Spring wrap-up: Wide receivers

Part 5 of BadgerNation.com's look back at Wisconsin's 2006 spring football practice season

News and notes — Needing to replace the top three receivers from a year ago, several new faces stepped up. But it was difficult to get a complete read on the position due to injuries.

Paul Hubbard, Jarvis Minton and Marcus Randle El entered the spring as the top receivers at the X, Z and R (slot) positions. Minton, though, suffered a recurrence of the right foot injury that forced him to miss the last four games of last season. It was another setback for the player long thought to have the inside track at being UW's No. 1 receiver in 2006.

Hubbard and Randle El maintained their spots at X and R, respectively. Randle El also spent time this spring at X and Z and heads into the summer in the depth at both of those positions. However, with six true freshmen likely to play wide receiver, the Badgers will hope to have players settle in with specific positions during fall training camp, rather than being forced to play across the board.

Luke Swan was another player asked to learn each position. Prior to suffering an injury that forced him to miss the latter half of the spring, Swan had positioned himself well within the depth. On UW's official post-spring depth chart, Swan is listed as the backup to starter Randle El at one receiver spot, while Minton is listed as Hubbard's backup.

Jeff Holzbauer recovered from a serious water skiing injury that robbed him of his junior season last year and was playing well this spring before he too suffered an injury.

Among the receivers who stayed healthy throughout the spring, Jarmal Ruffin, T. J. Theus and walk-on Richard Kirtley filled out the depth behind Hubbard and Randle El. With Minton, Holzbauer and Swan out, Ruffin actually spent much of the last couple weeks of spring as the top Z receiver.

Walk-on Shane Phillips broke his hand during spring ball. Walk-ons Derek Konkol and Matt Gifford rounded out the receiving corps.

Spring MVP — Randle El. He did not make as many plays as Hubbard, or, for that matter, often times Kirtley, but no receiver caught the ball as consistently as Randle El. At his size (5-foot-10, 191 pounds) and with his quickness, Randle El is a natural slot receiver, and that looks like his future home with the Badgers, though he will also serve a role in two-receiver sets.

Springing ahead — Hubbard made a big-time jump this spring, putting his outstanding athletic ability to good use. Simply stated Hubbard is too strong and too fast and too good of a leaper for just about any defensive back to handle him. He still needs to refine his route running and develop more consistent hands. But his development is accelerating, and not a moment too soon. The Badgers certainly could use the big plays Hubbard can provide.

Pressing questions — Will Minton put his injuries behind him and hold down the starting spot he certainly has the talent to command? Only time will tell. Minton was UW's No. 4 receiver last year and looked poised to stride into the lead role this season before the injuries.

Can Holzbauer and Swan bounce back from their spring injuries and earn a spot in the depth when the season begins? Both players have very good hands, are good route runners and are better athletes then they are given credit for. They can contribute, but fall training camp is going to be mighty crowded at receiver, with as many as 17 players at the position.

How much room is there for true freshmen to earn playing time? Plenty. Especially if a newcomer can display an ability to consistently run routes correctly and fluidly, and consistently catch the ball in traffic.

In the past UW has rotated four, maybe five receivers. Expect that number to expand to between six and eight, as the Badgers use more three-receiver sets. That should leave an opening for two or three true freshmen, as the coaching staff has stated in the past.

Looking ahead — This remains a fairly wide open position and it will be interesting to see just how many receivers end up being in the Badgers' rotation when the season begins in September.

Last fall there seemed to be a never-ceasing stream of positive feelings for the receiving corps. The Badgers had high-end talent, quality role players and plenty of depth.

Now, UW's receiving corps is chock full of questions marks. But on the positive side, there appears to be several players who are improving with the competition and have positioned themselves for an opportunity at playing time in the fall. There are plenty of ifs to go around, but there is also enough talent here to field an above-average corps of receivers. And an above-average receiving corps, if it materializes, mixed with a very good quarterback in John Stocco, would make UW's passing game just fine.

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