- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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Today is the last day of February, and March means spring practice around the Big Ten. To get you ready, we're taking a look at how each team might fill the roles of two key contributors who are no longer on campus.
Today's focus is on Wisconsin.
BIG SHOES TO FILL: Russell Wilson, QB
Why: Though he only played one year in Madison, Wilson leaves large cleats to fill. He set an NCAA record for pass efficiency while giving the Badgers a level of quarterback play that they had never before experienced. Wilson threw for over 3,000 yards with 33 touchdowns and only four interceptions and became a team leader despite his late arrival to the program.
The skinny: Wisconsin's quarterback candidates have combined to complete 21 passes for 247 yards in their careers, with zero starts and no real important minutes played. This position is easily the most pressing concern for the 2012 Badgers and probably the toughest one to predict an outcome. Budmayr was ready to be the starter last season until Wilson arrived from NC State in the summer, but Budmayr suffered another injury to his throwing elbow in August and was not able to play at all. Phillips is another guy who has been bitten by the injury bug, with two torn ACL injuries. Both Budmayr and Phillips are reportedly recovering well from their setbacks, but they have to be considered question marks because of the health concerns.
Brennan would have ended up as the starter if Wilson didn't transfer and spent the season as his backup, though he didn't see much significant game action. Stave has good size and skill, but the walk-on hasn't seen the field yet. Houston is the wild card as one of Wisconsin's prized recruits. But it's tough to see coach Bret Bielema handing the reins over to a true freshman, especially one who won't go through spring practice.
So this remains a real toss-up, and Wisconsin would be interested if another graduate transfer becomes available. Still, expecting anyone to perform as well as Wilson is probably asking too much.
BIG SHOES TO FILL: Aaron Henry, FS
Why: We could have chosen center Peter Konz or guard Kevin Zeitler for this slot, as both were All-Americans in 2011. But Wisconsin simply reloads on the offensive line. The Badgers might have a harder time finding a replacement for Henry, a leader on defense who was named a first-team All-Big Ten performer by the coaches after posting 62 tackles and three interceptions in 2011. And the Badgers were a little thin in the secondary overall last year.
Replacement candidates: Shelton Johnson (6-0, 190, Sr.); Dezmen Southward ,(6-2, 200, Jr.); Michael Trotter (6-0, 210, Soph.); Frank Tamakloe (6-3, 190, Soph.); D.J. Singleton (6-2, 200, incoming freshman).
The skinny: Johnson started opposite Henry at strong safety last season but is likely to move to free safety this spring, with Southward taking over at strong. If that plan works, it would give the Badgers two experienced veterans at the two safety spots. Trotter backed up Henry in 2011 and could be ready to make a move up the depth chart. Tamakloe mostly saw time on special teams but is a very good athlete who could force his way into the lineup. And Singleton is the top-rated defensive back in the incoming class, though he profiles more as a strong safety and is unlikely to play right away at free, which is responsible for a lot of the defensive play calls.
So Wisconsin has some experience at this spot but once again will lack much depth in 2012.