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Wisconsin Football: Transition Under Gary Andersen Far from over

Oct 19, 2013; Champaign, IL, USA;  Wisconsin Badgers head coach Gary Andersen congratulates his team after a touchdown against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Memorial Stadium. Wisconsin wins 56-32 over Illinois. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowksi-USA TODAY Sports
Trevor Ruszkowksi-USA TODAY Spor
Andrew CoppensContributor IFebruary 11, 2014

Wisconsin football has undergone a severe transition in each of the last three offseasons. According to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, it nearly underwent another one in 2014:

Following that report, Andersen clarified the situation, saying it was no more than a mere phone conversation and acknowledgment that he was not interested. 

“Officials from the Cleveland Browns contacted me to talk about their head coaching vacancy," he said. "After our initial conversation, I decided not to pursue the position."

In the end, Andersen received a raise on Jan. 25 and the only coaching change that occurred was losing running back coach Thomas Hammock to the Baltimore Ravens. While that is a big enough dealespecially in recruitingWisconsin players have seen far worse happen to them over last few years. 

That doesn't mean transition won't be a major theme of this offseason, though. In fact, this offseason may see more transition than ever before for the players on the Wisconsin roster. 

The reality is transition was going to happen regardless of who the head coach. Wisconsin was losing 26 seniors and bringing in a huge recruiting class in its place.

Morry Gash/Associated Press

With that first full class, Andersen and his staff have an opportunity to fully implement who they want to be at the University of Wisconsin. 

Yes, the Badgers implemented a huge shift to a 3-4 scheme a season ago, but the coaching staff was making that change with a roster full of players that were recruited for a 4-3 scheme. 

With a full year to understand the roster and the staff having its own recruiting class, things were bound to change for Wisconsin. That change began happening as soon as the Penn State game was over. 

Before the bowl game, it was announced that oft-injured running back Vonte Jackson would be switching to cornerback and wide receiver A.J. Jordan would be joining him in that transition.

Now it appears there will be other transitions happening in an effort to shape the defense in the true manner Dave Aranda and Andersen would like. 

In an interview with the Lucas and Lepay Show on The Big 1070 in Madison (h/t Tom Mulhern of the Wisconsin State Journal), Andersen announced a few big changes to his defense.

Oct 19, 2013; Champaign, IL, USA;  Illinois Fighting Illini quarterback Aaron Bailey (15) is tackled by Wisconsin Badgers linebacker Marcus Trotter (59) and safety Michael Caputo (7) during the third quarter of the game at Memorial Stadium. Wisconsin wins
Trevor Ruszkowksi-USA TODAY Spor

Safety Michael Caputo, who played a big role around the line of scrimmage, will be a linebacker. 

“We know what Michael can do at safety,” Andersen said in the interview. “If he has to go back, he can in one second. But we really think we need to get more athletic than we were a year ago at that outside linebacker position, into the field.”

Elsewhere, freshman linebacker Alec James will become a hybrid defensive lineman while linebacker Joe Schobert will move inside this offseason. 

The catalyst for all of the change? According to the interview, Andersen says it's all about getting his team to be more athletic across the board. 

Wisconsin played very well on defense last year, but the hallmark of a 3-4 defense is being aggressive and that was not how you would describe that unit last year. Becoming more athletic will allow the Badgers to be more aggressive as well. 

However, the biggest transition of all may end up occurring this spring—a running option at quarterback. 

Joel Stave enters the spring as the starter, but his spot needs to be earned once again. Andersen told ESPN.com's Brian Bennett that he wanted an athletic quarterback and Stave is the least likely running quarterback on the UW roster. 

He will be in a fair and open battle with Bart Houston, Tanner McEvoy and early enrollee D.J. Gillins, who was pegged by 247Sports.com as one of the highest-rated dual-threat QBs in the 2014 class. 

If any one of those three quarterbacks unseats Stave, the Badger offense will look very different heading into 2014. Sure, it'll still run the football, but it will be from a very different starting point. 

Those are but a few of the different things happening around the Badger roster and spring ball will go a long way toward fully implementing who Andersen and the coaching staff want Wisconsin to be. 

So, while last season may have been a big philosophical change in the Wisconsin program, this offseason will be all about transitioning the players into position to fully implement the schemes the coaching staff wants to play.

 

Andy Coppens is Bleacher Report's lead writer for Big Ten football. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. You can follow Andy on Twitter @ andycoppens.

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