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Friday, May 3, 2013
Wisconsin Badgers spring wrap

By Adam Rittenberg

2012 record: 8-6

2012 conference record: 4-4 (third in Leaders Division, Big Ten champions)

Returning starters

Offense: 8; defense: 7; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

LB Chris Borland, S Dezmen Southward, LB Ethan Armstrong, RB James White, RB Melvin Gordon, G/T Ryan Groy, WR Jared Abbrederis, QB Joel Stave, QB Curt Phillips

Key losses

LB Mike Taylor, CB Devin Smith, CB Marcus Cromartie, RB Montee Ball, C Travis Frederick, T Ricky Wagner

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Montee Ball (1,830 yards)
Passing: Joel Stave* (1,104)
Receiving: Jared Abbrederis* (837 yards)
Tackles: Mike Taylor (123)
Sacks: Brendan Kelly* and Tyler Dippel* (5)
Interceptions: Devin Smith (4)

Spring answers

1. Separation at quarterback: Wisconsin entered the spring with a four-man quarterback competition and reduced the pool by 50 percent, as senior Curt Phillips and sophomore Joel Stave separated themselves midway through the session. Phillips, who ended last season as the starter, showed veteran leadership in grasping the offense, while Stave stood out in the spring game and might have more upside as a passer. Although redshirt freshman Bart Houston boasts tremendous natural ability, he's not ready to start in the Big Ten just yet. Danny O'Brien, who started the opener in 2012, has fallen back in the pack.

2. Front seven depth: The defense will go through more dramatic scheme changes under new coach Gary Andersen and his staff, but the front seven should be solid by Aug. 31. Inside linebacker Chris Borland is a tremendous leader at the nucleus of the defense. Several players who will be in the rotation -- Beau Allen, Tyler Dippel, Ethan Armstrong, Brendan Kelly -- missed part or all of the spring, which gave increased opportunities to players like tackle Warren Herring and linebackers Vince Biegel and Joe Schobert. The result should be good depth at both the line and linebacker spots.

3. Center of attention: Wisconsin's last two centers -- Peter Konz and Travis Frederick -- jumped to the NFL a year early, but the team once again appears ready to fill big shoes. Redshirt freshman Dan Voltz, who backed up Frederick last season, impressed the new coaches this spring and solidified the top center spot. Although overall line depth remains a concern entering the summer, Wisconsin feels good about the man snapping the ball.

Fall questions

1. Clarity at quarterback: The race is down to two, and actually three, as junior college transfer Tanner McEvoy arrives this summer and, according to Andersen, will get a fair chance to compete for the starting job. But Wisconsin needs a starter to emerge and take control of the team. Both Phillips and Stave have started games and should be able to win over a locker room. Phillips will be closer to full strength after suffering a knee injury in the Rose Bowl that limited his mobility this spring. If Stave continues to answer Andersen's challenge about improving the passing game, he could once again occupy the top job.

2. Secondary a primary concern: The Badgers return only one secondary starter in safety Dezmen Southward, and they lack overall depth in the back four. Peniel Jean and Darius Hillary took most of the reps as the first-team cornerbacks this spring, but they'll need to make more progress as young players like Sojourn Shelton and Reggie Mitchell have impressed the coaching staff. The bottom line is Wisconsin needs more bodies and more options to surround Southward.

3. Depth at receiver, offensive line: One area has lacked depth for a while, while the other has been a hallmark of the Wisconsin program. The Badgers need more reliable options to emerge around All-Big Ten candidate Jared Abbrederis at receiver. Kenzel Doe delivered a strong performance in the spring game and could complement Abbrederis, but there are opportunities for others to step up. The offensive line needs guards Dallas Lewallen and Kyle Costigan to stay healthy and for reserves to emerge to fill out the two-deep.