Wisconsin's freshmen class looked strong this fall, but only a handful will see the field this season. The players with the best chance are receiver/returner Ernest Mason, cornerback Roderick Rogers, punter Kenneth DeBauche, free safety Johnny White, left tackle Joe Thomas and long snapper Steven Johnson, who is listed No. 2 at his position.
WR/KR/PR Ernest Mason
Mason was a human highlight reel in fall camp. He possesses unreal athleticism and very good all-around skills. Mason already possesses excellent speed and quickness, complimenting good size and strength. He has very soft hands, as displayed both as a receiver and a returner. Mason has six receivers ahead of him on the depth chart and receiver Brandon Williams and free safety Jim Leonhard in front of him at the return spots. Mason, though, looks poised to take over the return jobs and fit in as a receiver. The Badgers coaches have said multiple times that they want to get Mason on the field and use his speed. I wouldn't be surprised if he graces the field for half a dozen or so plays a game at receiver. Mason has the tools and the determination to become a top-flight receiver and returner. He needs to improve his route running and will, of course, get stronger, but the sky is the limit. The Badgers are loaded at receiver and with only two seniors at the position there will be quite a bit of competition down the road. Mason is the type of rare talent that could rise above and become a star.
DeBauche pushed incumbent punter R.J. Morse day-in and day-out in camp. Morse has the edge, but if he slips the coaching staff will likely turn to Suamico, Wis. product DeBauche. In limited opportunities to view DeBauche punting, he did display major conference-quality leg strength. DeBauche left a good impression with coaches throughout the fall and will likely continue to compete for the punting job throughout the season.
CB Roderick Rogers
Rogers is listed No. 3 at right cornerback but he was in rotating with Levonne Rowan on the second unit during the final week of fall camp. Rogers also played with the second unit nickel defense. In any case, Rogers is assuredly the team's No. 5 corner at the least and it would not come as a surprise if he was No. 3 by season's end. Rogers has great height for the position at 6-2 and solid size at 185 pounds. He has above average speed and good instincts. He needs to fine tune his game, as does every freshman, but the future looks very bright. Rogers may work in with the special teams units this season.
FS Johnny White
White established a physical presence as soon as the pads were on at fall camp. This is no small feat considering that freshmen had to start later than usual this season. White was impressive each day with his athleticism and hitting ability. He tracks the ball well and has decent hands. Still, it came as a surprise when he was practicing with the reserves rather than the scouts last week. The coaching staff said they simply wanted to see how he would react. He looked just fine in practice, but with veterans Jim Leonhard and Robert Brooks at the position, White may well redshirt this season. Still, he has earned a spot "in the depth" and could also help the team on special teams.
LT Joe Thomas
It did not take long for Thomas to move from the frosh line to the second team line, pushing the previous No. 2 left tackle, Jake Wood, to right tackle in the process. Thomas came in with a ton of expectations and he certainly did not disappoint. A freshman offensive linemen is not supposed to be as athletic as Thomas. He is listed at 6-8, 260, but is likely closer to 280, and his frame will carry plenty more weight. Linemen in particular seem to always need to get stronger, but Thomas looked sturdy and impressively strong for a young linemen. And it cannot be accentuated enough how well he moves for a big man. Thomas will likely take on the role Mike Lorenz served last season as a glorified sixth linemen, playing tight end in some sets. Ever since Thomas announced he was coming to Madison there has been clamoring for him to start as a freshman. It won't happen unless Morgan Davis gets hurt. Davis has looked good and Thomas never challenged for the top spot. Thomas, though, looks poised to be a big time player down the road.
LS Steven Johnson
OK, what to say about a long snapper. He did his job; he did it competently; he earned a No. 2 spot on the depth chart. In all seriousness, this is quite a niche. Say what you will, Johnson and Thomas are the only members of the 2003 recruiting class currently in the two-deep. And while the kickers and punters take the heat when things go wrong, the long snappers are a big part of the kicking game's success or failure. On one memorable punting sequence this fall, Morse and DeBauche suffered from a fit of inconsistency, but not entirely of their own making. When the snaps were true, the ball boomed off their feet; when they left something to be desired, the result wasn't quite so pretty. This particular practice memory was the exception, though. Johnson and Katula are very competent long snappers.