Big Ten: Dan Moore
What's new: Not much in terms of personnel, as Wisconsin returns 16 starters, including 10 on offense and its entire offensive line. Bielema hired a new secondary coach in Chris Ash, who joins the staff after spending eight of the past 10 seasons at Iowa State. Wisconsin also welcomes Greg Jackson as nickel backs and assistant linebackers coach. Bielema oversaw special teams the past three seasons, but now will assign the units to four assistants.
Sidelined: Backup quarterback Curt Phillips is out until at least October following ACL surgery on his right knee. Running back John Clay (ankle), offensive lineman Peter Konz (lungs) and linebackers Mike Taylor (knee) and Chris Borland (shoulder), all are cleared for the start of practice.
Key battle: Look toward the defensive line. Wisconsin loses both of its starting defensive tackles in Jeff Stehle and Dan Moore, and will be looking for several young players to step up. Junior Patrick Butrym started two games last fall and is a strong possibility for one of the top spots, but Jordan Kohout, Eriks Briedis, Ethan Hemer and others are in the mix for playing time. J.J. Watt has locked up a starting defensive end spot, but Louis Nzegwu and David Gilbert continue to compete on the other side.
New on the scene: The Badgers need to upgrade their special teams play in 2010, which creates opportunities for incoming freshmen to see the field right away. Keep an eye on players like Beau Allen, Frank Tamakloe, Peniel Jean and Cameron Ontko. True freshmen are more likely to see the field on defense than offense this fall.
Back in the fold: Taylor started the first seven games last fall at linebacker and was leading the team in tackles before tearing his ACL against Iowa. The redshirt sophomore returns in practice and should form a dynamic young linebacker tandem with Borland, the reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year.
Breaking out: Lance Kendricks put Badgers fans at ease about the loss of Garrett Graham with a career-best performance in Wisconsin's Champs Sports Bowl win against Miami. Kendricks steps into a featured role after recording 29 receptions for 356 receiving yards. Watt also should have a huge season at defensive end. Overshadowed by O'Brien Schofield last fall, Watt recorded 15.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks last fall.
Quotable: "I do like the fact that our kids, the majority of our players that are going to be significant players in this year's senior class, all went through the scars of [the 2008] season themselves, in addition to myself and several of my coaching staff. So we'll make note of any mistakes that were made that year. But again, the 2010 season is based on the individuals that are in that room." -- head coach Bret Bielema
2009 overall record: 10-3
2009 conference record: 5-3, T-4th
Offense: 10, defense: 6, punter/kicker: 2
RB John Clay, QB Scott Tolzien, LT Gabe Carimi, G/C John Moffitt, WR Nick Toon, DE J.J. Watt, LB Chris Borland, SS Jay Valai
TE Garrett Graham, DE O'Brien Schofield, LB Jaevery McFadden, FS Chris Maragos
2009 statistical leaders (*-returners)
Rushing: John Clay* (1,517 yards)
Passing: Scott Tolzien* (2,705 yards)
Receiving: Nick Toon* (805 yards)
Tackles: Jaevery McFadden (74)
Sacks: O'Brien Schofield (12)
Interceptions: Chris Maragos (4)
1. Defensive line should be fine: Wisconsin appears to have the pieces to survive the losses of O'Brien Schofield, a first-team All-Big Ten performer, as well as tackles Dan Moore and Jeff Stehle. J.J. Watt could be a superstar at end, and Louis Nzegwu stepped up nicely this spring at the other spot. Patrick Butrym and Jordan Kohout will occupy the starting tackle spots, and if the Badgers can build a bit more depth inside this summer, they should be very solid.
2. Kendricks transitions seamlessly: First-team All-Big Ten tight end Garrett Graham departs, but Wisconsin once again shouldn't miss a bit as Lance Kendricks moves into a starting role. Kendricks turned in a career performance at the Champs Sports Bowl and followed with a solid spring, recording six receptions for 63 yards in the spring game April 17.
3. Secondary coming together: After a slow start to the spring, the defensive backs finished strong, as Antonio Fenelus and others stepped up in the spring game. Chris Maragos was a great leader and leaves a void, but Jay Valai and converted cornerback Aaron Henry seem to complement each other well at the safety spots. There's good depth at cornerback as starters Devin Smith and Niles Brinkley return and Fenelus provides some depth.
1. Key players returning from injuries: It was tough to grade Wisconsin's spring because so many key players sat out with injuries. Star running back Clay needs a strong preseason camp after undergoing two ankle surgeries during the winter to relieve pressure. Starting linebackers Chris Borland and Mike Taylor also will be back from injuries, and the offensive line gets a chance to come together after missing several pieces this spring.
2. Backup quarterback: Curt Phillips' torn ACL was the biggest blow of spring ball, and his uncertain return puts redshirt freshman Jon Budmayr in the spotlight. Budmayr struggled in spring scrimmages and needs to elevate his game to be a reliable option behind Tolzien. Tolzien has been both durable and reliable, but Wisconsin needs the talented Budmayr to take a step forward this summer.
3. More options at wideout: Toon should contend for All-Big Ten honors this fall, but Wisconsin needs other wideouts to develop around him. David Gilreath, Isaac Anderson and Kyle Jefferson all have plenty of experience but must be more consistent. Redshirt freshman walk-on Jared Abbrederis made a big splash this spring and could work his way into the mix if he keeps it up.
Wisconsin doesn't lose much at all from its Champs Sports Bowl title team. Defensive end O'Brien Schofield leaves a major void in the pass rush, but the Badgers are well stocked on both sides of the ball. The offense loses only one starter in tight end Garrett Graham.
Strongest position: Offensive line
- Key returnees: All five starters are back as tackles Gabe Carimi and Josh Oglesby, guards Travis Frederick and Kevin Zeitler, and center John Moffitt all return. Key reserves like Bill Nagy and Peter Konz are also back.
- Key departures: Tackle Jake Bscherer, who played both tackle and guard in 2009, is transferring.
- The skinny: At Wisconsin, everything always starts with the offensive line, and this group will be a very good one in 2010. Everyone returns from a unit that helped the Badgers lead the Big Ten in both rushing (203.8) and scoring (31.8 ppg) last fall. Carimi and Moffitt could contend for national honors, and the line will pave the way for Heisman Trophy contender John Clay, the 2009 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. There's not only experience but plenty of depth throughout the group. Running back, wide receiver and linebacker also look strong for the Badgers.
- Key returnees: Junior Patrick Butrym (24 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 1 interception, three passes defended); redshirt freshman Jordan Kohout (heralded recruit, early enrollee)
- Key departures: Dan Moore (21 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 quarterback hurries); Jeff Stehle (19 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, 2 passes defended).
- The skinny: The Badgers don't have a glaring weakness on their team, although a few spots on defense could use a boost. Despite Schofield's departure, the pass rush should be decent with J.J. Watt, Louis Nzegwu and David Gilbert, but the interior line looks a bit shaky. Wisconsin will lean on Butrym and hope Kohout, who transformed his body as a true freshman, blossoms on the practice field this spring. The Badgers led the Big Ten and ranked fifth nationally against the run in 2009 (88.2 ypg), so solidifying the middle of the line without both Moore and Stehle is key.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst wanted to narrow the candidate pool to two players by the end of the spring, and despite what the depth chart says, you have to believe Phillips is the No. 2 option. Phillips came on strong the last week of spring ball and completed 10 of 16 passes for 122 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions in the spring game.
The coaches must decide if he's good enough to beat out Sherer, who has improved his game but provides yet another one-year option at quarterback for the Badgers. True freshman Jon Budmayr, an early enrollee who turned heads at the start of spring ball, appears headed for a redshirt year as he's not listed on the depth chart.
Other thoughts from Bret Bielema's post-spring two-deep (doesn't include special teams):
- Sophomore wide receiver Nick Toon moved into a co-starter position with David Gilreath after an excellent spring. I'd be surprised if Toon doesn't earn a starting receiver nod alongside Isaac Anderson or Kyle Jefferson when the season begins. On plays when Wisconsin uses only one tight end, Toon will definitely be on the field.
- Sophomore Josh Oglesby held off freshman Peter Konz for the starting right tackle spot entering the summer. Oglesby has all the physical tools to be dominant and appeared to respond well after Konz pushed him this spring.
- Not surprisingly, Central Michigan transfer J.J. Watt is listed as a starting defensive end opposite O'Brien Schofield. Watt could be a difference maker for the Badgers this fall. The competition at defensive tackle will continue between senior Dan Moore and sophomore Patrick Butrym, who are listed as co-starters.
- Keep an eye on the secondary this summer. Sophomore cornerback Aaron Henry might be the only guaranteed starter at this point. Hard-hitting junior Jay Valai and senior Aubrey Pleasant are listed as co-starters at one safety spot, while Niles Brinkley and Devin Smith will compete at cornerback. Safety Shane Carter remains a second stringer behind Chris Maragos, but if Carter can improve his tackling and overall fundamentals, he'll make a push for more time.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
As players filter in and out of football programs, certain position groups become grizzled or green. As the St. Patrick's Day series marches on, it's time to look at the greenest, or least experienced, units on every Big Ten squad heading into 2009.
Illinois' defensive line -- Mainstays Will Davis, Derek Walker and David Lindquist depart, and with Josh Brent's status up in the air, Illinois looks unproven up front.
Indiana's wide receivers -- Leading receiver Ray Fisher switched to cornerback and Andrew Means bolted early for the NFL draft, leaving sophomores and juniors to handle the pass-catching duties this fall.
Iowa's defensive tackles -- Mitch King and Matt Kroul locked down the starting interior line spots for the last four years, and their backups didn't have many opportunities to develop in games.
Michigan's quarterbacks -- Nick Sheridan started four games last fall, but once again the most important position on the field will be one of the greenest for Michigan, as two true freshmen (Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson) vie for the starting job.
Michigan State's running backs -- National carries leader Javon Ringer is gone, and it's likely that a redshirt sophomore (Andre Anderson, Ashton Leggett) or a true freshman (Edwin Baker, Larry Caper) will take his place in the backfield.
Minnesota's running backs -- The Gophers return practically everyone but remain young and unproven after finishing last in the Big Ten in rushing offense (103.8 ypg) last fall.
Northwestern's wide receivers -- Three starters graduate and junior Andrew Brewer hasn't quite settled in at wideout after switching from quarterback, so there are some legit questions here.
Ohio State's offensive line -- Don't be shocked if Ohio State enters 2009 with three sophomores (Mike Brewster, Mike Adams, J.B. Shugarts) and a transfer (Justin Boren) on its starting line.
Penn State's defensive ends -- Jerome Hayes should be back from another knee injury, but Penn State will be on the lookout for a proven pass rusher after losing Aaron Maybin, Maurice Evans and Josh Gaines.
Purdue's wide receivers -- New coach Danny Hope made wide receiver a peak priority in his first recruiting class after losing Greg Orton and Desmond Tardy, who combined for 136 receptions and 1,596 yards last year.
Wisconsin's defensive line -- The Badgers lose three multiyear starters (Matt Shaughnessy, Mike Newkirk and Jason Chapman) and don't return many proven players aside from ends O'Brien Schofield and Dan Moore.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The Wisconsin Badgers are up next on the superlatives rundown. Quarterback certainly hurt the Badgers more than any other spot last season, but the team should be better stocked under center this year.
Here's the good news and bad news for Wisconsin entering spring ball.
Strongest position -- Safety
Key returnees: Junior Jay Valai, senior Chris Maragos, senior Shane Carter, senior Aubrey Pleasant
Key departures: None
The skinny: The secondary as a whole should be stronger despite the loss of top cover corner Allen Langford, and the safeties are all back for 2009. Valai has established himself as one of the Big Ten's hardest hitters, and Maragos is a solid tackler with experience at free safety. If Carter improves his tackling to complement his ball-hawking skills, he'll be an asset this fall. The running backs would have earned this distinction if P.J. Hill had stayed, though the group still remains solid. Other strong positions include tight end and cornerback.
Weakest position -- Defensive line
Key returnees: Senior end O'Brien Schofield, senior end Dan Moore
Key departures: Tackle Mike Newkirk (59 tackles, 9 TFLs, 4 sacks), end Matt Shaughnessy (8 TFLs, 4 sacks, 10 QB hurries), tackle Jason Chapman (5 TFLs, 2 sacks)
The skinny: Several offensive position groups could fit in this category, especially quarterbacks and wide receivers. The linebackers also will be restocking after losing DeAndre Levy and Jonathan Casillas. But enough players are back at all of those spots, and the production hit along the defensive line might be a bigger problem for the Badgers. Newkirk was terrific last season, recording nine tackles for loss and four sacks, and Shaughnessy brought a pass-rushing presence to the edge. Schofield could be a star this fall after a productive junior year, but he'll need some help.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
One of Bret Bielema's most treasured football mementos is a photo snapped on the field at Ohio Stadium in the wake of a 1991 game.
Flanked by his Iowa defensive linemates, Mike Wells and Ron Geater, a smiling Bielema sat on a bench, celebrating an emotional Hawkeyes win as three downtrodden Ohio State fans walked behind them. The day before, a graduate student killed five people and wounded another on Iowa's campus before turning his gun on himself.
"We had taken the decals off our helmets and played with only black helmets," Bielema said. "It was something that was very unique in my playing career. And that's a special picture just because it was my d-line group."
Bielema hasn't shown the photo to Wisconsin's defensive linemen but admits it might be a good idea to do so.
|David Stluka/Getty Images|
|Matt Shaughnessy has earned All-Big Ten honors in each of his first three seasons.|
"Not only do they have respect for what each other goes through on the field," Bielema said, "but a lot of times those guys have huge weight gains once they get here, so they're going through that together. Every team, every university I've been to, the d-line is a special group."
Despite a subpar performance in 2007, Wisconsin's front four could be one of the team's strengths this fall.
The Badgers lost only one starter (Nick Hayden) and return three seniors -- standout end Matt Shaughnessy and tackles Jason Chapman and Mike Newkirk -- who have started in multiple seasons. Sophomore end Kirk DeCremer led the team in sacks last season (5.5), and he's penciled in as a backup. Shaughnessy has earned All-Big Ten honors in each of his first three seasons, racking up 33.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks.
"Just having each other's back is a big issue," said Chapman, who has 31 career starts. "You go out there and do certain things individually, focusing on your key, but at the same time, you have to be able to fend for your (teammate) next to you."
Unfortunately for the Badgers' linemen, the field isn't the only place where they've had time to jell.
Injuries swept through the entire team but hit the line especially hard. Chapman tore his ACL against Ohio State last season, while DeCremer (back), Shaughnessy (leg), Newkirk (shoulder) and junior-college transfer Dan Moore (knee) missed part or all of spring ball. DeCremer and Newkirk have been somewhat limited in preseason practice, but all the linemen are expected to be ready for the opener Aug. 30 against Akron.
"We've bonded and we've also gotten a lot smarter, too, just knowing basically the ins and outs of the defense because we've had that time to sit back and watch everything," DeCremer said. "That's really helped."