Welcome back to spring (football)

Badgers begin their final 10 spring practices this afternoon

The University of Wisconsin football team wrapped up its first five spring practices a week and a half ago, before going on a spring break intermission. A look at what we have learned and what to look for the rest of the way.


What have we learned? The depth chart in the first five days of spring mirrored the end of the season, with John Stocco followed by Tyler Donovan, Bryan Savage and Craig Meier. Stocco received the vast majority of the work with the first offense, while Donovan and Savage rotated to a degree, with Donovan receiving a little more work with the second team.

Stocco is the furthest along right now and he has improved after starting and playing extensively for the first time last season. By and large he has done a better job on deep passes and out routes than he did even in bowl workouts, though there is still certainly room for improvement, and he continues to look good throwing intermediate routes.

The rest of the equation stayed true to expectations. Donovan is probably the most athletic of the three, whereas Savage has the strongest arm and appears to have the most potential. He is learning his reads in his first real work with the Badgers' offense, after redshirting last season. Savage showed his gritty side in a scrimmage session at the end of the first five-practice set, getting the better of two defenders in open-field collisions at the end of scrambles.

What to look for? No. 1, can Donovan hold off Savage for the No. 2 spot heading into the summer? It is possible — Donovan is showing some improvement and he can definitely make things happen with his legs, but he will have to display even greater improvement in his passing to keep Savage at bay. Savage has not been a world-beater, and he has made his share of mistakes, but the potential is obvious. When things click for him, look out.

Running backs

What have we learned? There is very, very little depth at tailback, especially in the spring. Brian Calhoun and Booker Stanley have split reps with the first team and each will be fine in the fall. Calhoun is an elite-level player who gives UW a lot of flexibility with his pass catching skills and ability to line up all over the field. Stanley proved last season that he can also be a threat as a pass receiver out of the backfield. This spring he is building on that skill set and, more importantly, has a bounce back in his running stride that was missing last season.

But as it looks now, if UW has any injuries there could be issues. The only other tailback working out this spring is walk-on Dywon Rowan, who could help the Badgers in short yardage situations. He is a willing, hard working player, who looks destined to be a scout team star, but may have to help in the pinch.

Tailback Jamil Walker is not practicing due to an injury and is missing valuable time. UW needs another tailback to emerge in the summer of fall.

Fullback is par for the course: Matt Bernstein is terrific, but there are question marks behind him.

What to look for? Chris Pressley's future is at fullback but he has received reps back at tailback this spring, as a result of that lack of depth. He could serve as a short yardage back in the fall if he develops well this spring.

The backup fullback job is wide open. Bernstein will be a senior in the fall, so now is the time when his successor will start to show himself. Billy Rentmeester and Josh Balts are running neck-and-neck, with Pressley also in the mix.

Receivers and tight ends

What have we learned? With Brandon Williams nursing a stress fracture, Brandon White and Jonathan Orr have run with the first team and played well. Orr once again has shown flashes of being the deep threat the Badgers need and White continues to progress into a very capable receiver, though he will likely be the team's third option, behind Williams and Orr, when the season begins next fall.

The battle for the No. 4 receiver spot is between Jarvis Minton and Jeff Holzbauer and Minton has the edge right now. Minton has displayed the potential to do just about everything at the position. He combines good speed with very good hands and quickness out of his cuts, allowing him to beat defensive backs on quick outs or deep balls. He is still refining some rough edges, as any young player would be, but he looks like a contributor.

Owen Daniels, Jason Pociask and Joe Nellis give UW a very good senior trio at tight end. This may be the Badgers' strongest position, with a potential All-Big Ten player in Daniels, a very solid co-starter in Pociask and a good reserve in Nellis. Daniels will still flex out as a receiver, but he is now big and strong enough to play with his hand down as an in-line tight end.

What to look for? The continued development of Minton, Holzbauer, Paul Hubbard and others is crucial for the long-term success of the Badgers. With three senior receivers in front of them, this is the future of UW's pass catching corps. Marcus Randle El, who will come off a suspension this weekend, is another player to watch.

Pociask has improved his pass catching ability and looks to be a significant part of the passing game this season. Nellis is a good blocker who gives the Badgers solid depth. As UW looks to 2006, the development of youngsters Sean Lewis, Dave Peck and Matt Brown is key, and remains a work in progress.

Offensive line

What have we learned? Three starting spots look secure, which was not a surprise. Joe Thomas returns to play left tackle and Donovan Raiola returns for his third season as the starting center. Jason Palermo, an understudy the past three seasons, will step in and start at right guard. The right tackle spot, however, is wide open, with Danny Kaye and Kraig Urbik rotating there in the first portion of the spring. Left guard is also an open competition, with the veteran Matt Lawrence taking first team reps ahead of true freshman Andy Kemp.

What to look for? In addition to quarterback, this may be the most intriguing position this spring, particularly with all the potential juggling. Kemp could end up at right tackle, Marcus Coleman, who has been backing up Palermo at right guard, could get in the mix at left guard, as could either Kaye or Urbik. Effectively, the two open line spots are going to come down to a battle among five players. After five practices, Lawrence and Kaye held the edge, but these are still anyone's jobs to win.

Defensive line

What have we learned? The spring-opening depth was pretty much as expected, with tackles Justin Ostrowski and Nick Hayden starting alongside ends Jamal Cooper and Joe Monty. End Kurt Ware has anchored the second team and rotated in with Monty on the first unit, while tackles Jason Chapman, Mark Gorman and Gino Cruse, and ends Mike Newkirk and Brandon Kelly are vying for reserve roles.

What to look for? The continued development of Ware, a converted tight end, will be key to this line's success. He may be the x-factor, a big, athletic player who could be a difference maker. Monty is a tough, fundamentally sound player but he does not look like someone who is going to make a lot of plays. Ware could be that guy.

Likewise, Jason Chapman could be the difference maker at tackle. He is coming off an injury and still is not completely healthy, but he has the physical tools to cause havoc on the interior. Ostrowski and Hayden are big athletes who can hold their own physically, but, like Monty, they are not going to be playing in the backfield very often. If they keep the opposing offensive linemen off UW's linebackers, however, they will be successful.


What have we learned? Not much has changed here since bowl season ended. Mark Zalewski and Andy Crooks continue to be the anchors. With Dontez Sanders nursing an injury, LaMarr Watkins has stepped up to play the will spot with the first team. The biggest news of spring has been the emergence of redshirt freshman will backer Jammar Crane in reserve. Walk-on Josh Neal is pushing Elliot Goode for the backup mike spot behind Crooks.

What to look for? Wisconsin will welcome an immense corps of talented freshman linebackers in the fall (the exact number is to be determined, with some of the class of 2005 in position limbo). The exiting linebackers must prove their worth this spring or they will be buried in the fall. This is a make or break for reserves such as Paul Joran and Goode. Younger players like Nick Sutton and Crane also need to put their best foot forward to have a leg up for the fall.


What have we learned? With Brett Bell out with a knee injury, Levonne Rowan and Allen Langford are the first-team corners, with Jack Ikegwuonu, Antonio Freeman and Ben Strickland in reserve.

Roderick Rogers and Johnny White have held down the starting safety spots, with Zach Hampton and Joe Stellmacher in reserve. All four look like capable starters. Redshirt freshman Jameson Davis converted from corner to free safety and is serving on the third team with strong safety James Kamoku, who converted back to safety from linebacker.

What to look for? Watch for a more heated battle to develop between the top four safeties, all very talented players who can cover a lot of ground in the backfield.

Langford is playing very well and could push Rowan for a starter's job opposite a fully recuperated Bell. As he did last fall, Ikegwuonu has shown off quite a bit of talent and will be a capable reserve. The top four corners will be solid, if Bell is completely healthy in the fall. He is without question the best defensive back UW has coming back.

Special teams

What have we learned? The return jobs are anyone's for the taking, with Minton, Calhoun, Rowan and Freeman working thus far at both kick and punt returner. Steven Johnson has the edge on Dave Peck at long snapper and Taylor Melhaff holds a slight lead on Adam Schober at place kicker. Strickland and Hampton are the punt team gunners and Hampton will probably again be the second deep guy on kick returns.

What to look for? If Williams comes back this spring from his stress fracture, he will become part of the competition at both kick and punt returner, and possibly the favorite. Randle El will be another player in the mix. With Williams, Rowan and Calhoun all likely starting elsewhere, though, younger players like Minton, Freeman and Randle El will get a very close look.

The Melhaff/Schober battle will likely play out through the fall.

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