Spring Grades - Runners and Receivers

With the spring game now in their review mirror, the Wisconsin Badgers turn their focus to their 2009 season opener against Northern Illinois, which is just over 135 short days away. After letting the dust settle, Badger Nation publisher Benjamin Worgull breaks down the positions post spring.

MADISON - Even being dinged up over the past two weeks with a tender ankle, sophomore John Clay hardly missed a rep, showing that he can handle the grind of a 12-game conference schedule and be the work horse for the Badgers.

Even when battered and bruise, Clay still has some moves, as he took an inside run on 4-1 from his own 21 and bounced it outside for 10 yards when the left side of the offensive line was clogged. Clay finished with 12 carries for 62 yards and looks prepared, should he lose a couple pounds, to have a solid 2009 season.

Zach Brown is quicker than he was last season, and more patient in the backfield. On a handoff from Phillips, Brown waiting a stutter step to see the hole develop and burst through for a lengthy gain; a play that easily could have been a touchdown if it wasn't for a shoe-string tackle by Shane Carter.

Brown's numbers (14 carries, 110 yards, one touchdown) show that he has answered his coach's challenge to get back into form.

"I really Zach," Bielema said. "He's physical, he's strong, he's into it. I know that everybody wants to focus on John clay, but I think Zach brings some durability to the position. I like the way he's able to play on zone plays (and) he's able to bounce some things."

Freshman Erik Smith was corralled much of the day until late in the fourth quarter, when he was able to showcase his lightening speed by taking a handoff on a sweep to the right and simply out ran the entire front seven. Marcus Cromartie eventually caught up to him and managed to push the redshirt freshman out after an 18-yard gain.

Smith had a monster spring and an outstanding spring game, carrying the ball eight times for 66 yards. Smith is the missing link for the Badgers – a shifty running back with a burst of speed that can instantly change the game.

"Erik Smith, he has a little sliver of room, he can get through there and he has a big burst," Bielema said. "I really like what Erik brings."

In fact, each running back brings something different to the table for the Badgers, a fact that will make Wisconsin's running game much better than a season before.

Projected Depth Chart

1) John Clay, Sophomore

2) Zach Brown, Junior

3) Erik Smith, Freshman

Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

The lasting memory from the wide receivers last spring game was drop passes every where one looked on the field. This time around, the receivers looked much more comfortable with a year of experience under the belt.

The receivers and tight end made the quarterbacks look pretty good on Saturday, as freshman T.J. Williams, Nick Toon and Lance Kendricks all made adjustments and hauled in underthrown catches for lengthy gains. Kendricks' catch was the most impressive, as he adjusted to an underthrown ball by Phillips that just hung in the air. Kendricks came back to pass and despite border-line pass interference coverage by Otis Merrill, hauled in the 30-yard touchdown.

Garrett Graham, whose parents flew out from New Jersey to see him play his last spring game, had himself a good game, catching an 18-yard touchdown pass from Sherer and catching a 15-yard bullet over the middle from Phillips on his first pass attempt of the day.

Once again, the Badgers have a couple of solid tight ends that are going to be vital to UW's success in 2009.

"We're a tight-end oriented offense and … I really like our tight end core," Bielema said. "I think Garrett Graham really understands it and gets it. Mickey Turner is playing really good and we can use him in that fullback position. I think Lance Kendricks is one of those guys sitting in the wings. You look at him, he's got all the bumps in all the right places. He's athletic, gifted and I like what he brings."

One of the better plays of the day involved Toon, which had been a reoccurring theme throughout spring ball. Although the play probably should have or could have been ruled a sack, Sherer completed a 38-yard inside slant route to Toon, who had a step on sophomore cornerback Antonio Fenelus.

Toon also caught a touchdown pass in the final three minutes of the fourth quarter, as Phillips' high-pass attempt was in a perfect spot for the sophomore, as he out jumped defensive back Andrew Lukasko for the score.

Toon, who finished with game highs in catches (four) and yards (62), carried the momentum from the end of last season into the spring and looked tremendous, showing his athleticism to beat corners with his crisp route running, his superb hand-eye coordinator, his ability to adjust to the ball or his ability to out jump and defender. Combine all those things and Toon is due for a breakout season.

Another player to watch out for is junior Kyle Jefferson, who was thrown off his game last season with a couple of concussions and losing some of his edge. In an interview with Badger Nation at the start of the spring, Jefferson admitted that he did a lot of soul searching during the winter and knows this season that the main thing he needs to do is run without fear. Throughout spring, that motto could be seen, as Jefferson used his size and agility to make plenty of solid catches and is setting himself up for success.

"Kyle Jefferson made a strong finish here to this last week and he kind of struggled a week ago," Bielema said. "That comes from getting reps. The only way you are going to improve is get the number of workouts and get better everyday and I think (he) did that."

Combine Jefferson and Toon with David Gilreath (UW's leading receiver last year) and Isaac Anderson (who was injured in the spring game but made plenty of strides) and Wisconsin has four receivers that have clearly separated themselves from the pack. UW also has plenty of depth at the position, as redshirt freshman T.J. Williams (two catches, 21 yards), senior Elijah Theus (three catches, 29 yards) and junior Nate Emanuel (one catch, 30 yards) all showed flashes this spring and can be used in the fall.

Projected Depth Chart

Wide Receiver

1) David Gilreath, Junior

2) Kyle Jefferson, Junior

3) T.J. Williams, Freshman

Wide Receiver

1) Isaac Anderson, Junior

2) Nick Toon, Sophmore

3) Kraig Appleton, Freshman

Tight End

1) Garrett Graham, Senior

2) Mickey Turner, Senior

3) Rob Korslin, Sophomore

H-back

1) Lance Kendricks, Junior

2) Jake Byrne, Freshman

3) Zach Davison, Freshman


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