Though a starting quarterback may not be nailed down for now, there is very little doubt who the starting tailback and tight end will be for 2007.
THE CONTENDERS (RB): PJ Hill, Lance Smith-Williams, Jamil Walker, Bill Rentmeester, Chris Pressley, John Clay, Zach Brown.
THE CONTENDERS (TE): Travis Beckum, Andy Crooks, Sean Lewis.
THEY USED TO CALL HIM MR. TOUCHDOWN...
Well, I don't think PJ Hill can run, kick, and throw - or maybe he can. Though he might surprise us all quite a bit if given the chance. In high school, he averaged 16 TD runs per season. Guess how many he had in 2006 for the Badgers? 16. He amassed 1,569 yards, which placed him seventh on the NCAA all-time single season rushing list for freshman. Mr. Hill's total was also good for sixth best in the history of Wisconsin football, and the running back position is pretty deep to say the least. He is a push the pile kind of guy, but shows alarmingly good speed once he gets in the open field. PJ is not a change of pace, cutback type of runner. That can be said of Lance Smith-Williams, though.
Also a true freshman last season, Lance was the third down back and the guy who was called upon to give Hill a break once and again. When called upon, Smith was very reliable. His 345 yards and five touchdowns were good enough for second best on the team. If you were to take away Hill's performance in the season opener against Bowling Green, the 41 yards by Lance would have been the best freshman season opening total since Ron Dayne in 1996. He is happy to be a part of the whole, and has said so many times in post game interviews. You have to like a guy like that on your side.
Very few recruits in the country, at this position, had more attention following them than did Johnny Clay. His high school statistics and performance have been well chronicled. For him to decide to stay home in Wisconsin, knowing full well that he may not see much of the field right away (at running back) shows the power and respect the program and Coach Bielema have with players and coaches around the state and country. Clay has drawn comparisons to a young Jim Brown by Tom Lemming. He has all the tools to be a big time player, but patience may need to be the most prominent. Zach Brown is a shifty, cutback type of runner. He may be down the depth chart, but that will not stop him from fighting for time. The question is will he remain at the position for his whole career in Madison.
At fullback, Bill Rentmeester returns to anchor the hole for Hill and company. However, Chris Pressley is back from injury and was slated to be the starter until he injured his leg in fall camp. He accepted a redshirt for last season. Jamil Walker was given the nod by many preseason publications as the starting tailback for last season. We all know how that ended up. He is a key to special teams, and makes the hit in coverage. Perhaps the most cut guy on the team - cut in the fact that his arms look like tree trunks. The guy definitely does not cheat the weight room.
As for the tight ends, Travis Beckum sort of stole the show in 2006. He led the team with 61 receptions for 903 yards (both of which are single season records for tight ends). The 61 receptions are the third most for any player in Badger football history. Travis' yardage total ranks fifth all time. He arrived on campus as a linebacker. Tackling is probably not in his future. At 6'4", 220 lbs. and running a 4.5-4.6 forty time, he is the prototype for normal first round wide receivers. So you realize what trouble most linebackers face having to guard this guy mono y mono. Teams will not be so surprised by him this season, but I still think he gets All-BT and, perhaps, All-American awards when the smoke clears.
Andy Crooks is a nice second option. He is the most physical tight end on the squad. Andy has the ability to make the big block or hold the line, but also can make the nice catch across the middle. AC hauled in four balls last year for scores. He and Beckum are a nice 1-2 punch at the position. Sean Lewis gets a snap or two now and again, but is used primarily on special teams. Shows the ability to sustain his blocks and would be a nice option if one of the two guys in front of him on the depth chart were to take a fall.
FINDING A CONTINUITY
Beckum has said in the preseason that he has a nice mesh with Tyler Donovan and Allan Evridge, the two guys fighting to take John Stocco's vacant starting job. He and TD hooked up for the longest play from scrimmage last season versus Buffalo, a 62 yard completion. The two did not miss a beat when Tyler stood in for the injured Stocco in Iowa City. Travis and TD connected eight times, which was tied for his season and career single game high. He also grabbed eight balls against Northwestern. So, as long as the line gives the new guy time, it seems pretty obvious that Beckum and Crooks will get ample opportunity to catch the ball.
KEEP ON KEEPING ON
I think that Wisconsin will ride the wave of PJ Hill again. His success will directly lead to how the quarterback and his targets succeed. Hill is not going to try and finesse you. He will run at you and hit you in the mouth, and, more than likely, the first guy is not going to have a chance. That is something you have to love.
Hill - 1500 yards, 14 TD
Beckum - 52 rec., 592 yards, 8 TD
Smith-Williams - 420 yards, 5 TD
Crooks - 18 rec., 175 yards, 3 TD