using his redshirt season to add weight to his frame. He’ll enter fall as the team’s No.3 option.
Edwards has taken major strides since arriving on campus, having learned the position and built his body into the right end role quicker than expected. He’ll see the field this season but in what capacity?
Projected Starter: Ryan Ramczyk
Projected Backup: David Moorman
This was thought to be the biggest question mark on the line entering camp with Tyler Marz’s graduation, but Chryst and offensive line coach Joe Rudolph had a plan all along with Ramczyk. Described as a freak athlete by his linemates and teammates, Ramczyk has stepped right in and locked down the position.
“I think I’ve come a long way since my first day here on campus,” Ramczyk said. “I’ve got a lot more comfort with the offense we’re running, as well as the chemistry with the offensive line. It’s been a good spring.”
Redshirt freshman David Moorman was injured throughout most of last season, so working with the No.2 throughout spring was important to his development.
Projected Starter: Dan Voltz
Projected Backup: Micah Kapoi
Wildcard: Jon Dietzen
The biggest mystery entering fall camp is where Voltz will play. Although a three-year starter at center, Voltz has suggested to Rudolph that Dieter should remain at his current spot and he’ll learn the guard position. Voltz didn’t practice this spring while finishing his rehab from the ACL injury he suffered in October but hopes to be cleared by the start of June’s summer workouts.
Dietzen started ahead of Kapoi on the first team with Voltz out and Deiter under center but that move was designed to bring Dietzen up to speed and challenge him. UW knows what it has in Kapoi, a versatile lineman who can play either left or right guard in a pinch. It was evident throughout spring that Dietzen is not consistent enough to be a starter now but certainly has the tools to be an All-Big Ten caliber player in the future.
Projected Starter: Michael Deiter
Projected Backup: Brett Connors
As stared above, what Rudolph decides to do with Deiter and Voltz likely won’t be known until Big Ten meetings in July. Either way, UW will have two solid options in order to be able to role with the punches. Connors worked at numerous positions throughout the spring, even taking first-team snaps at right tackle the final two practices of spring, and provides another option, even though he is still unproven.
Projected Starter: Beau Benzschawel
Projected Backup: Ian Dretzka
Benzschawel started six games at right tackle last season but shone brightest in the final two games of the season when injuries forced him to move inside to his current position. UW wisely has left him there, allowing him to develop one spot and provide him some help in pass protection, an area he struggled with last season. Like Connors, Dretzka is an unproven commodity and benefited from second-team reps throughout spring.
Projected Starter: Jacob Maxwell
Projected Backup: Brett Connors
Wildcard: Kevin Estes
Maxwell was being groomed to take over for Marz at left tackle but injuries forced him into work at right tackle last fall. Like many of his linemates, he was thrown into the deep end of the pool and expected to swim. While Benzschawel started on the road at Nebraska, Maxwell got a home matchup against Iowa – the eventual Big Ten West champion and Rose Bowl participant. The combo of Benzschawel-Maxwell looks to be a good mesh right now for the Badgers.