New faces in spring places

Wisconsin's annual intrasquad scrimmage will feature young, less experienced players

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What: Annual spring football game

When: Saturday, April 10, 1 p.m. CST

Site: Lussier Stadium, Madison La Follette High School. (map) (directions)

Broadcasts: Live radio broadcast on WTSO 1070 AM and WSUM 91.7 FM in Madison. UWBadgers.com will stream a broadcast live on the Internet.

Additional info: Admission is free but only the first 5,000 fans will be admitted

 

Spring football 2004 will be remembered for the highly anticipated position battles that were not so contested after all.

 

The No. 1 quarterback race boiled down to John Stocco and only John Stocco.

 

Ostensibly, there is still a battle for the offensive tackle spots, but Joe Thomas and Morgan Davis appear to be the clear starters, with Mike Lorenz becoming a top backup.

 

"I'd consider Joe a one," head coach Barry Alvarez said. "All three of those guys as far as I'm concerned are on the same line."

 

The three linebacker spots are still wide open if only because injuries kept the coaching staff from getting a true measure of what is available.

 

Spring 2004 will also be remembered for the circumstances that gave younger and less established players even more opportunities than a spring season typically ensures.

 

"You don't like to sit out some people but we had some surgeries in the offseason with some guys that have played quite a bit," Alvarez said. "You like to have everyone there for continuity yet it gives you an opportunity to really develop some young guys and I think we've found some young guys that have a chance, if they continue to progress, (to) be able to help us next year."

 

In the fall, Wisconsin will return 20 of the 24 players (kickers included) who started in the 2003 Music City Bowl. Saturday, though, 14 potential starters, including five who started last December, will be absent.

 

Senior defensive ends Erasmus James (hip) and Darius Jones, sophomore strong safety Joe Stellmacher (leg), senior linebacker Kareem Timbers (shoulder), senior tight end Tony Paciotti (undisclosed), senior free safety Jim Leonhard (undisclosed) and receivers junior Brandon Williams (shin) and senior Darrin Charles (back) have missed all of spring practice with injuries.

 

In addition, junior mike linebacker Elliot Goode (knee), sophomore sam linebacker Mark Zalewski (lower arm), junior guard Jake Wood (shoulder), senior punter R.J. Morse (undisclosed) and junior cornerback Bret Bell (undisclosed) are nursing injuries suffered during spring workouts.

 

Tailback Anthony Davis has looked sharp after suffering through an injury-plagued 2003 season, but has been held out of full contact work this spring and will not participate in the spring game.

 

Many players have stepped up and filled the voids. A few should stand out Saturday:

 

  • Reggie Cribbs took over for Goode at middle linebacker and has excelled. He is very active, has the athleticism to make plays all over the field and most importantly, he is finally healthy.

 

  • Roderick Rogers has had arguably the best spring of any Badger. Rogers has been a constant thorn in Wisconsin's quarterbacks' sides whether intercepting passes or making open-field hits. He has done a very good Jim Leonhard impersonation.

 

  • Jonathan Orr has had a strong spring after seeing his production drop off precipitously last season. He has the speed and play-making ability to stretch the field.

 

  • The aforementioned Thomas has been exceptional. He is the complete package at left tackle, matching strength with great footwork and intelligent play.

 

  • Brandon White spent the spring as the clear No. 2 receiver and will enter fall camp at No. 4, putting him in competition with Owen Daniels for the fourth receiver spot in spread formations. White's role will certainly expand next season and he should have opportunities to make plays Saturday.

 

Among players who made the biggest leaps, redshirt freshman walk-ons cornerback Ben Strickland and linebacker Adam Purcell, who joined the team in January, each spent significant time with the second defense and should receive ample reps Saturday.

 

The player who has the most to gain in the spring game, though, is redshirt freshman quarterback Tyler Donovan. Wisconsin's coaching stuff would love to see Donovan lay claim to the No. 2 quarterback job heading into the fall. His athleticism and arm strength have drawn raves but he has not performed consistently enough to completely pry the job away from senior Matt Schabert. A strong performance Saturday could do just that.


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