Now that the Wisconsin Football’s spring game has come and gone, the team will not get the feel of another officiated game until their opener on August 30th.
The time, starting now, leading up to their season-opener against LSU will serve as a period for the coaching staff to evaluate their current roster and begin forming a tentative depth chart. Now that team’s spring is wrapping up, it is time to take a closer look at three positional battles that their depth chart will feature.
Although this position seems to currently be the strongest for Wisconsin’s offense, the positional battle is at the number three spot on the depth chart. No one is going to leapfrog Corey Clement as the second option behind Melvin Gordon, but their offensive system benefits from having an effective option at the third tailback position.
News broke right around the spring game last week that senior running back Jeff Lewis would be transferring from Wisconsin with hopes of going to a school that will offer him more playing time. This is an intriguing, and somewhat puzzling, move for Lewis as it would appear that this upcoming season would be his opportunity to see some playing time.
Lewis, who only carried the ball 40 times during his tenure at UW, is a talented back that came into the program during a time where his position saw some of the better backs in program history. Playing behind the likes of Montee Ball and James White didn’t help his cause to get the chance to showcase his talents.
Now that Lewis is on the way out, the question is now being asked as to who is going to be the backup to the Gordon and Clement duo this upcoming season. If there is any thought that this position will see no offensive play, think again.
Last season we saw Clement rush for just under 550 yards. While in 2012, Gordon ran for 621 yards and in 2011 Ball ran for 996 yards, all as the third tailback on Wisconsin’s depth chart during their respective seasons.
With Lewis’ departure, the battle is now between redshirt freshman Austin Ramesh and incoming freshmen Taiwan Deal and Caleb Kinlaw. After Deal and Kinlaw failed to see any action in the spring game, it seems all but certain that the job is Rameh’s to lose and rightfully so.
The 6-foot-1, 235-pound tailback carried the ball 12 times for 71 yards in the spring game and gives the Badgers more balance at the position as he is more of a power back when compared to Gordon and Clement. Being a redshirt freshman also plays to his advantage when being considered for the position.
Ramesh’s familiarity with the program and previous work with the scout offense works in his favor as the coaching staff has already had the opportunity to work with him for a full season in practice. Barring an injury during his time off or the preseason, I fully anticipate Ramesh being the third featured back for this offense.
Now that Tanner McEvoy has emerged as the front-runner for the starting quarterback job, his spot at safety is now up for the taking. With one safety position most likely going to junior Mike Caputo, who started 12 of the 13 games last season, there are two main candidates lobbying for that other starting spot.
Sophomore Leo Musso has a full season at the position under his belt and may seem like the safer pick, but incoming freshman Austin Hudson continues to make his case for the starting job. Hudson was one of the few incoming freshman than enrolled early at UW so he has had the chance to familiarize himself with the defensive schemes and defensive coaches, which certainly works in his favor.
Musso played in 12 games last season and totaled 15 tackles, one for loss, along with one interception. He is average-sized for a safety at 5-foot-10, but showed last season that he is not afraid to come up to the line and make a play on the ball if need be.
The emergence of freshman defensive back Sojourn Shelton last season helped solidify a cornerback position that was in dire need of production. His success last season while being relatively inexperienced, plays in favor for Hudson to potentially land the starting spot.
Coach Gary Andersen went out on a limb by starting the then freshman in Shelton and it paid off nicely as he led the team with four interceptions and five pass deflections. The safety position needs a playmaker and with a team-leading five tackles in the spring game, Hudson showed that he has the ability to fill that role.
The 6-foot-2 Hudson is no stranger to making plays from the safety position as he put up some impressive numbers during his senior season at Tampa Plant High School (FL). He tallied 88 tackles (3 for loss), two interceptions, and 12 pass deflections according to buckys5thquarter.com.
His 4.45 40-yard dash time and exceptional athleticism make for the ideal situation of having a safety with great range and speed to cover the middle of the field. While it is is a lot to ask a true freshman to step into such an important defensive role, Hudson has shown early on that he’s willing and able to play the position at a high level.
The job for the starting kicker may not be the most exciting positional battle, but it is definitely one that needs to be addressed due to the team’s lack of consistency over recent years. Wisconsin has not had a kicker, with a minimum of 10 attempts, kick better than 70% for the year since 2010 when Philip Welch went 17-for-22 (77.3%).
Spring camp has seen average play, at best, from junior kicker Jack Russell and sophomore Andrew Endicott, who are both battling for the starting job. The spring game featured both kickers as Russell kicked for the Cardinal team and Endicott kicked for the White team.
Russell won the kicking competition that day as he went 2-for-3 on the day, making kicks from 41 yards and 30 yards while leading the Cardinal team to a 6-0 victory. Endicott missed his only attempt and is not helping his cause with his inconsistent play.
Russell took over last season after Kyle French left the team midseason, but failed to fully impress coaches as he finished the season 9-for-13 with a long of 48 yards. Signs are pointing to Rusell retaining his job from last season as Endicott has made no real threats in the competition.
A name for Badger fans to keep in the back of their head with regards to kicking is incoming freshman Rafael Gaglianone. The 2013 Tennessee Kicker of the Year will likely get no play this season at the starting gig, but expect him to give fits to Russell, or whoever wins the job, next season.