The young and the versatile

Joe Thomas and Marcus Randle El have the dynamic athletic ability necessary to play a variety of positions

A number of different schools recruited Marcus Randle El to play a number of different positions. Some saw him as a cornerback, others as a wide receiver, running back or return specialist. All he wanted, though, was a chance to play quarterback.

"I had a lot of questions for (Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez) about would size matter at the quarterback spot?" Randle El said after committing last January. "Would I be given a fair chance? Would he let me come down and compete? And he told me yes so I really felt good about that."

Indeed, Wisconsin's willingness to give Randle El a shot at quarterback was a determining factor in his commitment.

The Badgers do plan to use Randle El as a quarterback, quite possibly as early as this season. But he is going to show up in other spots on the field as well.

"If he's going to play, then we'll put something together for him at quarterback," Alvarez said during last week's Big Ten media days. "I'd like to use him as a receiver and quarterback and kick returner. I'd like to get him on the field."

Quarterbacks coach Jeff Horton agrees.

"We're going to package some things up for him and he's going to be kind of a triple threat kind of guy," Horton said in a phone interview last week.

Alvarez said Marcus Randle El could be used the way Pittsburgh Steelers use his older brother, Antwan Randle El. He could appear on the field as short-yardage or red zone quarterback. Or the Badgers might insert him as a receiver, then put him under center and flex quarterback John Stocco to receiver, just to confuse the defense. Randle El could, in theory, run his package of quarterback plays while lining up in the backfield at tailback or quarterback.

"If you could put a package together with him it doesn't change anybody else," Alvarez said. "We can run our schemes and whether it be option or quarterback draw or play-action pass, we'll take advantage of what he can do. I'm really excited about seeing how far along he is and how he can contribute."

"The one thing I know is if you've got a guy that can make plays for you, you've got to get him on the field somewhere," Horton said.

Randle El will be asked to concentrate on receiver to see if he can help the team at that position while the coaches concurrently develop a package of plays for him at quarterback. The Badgers are thin at kick returner behind Brandon Williams, so Randle El would have a good shot at being the second deep back. Reserve tailback Booker Stanley is currently listed as the No. 2 kick returner.

Two-way Thomas?

All Joe Thomas did at the beginning of the 2003 season was become the first true freshman offensive lineman ever to play during Alvarez' tenure at Wisconsin. He spent the season as the team's No. 3 offensive tackle and was used as a blocking tight end.

He concluded the 2003 season as a starting defensive end, making seven tackles against Auburn in the Music City Bowl.

Thomas looked like the starter at left tackle during spring practices and will compete with incumbent tackles Morgan Davis and Mike Lorenz for a starting job. In the unlikely event that he does not win a starting job, he will again work his way into the rotation as a blocking tight end.

In any case, he could also be used at defensive end yet again.

"A year ago Joe Thomas wasn't ready right away," Alvarez said. "But he proved to me he's a special athlete. He's smart, he's tough, he's athletic. We're going to give him a chance to compete at tackle.

"We'll probably let Joe do a little work on defense. I think he's smart enough and a good enough athlete. It's not beyond me to move him around and take advantage of his abilities."

"You don't want to wear him out, but he's a special athlete," Alvarez added.

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