But with six players returning who caught passes last season, UW has a group, with just one senior, that combined for 28 starts and 116 games played. Expectations are high for a wide receiver unit that only got better as the season wore on.
"It's all about competition," wide receiver coach DelVaughn Alexander said. "Each guy has to go after each other and it's about respecting each other. At the same time, they have to be selfish enough to want to be on the field the entire game. It's about finding your players, who is going to be productive for you in the fall and putting a team together. It's about understanding the responsibilities of each individual."
UW's leading wideout last season was David Gilreath (520 yards), but Gilreath is also remembered for his end-arounds and his kick returns, not for his abilities as a wide receiver. Since the start of spring camp, the junior wide receiver has been focused on getting better off the line of scrimmage and using his speed to make the plays in traffic.
After Gilreath, the Badger production dropped off, as Isaac Anderson (286), Nick Toon (257), Kyle Jefferson (189), Maurice Moore (61) and Elijah Theus (17) were the only other means of receiving offense for UW.
"We can be as good as we work," Gilreath said. "I think we can be great by the end of the day, but we'll see."
This season, the player to watch out for is Toon, who carried the momentum from the end of last season into spring practice and looked tremendous. He showed the athleticism to beat corners with his crisp route-running, his superb hand-eye coordination, his ability to adjust to the ball and his ability to out jump and defend. Combine all those things, and Toon is due for a breakout season.
"When he plays with confidence, he can be pretty good," Offensive Coordinator Paul Chryst said of Toon. "He's got good hands. I think he's running well. I think a young guy won't play as fast as a guy that feels settled in. I think last year gave him some confidence and I think with that, he's able to cut it loose a little more. I am excited for where he could end up."
In addition to Toon, Wisconsin saw vast improvements from Anderson as the season progressed. Anderson, who missed all of 2007 because of a hamstring injury, took over the starting job in week six and showed his abilities with a six-catch, 114-yard performance against his home state team, Minnesota. Anderson also may be UW's best blocking wide receiver, as he was named UW's co-offensive player of the week against Indiana after not registering a catch, but delivering key blocks to help Gilreath to a career day rushing.
In the team's last five games, both Anderson and Toon hit their stride after getting acclimated to the offense and the game speed, catching 26 passes for 383 yards and one touchdown.
Others players to watch out for are incoming freshman Kraig Appleton from East Saint Louis (a highly ranked player by Scout who committed to UW over Illinois and has plenty of excitement surrounding him) and Jefferson, who was thrown off his game the last two seasons after suffering a couple of concussions.
"It was a down year," Jefferson said. "I didn't expect it to go that way. Things happened. Unfortunately coincidence happened and things like that. I just had to fight through one of the toughest years I have had since I started playing sports."
After admitting to doing a lot of soul-searching during the winter, Jefferson, who has added roughly 12 pounds to his frame, looks like his old self from a receiving standpoint, and should use his size and agility to make solid catches.
With a mixture of size, speed, experience and plenty of game action under their belts, it should be expected that Wisconsin will have a deep and talented rotation throughout the season. With a solid running attack, the Badger receivers should be faced with plenty of one-on-one opportunities, something that will highly benefit Anderson, Gilreath and Toon.
Fall Depth Chart
Wide Receiver (Z)
Jr. David Gilreath (5-11, 162)
So. Nick Toon (6-3, 207)
Sr. T.J. Theus (6-2, 188)
Wide Receiver (X)
Jr. Isaac Anderson (5-11, 180)
Jr. Kyle Jefferson (6-5, 180)
Fr. Kraig Appleton (6-3, 190)
Once again, the Badgers have two solid tight ends that should be vital to UW's success.
After the first-team All-Big Ten selection flirted with leaving early for the NFL Draft, senior Garrett Graham, the Badgers' leader in receptions (40), receiving yards (540) and receiving touchdowns (5) in 2008, will be the most experienced and most reliable target on Wisconsin's roster.
"When you think about Garrett, he is that smart, tough, dependable guy that you want to have in your offense," said tight end coach Joe Rudolph about Graham, who missed two full games last season. "He brings his hardhat and makes sure he gets it done, which makes him a guy that his teammates can count on."
At 6-foot-4, 248 pounds, Graham will be a big target for the Badgers in the redzone, where he has done most of his damage during his career. Don't be fooled though, Graham does have the athleticism to make plays with his feet and be physical in traffic.
"Adding up all those stats at the end of the season is great, but I am not a game-to-game guy like that," Graham said. "I just want to win a lot of games and be productive. That pretty much sums up my personal goals."
Backing up Graham this year is sophomore Lance Kendricks, who showed early promise during UW's first two games. After Travis Beckum went down with a season-ending leg injury, Kendricks was called in for duty against Michigan State. This time, however, Kendricks wasn't as lucky, breaking his leg in the first half against the Spartans and missing the final two games of the season, but he was able to return and contribute in UW's bowl game.
With a healthy Graham and Kendricks on the field, the Badgers have a solid receiving tandem that UW's quarterback, whomever gets the job, has to feel confident about. Throw traditional tight end Mickey Turner into the equation, a durable junior who played in all 13 games last season, and the Badgers have plenty of experience at the position.
"I'm anxious to see the group and how they handle their new leadership roles," said Rudolph. "They already do a good job of handling their business and knowing how they fit into the system."
Fall Depth Chart
Sr. Garrett Graham (6-4, 248)
Jr. Lance Kendricks (6-4, 237)
Sr. Mickey Turner (6-4, 250)
So. Jake Byrne (6-5, 245)
So. Rob Korslin (6-5, 254)