Big Ten: Shelby Harris
The Badgers had to replace All-Big Ten defensive end O'Brien Schofield, middle linebacker Jaevery McFadden, safety leader Chris Maragos and both starting defensive tackles. Plus, they had to build depth at linebacker as Chris Borland, the 2009 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, and Mike Taylor sat out with injuries.
But when spring practice ended Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium, it was the Badgers offense, a unit that returns nine starters, that seemed to be searching for answers.
The defense stepped up in Saturday's spring game, holding the offense to only two touchdowns and just 101 total rushing yards (for Wisconsin, that translates to about 30). The Big Ten's top red zone offense in 2009 had to settle for three short field goals after stalling near the goal line.
To be fair, the offense played without star running back John Clay and top wide receiver Nick Toon, and the offensive line has seen a lot of shuffling this spring because of injuries. But quarterback Scott Tolzien (12-for-22, 138 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs) and his fellow offensive teammates were disappointed in their performance.
"We need to be better than that come fall," Tolzien said. "It's good for us to have a setback like that as long as we use it to our advantage and just realize there's a sense of urgency here. We've got to have a great offseason."
Defensive end Louis Nzegwu moved closer to locking up a starting spot with three sacks, and linebacker Culmer St. Jean and safety Jay Valai both recorded interceptions. Cornerbacks Niles Brinkley, Antonio Fenelus and Devin Smith also came on strong toward the end of the spring.
- Jon Budmayr is still settling in as Wisconsin's backup quarterback, and he'll need a strong summer after struggling in several spring scrimmages. Budmayr completed just 9 of 19 passes for 68 yards with two interceptions for the second-team offense on Saturday. He completed 3 of 6 passes for 16 yards with the first-team offense and was sacked three times in the game.
- Lance Kendricks looks ready to become an elite tight end in the Big Ten and recorded six receptions for 63 yards, including a 19-yarder.
- Redshirt freshman linebacker Ethan Armstrong recorded a game-high 14 tackles and a pass breakup, while linebacker Conor O'Neill had 12 stops and a pass breakup.
- Head coach Bret Bielema confirmed that wide receiver Kraig Appleton has left school and won't return to the team. Appleton and two other players, defensive end Shelby Harris and linebacker Nick Hill, were indefinitely suspended in February for unspecified violations. Harris and Hill both could work their way back to the team.
As it turns out, the Badgers won't take any chances with Clay, holding the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year out for the entire spring. Wisconsin opens spring ball Saturday.
Clay has had chronic problems in both of his ankles at Wisconsin and underwent surgeries to relieve the pain.
"The thing that excites me about his injury is I think [the surgeries will] give him relief, allow him to become a better football player," head coach Bret Bielema said Wednesday.
Bielema expects Clay to be ready for the start of summer conditioning in June.
This is definitely the smart move for Wisconsin, which knows what it can get from Clay in 2010. I totally understand if Badgers fans are alarmed by seeing their stud running back shut down for spring ball, but Clay's ankle issues needed to be addressed. He'll have plenty of time to recover and train this summer.
Montee Ball and Zach Brown will get more work in Clay's place this spring.
Bielema also said starting left tackle Gabe Carimi (knee) and center John Moffitt (undisclosed) will miss the first half of spring ball. The status of three suspended players -- wideout Kraig Appleton, defensive end Shelby Harris and linebacker Nick Hill -- won't change during spring ball.
No details were provided about the suspensions, which were first reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Appleton, one of the team's top recruits in the 2009 class, had three receptions for 26 yards last season. Both Harris and Hill redshirted last year.
Wisconsin opens spring practice March 13.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Wisconsin's recruiting class rounds out our list of Big Ten snapshots. Hope you enjoyed it.
Number of recruits: 21
Key needs: Wide receiver, offensive line, defensive line, defensive back
Highest-rated player (Scouts Inc.): Kraig Appleton (No. 15 among wide receivers)
The quote: "As a whole, I feel this class probably encompasses what we want here at the University of Wisconsin as a total package more so than ever before." -- Head coach Bret Bielema
Quick take: Credit Bielema and his staff for not letting a very disappointing 2008 season slow them down on the recruiting trail. Wisconsin addressed several needs with its class and landed its top player on national signing day when Appleton chose the Badgers after verbally committing to Illinois. The passing game easily was Wisconsin's biggest need, and Appleton could provide an instant impact at wide receiver. Jon Budmayr will compete with Curt Phillips to become the team's quarterback of the future. Shelby Harris, David Gilbert and Jordan Kohout bring depth to a thin defensive line, and Wisconsin added pieces for its trademark power run game. The secondary remains a concern despite some additions in this class.
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
11:00 AM ET Nevada Louisiana-Lafayette 2:20 PM ET Utah State UTEP 3:30 PM ET 22 Utah Colorado State 5:45 PM ET Western Michigan Air Force 9:15 PM ET South Alabama Bowling Green
6:00 PM ET Marshall Northern Illinois 9:30 PM ET Navy San Diego State
12:00 PM ET Central Michigan Western Kentucky 8:00 PM ET Fresno State Rice
1:00 PM ET Illinois Louisiana Tech 4:30 PM ET Rutgers North Carolina 8:00 PM ET North Carolina State UCF
1:00 PM ET Cincinnati Virginia Tech 2:00 PM ET 15 Arizona State Duke 3:30 PM ET Miami (FL) South Carolina 4:30 PM ET Boston College Penn State 8:00 PM ET Nebraska 24 USC
2:00 PM ET Texas A&M West Virginia 5:30 PM ET Oklahoma 17 Clemson 9:00 PM ET Arkansas Texas
3:00 PM ET Notre Dame 23 LSU 6:30 PM ET 13 Georgia 21 Louisville 10:00 PM ET Maryland Stanford
12:30 PM ET 9 Ole Miss 6 TCU 4:00 PM ET 20 Boise State 10 Arizona 8:00 PM ET 7 Mississippi State 12 Georgia Tech
12:00 PM ET 19 Auburn 18 Wisconsin 12:30 PM ET 8 Michigan State 5 Baylor 1:00 PM ET 16 Missouri 25 Minnesota 5:00 PM ET 2 Oregon 3 Florida State 8:30 PM ET 1 Alabama 4 Ohio State
12:00 PM ET Houston Pittsburgh 3:20 PM ET Iowa Tennessee 6:45 PM ET 11 Kansas State 14 UCLA 10:15 PM ET Washington Oklahoma State