Sophomore Marcus Randle El was suspended for the first seven practices of spring due to a violation of the University of Wisconsin's student-athlete discipline policy. He finished spring on a strong note in the annual Cardinal-White intrasquad game and is poised to join Minton and Holzbauer in competition for top reserve spots in the fall.
Spring MVP — Brandon White. No player on the roster has done more in the past year to improve his prospects than White, with the possible exception of left tackle Joe Thomas. White was the most consistent of UW's receivers. He ran the best routes and exhibited the best hands of any player on the team. White was productive throughout the spring, though Jarvis Minton and Jonathan Orr made more spectacular plays. While he will likely be the team's No. 3 receiver in the fall, White could very well be the Badgers' top receiver if Williams does not recover completely from his shin ailment.
Two seasons ago White was merely a special teams star and a fantastic blocking receiver. Last spring he emerged as a receiving option and become a good possession receiver during the 2004 campaign. This spring he showed more elusiveness with the ball in his hands and an impressive ability to use his route-running skills and body control to stretch the field vertically and make plays. White is not a speed burner, but he is smart and efficient enough to cause the best cover guys problems. He was nearly uncoverable on intermediate routes.
Springing ahead — Minton continued to impress, as he has since he first stepped foot on the practice field in August. With good size, speed and overall skills, Minton is the favorite to be the Badgers' go-to receiver in 2006. He will have a battle on his hands from Holzbauer, however. The walk-on is athletic enough to command playing time the next two seasons and he catches everything he can get his hands on.
Minton probably led UW in receptions this spring. He already has a knack for setting up defensive backs, with good route running and the quickness to get separation out of his breaks. He also was the Badgers' most dynamic receiver this spring after making a catch.
Jonathan Orr has been criticized for his consistency and hands over his years in Madison. He showed improvement in both areas this spring. Perhaps more importantly, Orr displayed a competitive side that he has lacked in the past. He still dropped some catchable passes, but such errors were fewer and farther between. Orr also showed a penchant for the spectacular catch. He has always had elite-level talent, but this is Orr's last shot to put it all together. He took positive strides in that direction this spring.
Pressing questions — Brandon Williams' health is question No. 1. The Badgers' leading receiver two of the past three seasons, Williams needs to be in the lineup.
Orr played well this spring, but he needs to shine in September after a pair of lackluster seasons.
UW tends to use four receivers in its rotation once the Big Ten season rolls around, which, along with their youth and inexperience, is why Minton and Randle El fell out of favor early last season. With that in mind, the competition among that duo and Holzbauer this fall will be fierce. All three boast considerable talent and will headline the receiving corps in 2006. They may develop enough to force the Badgers to spread out their game-day reps more than usual this fall.
Paul Hubbard is another player who factors prominently in UW's future plans. He still is more track athlete than football player, though, and his continued development this fall will be one to watch. There is no more athletically gifted player on the roster at any position.
Looking ahead — After tight end, this is the Badgers' deepest position. Any or all of the three seniors could have big seasons and the next trio also has considerable talent and skill.
If UW's quarterback play is steady — a big question — this corps could be primed for a very productive year. There are few secondaries that will be able to keep these receivers under wraps, especially if the Badgers adjust briskly to the nuances Paul Chryst has brought to the offense as passing game coordinator.
It would be very surprising to see a true freshman get into the mix this season, but class of 2005 receiver T.J. Theus and potential receivers Shane Carter and Jarmal Ruffin could position themselves to compete for prime playing time in 2006 with a strong fall camp and season on the scout team.