News and notes – Potential starters Brandon Williams (shin) and Darrin Charles (back) missed the entire spring with what was classified as minor injuries. They are expected to participate in summer conditioning and to be ready to hit the ground running in the fall….In their absence Jonathan Orr and Brandon White took reps with the first unit in base formations and a collection of inexperienced players rotated in behind them…Ernest Mason is suspended indefinitely following his second violation of the university's Student-Athlete Discipline Policy.
Spring MVP – Jonathan Orr. The junior looks poised to return to his production level of two years ago when he had a freshman school record 842 yards. Orr made eye-opening plays in every practice this spring, consistently stretching the defense and getting behind Wisconsin's veteran secondary. He did drop some catchable passes, but his hands appeared much improved. Orr's body control was excellent. Always a strong, athletic receiver, his strength and speed were simply overpowering no matter who tried to cover him this spring. If he duplicates this performance in the fall he will enter 2004 as the team's sure No. 2 receiver and could develop into quarterback John Stocco's primary target.
Spring ahead – The most improved player this spring, though, was junior Brandon White. Used as a designated blocker last season, White took full advantage of his No. 2 designation this spring. Aside from a couple of rough practices, White was solid, displaying good hands and the speed to stretch a defense. He will not challenge Williams, Orr or Charles for one of the top three spots in the depth chart, but he has solidified himself as the No. 4 pure receiver and earned more playing time—and the opportunity to catch passes—in the fall.
Honorable mention here goes to Jeff Holzbauer. The most consistent wide receiver all spring, Holzbauer is clearly the No. 5 player at the position (excluding tweener Owen Daniels) heading into the summer.
Wither class of 2003? - It is way too early to write off a recruiting class that is barely more than a year old, but the luster on last season's freshmen receivers wore off with alarming rapidity this spring. Ernest Mason entered the spring in a battle with White for the No. 4 receiver spot but quickly slipped to clinging to a third-team spot. And that was before a second run-in with the law in four months placed his future with the team in serious doubt. He is facing six misdemeanor charges.
Brandon Tobias possesses the size and strength to thrive in the Big Ten but looked lost throughout the spring. His hands were inconsistent and he struggled to get comfortable with the offense and run routes properly.
Jonte Flowers, a walk-on who was frequently lauded for his progress last fall, left the team with an intention on transferring to another school to play basketball.
After displaying excellent hands in fall camp last year, walk-on Luke Swan had a hard time finishing plays in the spring and, like Tobias, appeared to be losing confidence as he struggled with the offense.
The one bright spot was Paul Hubbard. The track scholarship athlete still has plenty to learn but he has improved significantly since bowl practices. His athleticism will never be a question.
In defense of the class, these young players have time to learn and develop on a team that still has substantial depth at the position. Many players struggle in their first spring so a better indication of the class's future will come once they have digested the information next fall.
Battle within the depth – The tightest competition in the fall will be for a spot in Wisconsin's multiple receiver sets. Tight end/receiver Owen Daniels' significant edge in versatility and less pronounced advantages in strength and consistency put him a little ahead of White at this point. If Daniels and White continue to develop as they did this spring, though, they will press the top three for playing time in 3- and 4-receiver packages.
Final note – Wisconsin may have benefited from the injuries to Charles and Williams, the two receivers who needed work less than any other on the roster. Their absence gave greater opportunities to Orr, White, Daniels and Holzbauer, all of whom took full advantage. The trick in the fall will be quickly getting Charles and Williams in tune with Stocco.