Quarterback: A year after Allan Evridge (No.4) was beaten out by Tyler Donovan for the starting job, the fifth-year transfer is back for another shot at quarterbacking the offense. Evridge has been stellar throughout spring practice, running the pro-style, spread and option offenses and looking like a pro throughout all of them. Evridge has the most experience of all the returning quarterbacks with six starts and looks more polished in the offense than he did a year ago.
Chomping on his heels is junior Dustin Sherer (No.18), who has been responsible calling in plays the last two years. For that reason alone, Sherer knows the offense forwards and backwards and that knowledge has showed. Sherer has been outstanding with his timing routes, solid tossing the lob pass over the defense and right into the hands of the receivers and has been exceptional throwing the 10- to 15-yard out route, a route that Bielema has called one of the hardest routes to throw.
The quarterback battle has been an interesting one to watch throughout camp. Sherer has been the most consistent throwing of the two quarterbacks while Evridge has made better decisions with the football (i.e. not throwing into coverage, checking his reads, tucking and running).
No matter what happens on Saturday, this is a battle that will go deep into fall camp.
Wide Receivers: With no veterans catching the football for Wisconsin, the Badgers are in the same situation they were in two years ago when Hubbard and Swan had a combined one catch heading into fall camp. As good as that situation turned out, Wisconsin's wide receivers have certainly shown its youth.
It seems that reporters are asking Bielema everyday if he's concerned with such-and-such's drops. At one time or another, Bielema has called out every wide receiver, demanding better concentration and focus, including sophomore Kyle Jefferson (No.14). The only player that saw significant time at the position last year, Jefferson hasn't looked like the veteran, dropping plenty of catchable passes and is questionable to play in the spring game after running into a concrete barrier and receiving stitches.
David Gilreath (No.85) looks like he's going to be a dual threat this year, returning kicks and catching passes, as he has made a number of diving, outstretched catches on go routes and has done very well in the red zone playing above his 5-foot-11 height, jumping high and winning a number of ball battles with wide receivers.
Isaac Anderson (No.6), Xavier Harris (No.2), Daven Jones (No.81) and Maurice Moore (No.22) have also shown flashes of brilliance throughout camp, especially Jones, who has been the key target on many throws in the last handful of practices and has looked more and more comfortable day in and day out.
Defensive Line: With Nick Hayden gone to the NFL and Jason Chapman recovering from an ACL tear, the Badgers were going to be thin on the defensive line to begin with at the start of spring camp. Since camp open, however, the injury bug has ravaged the defensive line.
Mike Newkirk has surgery the second week of camp to repair a nagging shoulder problem has not practiced, JUCO tackle Dan Moore seriously injured his knee in a one-on-one drill with Brad Thorson, causing Moore to be on crutches and missing significant time and Thorson being unofficially asked to leave the program and O'Brien Schofield broke a bone in his right hand and is now wearing a protective cast around it.
With the injuries, four players have really taken advantage of the reps – Louis Nzegwu (No.93), Jasper Grimes (No.51), Jeff Stehle (No.79) and Patrick Butrym (No.95). A typical, blue-collared worker, Butrym has impressed the coaching staff with his quickness, agility and his toughness. All he's missing is some added strength, which he should put on in the off season, causing him to be a valuable component to the defensive line.
Mike Linebacker: Two linebackers each listed as the number-one linebacker and both having plenty to prove equals an intense battle for the starting middle linebacker position. After struggling through injuries last season and missing the few weeks of camp, Elijah Hodge (No.52) has looked like a man fighting for his position and shows no signs of the injuries that plagued him last season. Hodge has made a number of big plays through the spring, including being sound on reading the offensive linemen, which has allowed Hodge when he's on the blitz to get in the backfield.
On the other hand, Culmer St. Jean (No.15) has picked off a number of passes off the arms of both Evridge and Sherer and has looked very good in pass protection during 6-on-6 and 11-on-11 drills. Just a sophomore, St. Jean has seen just as many reps with the first team as Hodge has, which means to believe that both will see plenty of time on the field in 2008.
Kicker: Fans might be reminded in 2008 just how valuable kicker Taylor Mehlhaff was to the team and the battle to replace the All-American kicker will be a stark reminder. The battle to replace Mehlhaff is between Matt Fischer (No.96) and Phil Welch (No.18) and both have been successful in spurts. Fischer has been the most consistent throughout camp but his maximum range is 40 yards. On the other hand, Welch has a booming leg and will be handling the kickoff duties, according to Bielema, in 2008. The problem is Welch has either been spot on or dead off, as he's missed a couple short-yardage field goals on the Camp Randall turf.
Both kickers will get a good sense of live game-action as Wisconsin will do rapid-fire field goals at the start of the second and fourth quarter. That way both kickers get the feel of kicking in a stadium full of people and fans will get their first look at what is to come.
Offensive Players to Watch
Isaac Anderson (No.6): After forcing to take a medical redshirt last year, Anderson is finally healthy and ready to contribute. After a slow start to his spring season, Anderson has caught on to the pace of the game, literally. Over the last handful of practices, Anderson has caught virtually every challenging pass that has come his way, leaping, diving and slashing to the football. With Jefferson out on Thursday, Anderson saw considerable reps with the first team and took advantage, catching touchdown passes in the red zone off the arms of Evridge and Sherer.
With a plethora of youth at wide receiver, Anderson's emergence will be important to the success of the offense and will start Saturday in his first game action in over a year.
John Clay (No.32): What's not to like about Wisconsin's power freshman running back? Clay has the size (235 pounds) to be a bruiser, power runner and to punish defenders in his path and the agility, footwork and speed to run outside the tackle and out run the defense. Don't forget that Clay has the moves, too. In back-to-back plays on Thursday, Clay put a 360-spin move on a linebacker before turning on the jets and then bowling over a charging defensive end a play later.
This will be the first time fans will get to see Clay and if he plays how he has practices, fans will have to pick their jaws up from the Camp Randall aisles.
P.J. Hill (No.39): While fans will be impressed with seeing Clay's athleticism, fans will be thrilled to just finally be able to see Hill during spring. Healthy and feeling the best he's felt in his career, Hill has a spring in his step since the beginning of the workouts and has been taken advantage of his reps with the first team, running as hard as he would normally during a regular season game. Although he probably won't play as much in order to allow the other running backs to see time, it'll be interesting to see how Hill approaches his first spring game and what kind of impression he makes.
John Moffitt (No.74): The only ‘newcomer' to the offensive line in 2008, Moffitt under center is going to open up a world of possibilities for the Badgers. Playing in half a dozen games at left guard last year, Moffitt started taking reps at center during bowl practice to take over for departed senior Marcus Coleman. The result has been a complete success, as Moffitt's abilities to long snap have allowed Wisconsin to run some shotgun formations in addition to its traditional package, something that is going to make the Badger offense tougher to defend in 2008.
Curt Phillips (No.10): Although he's the fifth quarterback in the five-man rotation, Phillips has shown that he won't stay in that position for long. A highly decorated prep quarterback from Tennessee, Phillips certainly has gone through growing pains this spring learning the offense and getting acclimated to the speed and style of the college game. Even so, Phillips showed his growth Thursday, completing some tough passes over the middle in traffic and some solid out routes. Phillips will probably play in the second half, giving fans a good reason to stick around.
Mickey Turner (No.36): With number one tight end Travis Beckum and number two guy Garrett Graham out for spring workouts, Turner has been given the starting job until Beckum is healthy enough to return and has been impressive showing his blocking assignments and catching the ball whenever it's thrown to him. Turner will be left out when the two guys return but has set himself up nicely to be a key contributor next season.
Defensive Players to Watch
Niles Brinkley (No.29) and Mario Goins (No.28): Just like no returning starter being available for practice on the defensive line, the cornerback position is missing returning starters Aaron Henry (knee), Allen Langford (knee) and Jack Ikegwuonu (NFL). Because of this, freshman cornerback Mario Goins and sophomore Niles Brinkley have been the ‘lucky' recipients of the first team reps.
Both Brinkley and Goins have been tested by the number one unit throughout camp. Both have been burned on their fair share of plays, but Goins has made some nice recovery plays after being out of position and Brinkley has skied for a couple interceptions. It's a fair statement that whoever performs better Saturday will have the inside route at being the third cornerback in the Badger package, a role that belonged to Henry last year.
Chris Maragos (No.21): Starting the spring as the number three strong safety, Maragos, a wide receiver transfer from Western Michigan, was suppose to spend the spring learning the position. That was, until, junior Kim Royston up and left the program after spring break, a move that switched Maragos from strong safety to the number two free safety position behind Carter. Another player that has gone through growing pains, you can't fault Maragos effort and, slowly and surely, has looked more comfortable learning the brand new position. Going against the number one offense on Saturday, Maragos will face his toughest test on Saturday.
O'Brien Schofield (No.50): Schofield got his first taste of action during the Outback Bowl and has used that experience to motivate him throughout spring football, even after was injured. In blocking drills, Schofield fractured a bone in his right wrist and was thought to miss an extended period of time. As it turns out, Schofield has his hand secured in a club-type device, back on the field two days later and made a number of deflections with his club.
With number two end Louis Nzegwu making plenty of strides this spring, as well, Schofield will have to turn in a solid performance Saturday.
Jay Valai (No.26): Nobody has more impressive on defense than Valai, who has registered the most unofficial interceptions of the 2008 camp and been extremely physical. Coming off a season where he played in 11 games, Valai has seen the majority of his reps with the first team and has given plenty of unsuspecting wide receivers some solid hits. With Pleasant struggling last year at the safety position, Valai looks to be on the inside track to grabbing the starting position with a solid spring game.