UW Athletics

Badgers Football: A look at where Wisconsin's depth chart stands on offense

With Wisconsin's spring practices now completed, we look at the projected depth chart for the Badgers' offense.

Quarterbacks

Projected Starter: Alex Hornibrook

Projected Backups: Kare Lyles

Wildcard: Jack Coan

Hornirbook was named the starter prior to spring and did nothing throughout the course of 15 practices to lose that distinction. Getting a ton of reps, Hornibrook looks more comfortable throwing the football in the pocket, running to his left or his right and throwing with more velocity. 

Wisconsin's backup quarterback spot is muddled, but head coach Paul Chryst said the job’s opening would be truly decided in the fall. Lyles has been with the program a year longer than Coan, thus being more familiar with the offense, but really competed for the first time this spring and missing last year’s spring game recovering from hip surgery. Coan has been on campus three months and was given the playbook in small doses, but the true freshman showed characteristics that signal his best years are ahead of him.

“What I like the most about them, and our quarterback room, is every day when we’re going in there they’re ready to work like everybody else,” Hornibrook said. “In meetings, we’re all showing up early. After practice, whether it’s recovery stuff or stretching, they’re always in there with me doing the same stuff. It’s a group that wants to work and they want to get better. I think it progressed a lot over the spring and was fun to see them do some things.”

Running backs

Projected Starters: Chris James and/or Bradrick Shaw

Projected Backups/Wildcard: Taiwan Deal

James and Shaw are each productive and effective tailbacks but are different enough from each other that it will require defenses to attack them differently. James is more of a bruiser than Shaw, but both have nice speed off the edges and can catch the ball out of the backfield on screen passes and check-down routes in the flat. Shaw’s extra year of experience within the offense showed often, as did James’ overall experience being a fourth-year player. Both will be heavily involved with what Wisconsin wants to accomplish.

Deal didn’t practice this spring after recovering from ankle surgery, but the hope is that the junior can return to his redshirt freshman form (503 yards, six touchdowns) rather than the one that rushed for 104 total yards in six games last year. Getting Deal back would add more depth and quality to the offense.

“They both have the ability to run inside and be physical, and I think they're capable of big runs,” Chryst said. “I'm anxious to see how Taiwan comes off of the off-season surgery. So we've got some depth there. They've just got to keep growing and keep working. But I think we've got guys that have played. Their role is going to be different than any role they've had to this point, but I like the group. I like the way they approach it, and yet I feel like they're still young. They've got to keep progressing.”

Fullbacks

Projected Starter: Austin Ramesh

Projected Backup: Alec Ingold

Wildcard: None

Wisconsin loses no contributors from this position from a year ago, so the production is unlikely to wane. Ramesh and Ingold were more than adequate in replacing the numbers left by Derek Watt, and the duo (which scored five combined rushing touchdowns) should be able to impact the game from a blocking, short-yardage and even pass catching standpoint in single or double formations.

Receivers

Projected Starters: Jazz PeavyQuintez Cephus

Projected Backups: George RushingA.J. Taylor

Wildcard: Kendric Pryor

The emergence of Cephus with his off-the-field tragedy during spring was one of the nice stories to come out of camp, as the sophomore has increased expectations for himself since he shown he can be a reliable pass catcher. The drop off between Peavy and Cephus and the reserves isn’t as severe as it has been in past seasons, but there was a drop off is consistently and production. 

Rushing brings an experienced voice entering his senior season and appeared to catch the ball better in spring than he has his entire career. It’s looking like he would be the No.3 receiver if the season started today. Taylor’s biggest strength was catching crossing routes and using his speed to get upfield, but he struggled to catch the ball consistently in other areas.

After a nondescript start to camp, Pryor flashed during the last week of practices with his ability to elevate, haul in catches and get his feet down in bounds along the sideline. A handful of catches are just that, but the redshirt freshman certainly can use those plays to build off during the summer in what is really a wide-open race for backup roles.

Tight ends

Projected Starter: Troy Fumagalli

Projected Backups: Kyle PennistonZander Neuville

Wildcard: Luke Benzschawel

Fumagalli is primed for an All-American season and has developed a solid connection and relationship with Hornibrook in the offense. Before, during and after practice, the two worked extensively with each other on getting down the timing of routes.

The depth at tight end is stronger than what it was a year ago with Penniston more confident with what is being asked of him, while Neuville is now comfortable in the position after starting last fall as a defensive end. Penniston will likely be more involved in the passing game, and Neuville will take over Eric Steffes’ blocking role, although he’s become more comfortable running routes.

“Fum is obviously a great player but Kyle and I started playing more toward the end of the year,” Neuville said. “We’ve been meshing a lot and have been playing pretty well together. Already in the spring, we’ve got a lot of multiple tight end packages, and that’s something we’re used to doing. I’m definitely liking where the tight ends are at right now.”

It’s unlikely he’ll be asked to have a major role this season, but Benzschawel did a lot of nice things throughout camp from route running, pass catching and handling the physical nature at the line of scrimmage. If he really blossoms over the summer and fall, there might be a role for him.

Left tackle

Projected Starter: David Edwards

Projected Backup: Cole Van Lanen

Wildcard: Michael Deiter

Edwards practiced with the starters throughout the entire spring until a foot injury sidelined him the final week of the season. The redshirt sophomore got thrown into the deep end last season when he took reps at right tackle against Ohio State and Iowa but grew as the season wore on and started the final seven games. Offensive coordinator/line coach Joe Rudolph made the decision to move him to left tackle to replace Ryan Ramczyk, and Edwards held up well. 

With Edwards out for the last week, UW curiously moved Deiter – the Badgers’ standout center – to the position for work. While once viewed as something the Badgers were simply kicking the tires on, Deiter being the team’s starting left tackle now appears like a real possibility come he fall.

“Absolutely there's a chance,” Chryst said. “I think that we've always kind of had the philosophy of get your best players on the field … I think he said to me (Saturday), I'm much more athletic than people give me credit for. But he didn't look out of place. How it's going to shape out, I really don't know, but it's good, and spring is a great time to work on those things.”

Left guard

Projected Starter: Jon Dietzen

Projected Backup: Micah Kapoi

Wildcard: None

Starting eight games last season at the position, including the last seven, Dietzen missed all of spring recovering from surgery, meaning Deiter got the reps (more on that below). Kapoi started the first and third game of the season before dealing with his own brand of injuries. The redshirt junior is a good player but Dietzen is the better option, if he’s healthy. 

Center

Projected Starter: Michael Deiter

Projected Backup: Tyler Biadasz

Wildcard: None

Deiter is one of best centers in the country and the most experienced player on Wisconsin’s offensive line, as he has started every game over the last two seasons. Deiter’s best spot is center but he’s talented enough to play in another spot if UW has weaknesses elsewhere. 

Like Deiter during his freshman year, Wisconsin nearly took the redshirt off Biadasz last season before ultimately deciding against it. With the moving pieces UW needed to make because of injuries this past camp, Biadasz got all the first-team offensive line reps at center and appears to be another young star in the making on UWs’ line.

“I thought Tyler had a really good spring,” Chryst said. “He understood what to do, and I felt like by the end of spring, he trusted it, and therefore was playing more. I think when you do that, you can finish better, you can focus on technique a little bit more. So I thought that happened. 

“Boy, he did a ton this spring. He got a lot of reps, and you saw every one of those, and the way he approaches it, it's important to him. So he's going to take advantage of those reps. Tyler is not a guy that really has many wasted moments, so it was really good, and at times I felt like he wasn't in his first spring, especially in the offensive line. There's so much, and I thought he did a really nice job this spring.”

Right guard

Projected StartersBeau Benzschawel

Projected Backups: Jason Erdmann

Wildcard: None

Benzschawel and Ramczyk were the only linemen to start at one position throughout the entire season, so the junior has been able to grow into a spot he was first introduced do in November 2015. If Benzschawel is healthy, he’ll play and anchor that spot. Erdmann worked with the twos throughout spring and is doing some good things, considering he’s a redshirt sophomore walk-on.

Right tackle

Projected Starters: Jacob Maxwell

Projected Backups: Patrick Kasl

Wildcard: None

Another position that’s having a wait-and-see approach to fall, Wisconsin won’t really know where Maxwell stands with his shoulder injury until he gets on the field for summer conditioning. Maxwell started the first seven games of the season at the position but hasn’t played any football since October. Fall will be important for him to shake the rust off and rebuild his chemistry with Benzschawel.

Maxwell’s absence was Kasl’s gain, as the redshirt freshman took all the reps with the first-team offense and put himself in the conversation for the near future.

“I just attacked spring with a hard-working mindset,” Kasl said. “It was good chance for me to get reps against really good guys on defense. I’ve been really working on all aspects of my game, especially my technique, my speed of play, getting off the ball, low pads for pass setting and just hands and feet for run blocking. It’s been a good chance to do everything well.”


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