MADISON – T.J. Edwards will not be making a remarkable comeback for Saturday’s season opener.
Head coach Paul Chryst announced Monday that Edwards has been ruled out for Wisconsin’s season opener against No.5 LSU at Green Bay’s Lambeau Field.
The sophomore All-American, who led UW with 84 tackles last year, was making progress towards returning to the field from the injury he suffered in the final days of the summer conditioning program. He had shed the walking boot and was starting to ramp up his rehab the last several days, but not enough progress was made to get him prepared after missing all of fall camp.
But while the Badgers will be missing two linebacker starters from last season (outside linebacker Joe Schobert – the 2015 conference linebacker of the year – graduated), defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox was able to work junior Jack Cichy and sophomore Chris Orr with the starters throughout camp. The pair started 10 games a year ago but rarely played on the field at the same time.
“It’s been really fun to watch Jack and Chris develop their chemistry on the inside and being vocal leaders,” senior linebacker Vince Biegel said. “They set the front and they set the tone for our defense, so I think Jack and Chris have both done a great job and are both great for the role.”
Connors is a very wanted (line) man
With Dan Voltz’s retirement leaving Wisconsin thin on the offensive line, the Badgers have turned to walk-on sophomore Brett Connors to wear multiple hats in case of emergency. On the first depth chart released, Connors is listed as the second-team left tackle, right tackle and center.
“Brett has grown tremendously since he walked on here,” sophomore center Michael Deiter said. “He’s a really hard worker, that’s what stands out about him. If he lacks in something, he’ll make up with it with work. He’ll work to make sure he cleans up all aspects of his game, and he has, so that’s given him a chance to come in and back up for really every position. He’s special in that aspect.”
It’s a sign of confidence that the walk-on is trusted in so many areas, but the health and maintenance of the offensive line will bear watching during the season, especially with the daunting conference schedule before them. In addition to Connors, sophomore Micah Kapoi it listed as the co-starter at left guard and the backup right guard.
Even with a stripped down unit, Deiter feels the last week has been a step forward for the group.
“I think the rhythm has been there, whether it’s been Jon (Dietzen) in there or Micah in there (at left guard),” Deiter said. “I really don’t think there was a need for a rhythm since we had taken so many reps because we had taken so reps with each other in the spring, so many at the start of camp. Even when Dan was getting rotating in there, (offensive line coach Joe Rudolph) still gave a lot of reps to Micah and Jon, so I think the rhythm is there and this last week helped with that.”
Really Fresh Faces
Many thought redshirt freshman Titus Booker and redshirt juniors Joe Ferguson or Keelon Brookins would be penciled in at second-team cornerback and safety, respectively. Caesar Williams impressed defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox and defensive backs coach Jim Leonhard enough to leapfrog Booker to what appears to be the No. 4 cornerback.
Patrick Johnson worked his way into the back-up free safety spot behind redshirt senior Leo Musso. Both he and Eric Burrell received more reps with the second-team defenses during fall camp, and the Washington D.C. native will continue to adjust to the college game but may thrown into playing time early.
“Those guys came in and got adjusted well, didn’t veer off or shy away from it with them being a freshman,” senior cornerback Sojourn Shelton said. “They want an opportunity to play, worked hard and they went and got after it, and they were rewarded … Those guys worked extremely hard and they deserve it.”
A Tight Group
Of the 114 players on Wisconsin’s roster, only 13 are seniors — fourth-fewest among Power Five schools. Of those 13, only eight in the offensive and defensive two-deep, three of which have started more than 10 games. But don’t be mistaken that Wisconsin is entirely green behind the ears.
With the exception of quarterback Bart Houston and left tackle Ryan Ramczyk, all the projected offensive starters started games last year. UW’s defense is the same way, with nine players having started at least one game last season. The only two players who didn’t start – safety D’Cota Dixon and outside linebacker T.J. Watt – played in all 13 games.
“I think we've got an interesting makeup,” Chryst said. “We're going to be counting on some young players and that's all right. I like this team. I like the way they're been working; appreciate that. I think they're a group that wants to come out each day and get better. That makes it fun to be around them."
Ingold earns the starting fullback job
It’s a tall task to replace the versatile Derek Watt, who not only opened holes for the likes of Melvin Gordon, James White and Corey Clement from the backfield but also as a tight end in certain personnel. Alec Ingold has game experience last season as the short-yard tailback, scoring six touchdowns, and that physicality could be successfully transferred to fullback heading into this season.
Former UW captain Bradie Ewing mentioned in past interviews it’s a significant switch, as he did so for the 2009 season, but the former Richland Center standout had to also adjust to playing at a different weight. The former walk-on bulked up from 210 to around 240 pounds by the end of his career, and didn’t really start seeing consistent time on the field until the 2010 season.
Ingold already is listed at 238 pounds after moving to inside linebacker to start his college career, so the former prep quarterback and state player of the year won’t need to worry as much about that obstacle. It appears head coach Paul Chryst is comfortable enough with Ingold in his adjustment to learning his assignments and the blocking game.
Redshirt juniors Austin Ramesh and Leon Jacobs will be in the mix, as position coach John Settle mentioned all three bring something different to the table. With Jacobs now receiving a medical hardship waiver, he has two seasons at fullback -- and his athleticism could give the Badgers’ offense something special at the position down the road.
Extra Points: In addition to Edwards, offensive lineman Logan Schmidt (head) will not play Saturday … Corey Clement is listed as the No. 2 kickoff returner, backing up junior cornerback Natrell Jamerson … tight end coach Mickey Turner and defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox will be the only two coaches to coach from the booth, while the rest of the staff will be on the sidelines.
- BadgerNation's Jake Kocorowski contributed to this report