If what we saw in spring was happening today, I would say about an 8.5. Through 15 spring practices, the youth of the Wisconsin wide receiver unit could easily be seen. Whether it was during a team scrimmage, 7-on-7 or breakout sessions, the drop-pass bug seemed to be contagious, with the biggest offender being Kyle Jefferson, which was a tad disconcerting since he is the ‘senior' guy in this unit.
The only player that was pretty consistent throughout camp was David Gilreath, who made tremendous steps in becoming a duel threat this season for the Badgers. The spring game was just a sampling of what Gilreath can do, as his three receptions for 79 yards, including a tremendous over the shoulder catch, led all the receivers.
Now, the question was referring to the level of concern today. I'll have a good idea when the media get to watch practice on Saturday but to be perfectly honest, I would say Badger fans should be moderately concerned (about a 5). According to Badger Nation's Ben Voelkel, word from the players is that Jefferson and Gilreath are having a good first week of practice after a very progressive summer. Furthermore, wide receiver coach DelVaughn Alexander knows what he needed to do this summer and was confident that a whole season throwing footballs at one another would shake out the yips.
We will get our first real look on Saturday.
Since Kyle Jefferson and David Gilreath should be the No.1 and No.2 receivers, who is going to step in and be the No.3 receiver?
Looking at the depth chart Bielema released at the Big Ten Media Day ( Link to Depth Chart ), Wisconsin lists its two position back ups as Isaac Anderson and Daven Jones. After watching the two intently during the spring, Bielema has made the right choice.
Entering spring camp fully recovered from a leg injury that kept him out of the 2007 season, Anderson, who told me that he put on about 10 pounds of muscle on his lower body, was one of the most improved players in camp. Anderson was progressing on a decent pace until Jefferson injured himself and had to miss the final two weeks of camp. From that point on, Anderson's performance with the first-team offense was beyond stellar, especially in the red zone. During one session in the red zone, Anderson corralled three separate touchdown passes (one in double coverage, one in the corner and one on the end line) that showed his versatility.
Daven Jones was a standout on special teams and his size (6-1, 200 pounds) shows that he has the ability to be aggressive in the secondary. But like his other receivers, Jones was the victim of drops and needs to improve on catching the ball. However, Jones looks more comfortable than he has in the past, as his route running is tenfold better.
What is the status of Nick Toon?
During the fifth of 15 practices, Toon was injured in a split work drill and ended up pulling his hamstring. Toon had to miss the next four practices before being able to practice again and even then was held to limited work.
It was a huge blow for Toon, who had added 15 pounds onto his skinny frame and was eager to compete for the third-string position. Because of his injury, however, Toon lost his trademark agility and quickness and fell behind the eight ball. When talking about injuries and what players have been limited because of them this summer, Bielema did not mention Toon, which bodes as a good sign that the redshirt freshman is ready to go.
Both players went through a successful shoulder surgery right after the Outback Bowl and both, according to Bielema, are fully healed. In fact, Beckum and Graham had progressed so well that during water breaks, they would run pass-catching routes with the quarterbacks to stay sharp and get some work in. The one concern was if they participated in any contact drills, a blow to the upper body could jar something lose and that simply wasn't a risk anyone wanted to take, especially during the spring season.
Their prognosis for the season is very good, which should make fans feel relieved because of how well the duo complimented each other last season. In the August issue of Badger Nation Magazine, senior contributor Jeff Grimyser sat down with Beckum and he told Jeff that he is feeling 100 percent and is ready for a big season.
With the two starting tight ends being out, who saw the majority of the reps during spring and who could be ready to play in case of an emergency?
Lance Kendricks was the big benefactor in receiving time, which was important considering his position change. Two years ago, Kendricks was one of the top sought-after wide receivers in the country out of Milwaukee. But because of his shear size (6-4), Kendricks was a natural fit at tight end and after adding 15 pounds in the off season, Kendricks was thrown into the mix in the spring.
Talking to him midway through the spring, Kendricks admitted that learning the blocking assignments was a challenge and be able to read the play from the down position. Once he started catching the ball, however, Kendricks had a renewed sense of confidence and played better as the spring went on.
Freshman Jake Byrne also was a big benefactor of the two incumbent starters sitting out. In fact, Byrne decided to graduate early so he could take advantage of the situation. Byrne was thrown into the deep end of the pool from the start and even had to battle through a hand injury that forced him to have his hand wrapped in a harden cast. That hardly stopped Byrne, who made plenty of solid catches throughout spring. It's doubtful that he'll get a ton of playing time with underclassmen in front of him, but Byrne already has a leg up on the competition.