Wisconsin Football: Predicting the Depth Chart Heading into Fall Camp
Coming into fall camp, the Wisconsin football team has plenty of question marks and will look to answer as many of those as possible before their opening tilt against LSU in Houston.
From quarterback to defensive end and kicker, the Badgers have heated position battles all over the place, while in some places, like the backfield or along the offensive line, the depth chart shakes itself out a bit more neatly.
Without further ado, let's take a look at the entire depth chart for all 22 positions plus kicker and punter coming into fall camp for the 2014 season.
1. Tanner McEvoy
2. Joel Stave
3. Bart Houston
Going into fall camp, one would normally say the incumbent is by default the top dog. But under center for the Badgers is a question that will need to be answered, quickly, by the coaching staff.
I have McEvoy ahead of Stave for two reasons. First of all, McEvoy was healthy in the spring and looked the part of starting quarterback for the second half of spring. With that being said, there were also times, particularly during the live portion of the spring game, where McEvoy looked pretty far from being a Big Ten starting quarterback.
The second reason is that both the coaching staff and fans seemed to get frustrated with Stave's play at the end of last season. Stave showed flashes of competency and even had a decent ratio last season (22 touchdowns against 13 interceptions), but those 13 interceptions all seemed to come at the most inopportune times.
Bart Houston had so much promise when he came in as a freshman, but shoulder surgery caused him to take a redshirt, and the change in coaching staffs and the ensuing philosophy change at the quarterback position makes him the odd man out in this two-horse race.
Stave could very well come into fall camp and emerge as the starter against LSU, but I believe it's up to Stave to win his job back as opposed to McEvoy grabbing it away from Stave.
With that being said, no matter who wins the starting job, they are going to need to make something happen in the passing game in order to give Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement room to run.
1. Melvin Gordon
2. Corey Clement
3. Taiwan Deal
This position sorts itself out pretty nicely. You have a Heisman candidate in Gordon, someone who averaged more than eight yards per carry as a freshman in Clement and a highly touted recruit in Deal.
Gordon finds himself as the clear No. 1 back for the first time in his collegiate career as he patiently waited as a freshman for carries behind James White and Montee Ball and found himself as the 1b to White last season.
This year, Gordon is the clear top dog, but in Tom Dienhart of the Big Ten Network's interview with offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig, when asked about the backfield, he said, "I would anticipate what we did last year with Melvin and James White, splitting carries."
Ludwig would later add, "One thing we want to do is get Melvin more involved in the passing game, down-field routes, screens...whatever." Between that and both Gordon and Clement's ability to run the "jet sweep" to great success, look for the Badgers to run the ball a lot this season.
1. Derek Watt
2. Austin Ramesh
Watt is one of the best fullbacks in the country, and his ability to catch passes may see him moved out of the backfield and split out at tight end more than he has been in the past. Ramesh had an excellent spring, running for 71 yards on 12 carries in the live portion of the spring game.
This means that, as per usual, fullback will be a position of strength for the Badgers as they use that extra man to give them even more thump in their running game.
1. Robert Wheelwright
2. Kenzel Doe
3. Jordan Fredrick
4. Krenwick Sanders
Kenzel Doe took nearly every snap this spring with the first- and second-team offenses due to everyone getting hurt. With that being said, it is Robert Wheelwright, not Doe, who should be the top wide receiver this season.
In Dienhart's interview with Ludwig, when asked about who would be the top receiver, he said, "Wheelwright would be the guy among the players we have worked with."
While Wheelwright was injured on the first day of spring practice, he certainly has the most promise of the bunch and projects as the best on the outside.
Doe was the highlight of the spring, and as such, he should see a spot on the outside, at least at the beginning of the year. Fredrick comes in with a lot of experience and has a prototypical big body that the Badgers are looking for, both as a receiver and as a downfield blocker.
Projecting out a little bit, Krenwick Sanders appears to be rated amongst the crop of freshman wide receivers, which saw its ranks cut from five to three with the departures of Dareian Watkins and Chris Jones. Sanders may not contribute much in Week 1, but by the time the Big Ten season rolls around, expect to see his name called quite a bit.
1. Sam Arneson
2. Austin Traylor
3. Troy Fumagalli
While the team loses a trio of tight ends in Jacob Pedersen, Brian Wozniak and Brock DeCicco, Sam Arneson should quickly make people forget they lost so much talent from last year's team.
Arneson has five touchdowns on only 10 career receptions. While he won't be able to haul in a touchdown on every other catch, he provides a reliable red-zone threat when the Badgers invariably decide to throw down there, despite having one of the best power run games in the country, but I digress.
Austin Traylor hasn't seen much game action to date, but he should slide in comfortably as the second tight end. Troy Fumagalli and T.J. Watt are both big bodies who can block well and can hopefully contribute in the passing game as well.
Overall, despite a lot of graduations, tight end remains a position of strength for the Badgers.
1. Tyler Marz
2. Hayden Biegel
1. Dallas Lewallen
2. Ray Ball
1. Dan Voltz
2. Michael Dieter
1. Kyle Costigan
2. Logan Schmidt
1. Rob Havenstein
2. Walker Williams
With all due respect to the running backs, offensive line is the position of greatest strength for the Badgers. There are five guys who all have starting experience under their belts to go along with great first-team reps out of Michael Dieter and Ray Ball throughout the spring after Dallas Lewallen and Dan Voltz have been held out due to injuries.
Rob Havenstein anchors this veteran group and should walk away from this season with some hardware in tow and a high draft selection to boot. Dieter was extremely impressive throughout the spring, and his decision to enroll early paid off in a big way.
One name noticeably absent from the depth chart is top recruit Jaden Gault. Gault enrolled early; however, he is taking the year off from football as he sorts out some personal issues.
Overall, the Badgers comfortably go two-deep at nearly every spot along the line with road graders that should clear the way for Gordon and Clement, even if they see myriad seven-, eight- and nine-man boxes.
1. Konrad Zagzebski
2. Chikwe Obasih
3. Alec James
The depth chart at defensive end is a fascinating picture of the whole Badgers defense. Konrad Zagzebski provides the most experience and is a de facto starter, though he is probably the least talented of the bunch. That honor is a toss-up between Chikwe Obasih and Alec James, both of whom have all of the talent in the world and are quickly learning how to channel that into becoming solid contributors for the Badgers.
Obasih was the biggest surprise of the spring, as he looked the part of a three-year starter, not a redshirt freshman. His counterpart, James—who is from Brookfield, Wisconsin, like Obasih—has been shuffled between outside linebacker and defensive end, but he should factor into the defensive line rotation quite a bit this season.
Overall, Obasih looks like an absolute force to be reckoned with, and Zagzebski's experience will help the two of them anchor a completely rebuilt defense.
1. Warren Herring
2. Arthur Goldberg
Warren Herring is the key to this year's run defense. If he can be as effective as Beau Allen was last year at plugging up space, then the Badgers' improved athleticism should be able to take advantage of the gaps.
The departure of Bryce Gilbert could prove problematic, so Arthur Goldberg and incoming freshman Jeremy Patterson will have to improve, quickly, to prevent any noticeable drop-off from last year's defensive line, which was heavy on experience.
1. Joe Schobert
2. Vince Biegel
3. Sherard Cadogan
While the Badgers have to replace a lot of pieces in their linebacking corps, the next men up are extremely talented. Joe Schobert and Vince Biegel will be a force to be reckoned with, though depth does present itself as an issue.
Schobert and Biegel both played quite a bit last season in a reserve role and showed good blitzing instincts that will be important for defensive coordinator Dave Aranda's system. Sherard Cadogan and Leon Jacobs will be important, as they are the next men up and need to improve quickly just in case.
1. Derek Landisch
2. Marcus Trotter
3. Michael Trotter
How do you replace Chris Borland? The Badgers hope a pair of Trotters will do the trick. Last season, when Borland went down in the Illinois game and then sat out against Iowa, Marcus Trotter filled in more than admirably, making plays across the field and even providing good pressure.
Matching the sustained production of a Chris Borland is impossible, but the tandem of Derek Landisch and Marcus Trotter should help provide a solid base in the middle of the Badgers' 3-4 defense. Backing them up is Marcus' brother, Michael Trotter, who has been moved from safety to middle linebacker and provides a hard-hitting, instinctual presence off the bench.
1. Sojourn Shelton
2. Darius Hillary
3. Devin Gaulden
From last year to this year, the Badgers turned cornerback from a weakness to a strength, which is good news for them as college football becomes increasingly pass-heavy.
Sojourn Shelton was remarkable throughout his freshman year and should only improve as he gains more experience with every snap played. Darius Hillary was also extremely solid last season and should improve throughout the course of the season.
One extremely pleasant surprise has been the play of Devin Gaulden. Gaulden has been injured throughout much of his tenure with the Badgers; however, he was exceptional throughout the spring and summer. In the nickel role, the Badgers have someone who is both great in coverage and can step in and blitz the quarterback off the edge.
Overall, this is definitely the strength of the Badgers defense, as they return the most experience and should be a bit less leaky than secondaries of years past.
1. Peniel Jean
2. Leo Musso
1. Michael Caputo
2. Austin Hudson
Outside of Michael Caputo, the rest of the safety spots are all guess work. More will be found out in the coming weeks, but for the time being, it looks like Peniel Jean will be starting across from Caputo.
Caputo was one of the biggest surprises of last season, proving himself as arguably the second-most important player on the defense behind Chris Borland. Caputo has great instincts and hits hard, and he is exactly the type of player you want on your team.
Jean has vacillated between cornerback and safety, but with good depth at cornerback, he should find his name called on Saturdays as the other starting safety. Beyond those two, Leo Musso and Austin Hudson both have a good chance to see plenty of snaps this season.
Hudson enrolled early and saw plenty of snaps as a result of that. Furthermore, the departure of Nate Hammon should open the door for Hudson to see even more playing time. Hammon's departure is a bit of a shock to the depth at this position, though they should be able to weather the storm.
1. Jack Russell
2. Rafael Gaglianone
I've written quite a bit about how I believe Rafael Gaglianone will be the starting kicker coming into the season; however, coming into fall camp, I believe it will be Jack Russell who gets the chance to keep his starting spot.
Russell wasn't terrible last season; however, he wasn't particularly good either and was constantly threatened with being replaced by Chris Borland. Gaglianone should come in and compete right away, but for now, it is Russell's spot.
1. Drew Meyer
2. P.J. Rosowski
Drew Meyer will almost certainly be the starter here, though he definitely needs to improve off of last year's middling numbers. He wasn't that bad, but he also wasn't that good.