Big Ten: Manasseh Garner

Big Ten lunchtime links

August, 22, 2012
T-minus eight days ...
Hours after naming Danny O'Brien as its starting quarterback for the season opener, Wisconsin revealed its complete preseason depth chart.

Senior Curt Phillips and redshirt freshman Joel Stave are listed as co-backups behind O'Brien.

Oh, in case there was any doubt, Montee Ball is listed as the team's starting running back despite suffering a concussion last month.

Some notes and thoughts on the Badgers' two-deep.
  • Jordan Fredrick translated a strong camp into a starting wide receiver spot opposite standout Jared Abbrederis. Fredrick, who redshirted in 2011, is listed ahead of both Chase Hammond and Manasseh Garner. Kenzel Doe also nabbed a starting receiver spot ahead of veteran Jeff Duckworth. At 5-8 and 170 pounds, Doe is one of the smallest players in the Big Ten but makes up for his size with speed. It will be interesting to see how Wisconsin rotates its receivers around Abbrederis, clearly the team's No. 1 target.
  • Sophomore Kyle Costigan won the starting right guard spot ahead of Robert Burge. Wisconsin's other four starting linemen were fairly set. The right side of the line is young with Costigan and sophomore tackle Rob Havenstein.
  • Junior Pat Muldoon is listed as a starter at both defensive end spots, alongside David Gilbert and Brendan Kelly. Both Gilbert and Kelly have dealt with injury issues, so you can expect more of a rotation at end as Wisconsin tries to identify a difference-making pass rusher.
  • Wisconsin often uses two tight ends, and junior Brian Wozniak tops the depth chart alongside Jacob Pedersen. Wozniak got the nod ahead of Brock DeCicco, a transfer from Pittsburgh who has done some good things in preseason camp.
  • Despite missing spring practice and undergoing four surgeries in the past year and a half, Ethan Armstrong secured a starting outside linebacker spot alongside All-Big Ten 'backers Chris Borland and Mike Taylor. Armstrong started two game last season and is listed ahead of Conor O'Neill.
  • Special teams is a major area of interest for Wisconsin, and the Badgers have new starting specialists at both kicker (freshman Jack Russell) and punter (sophomore Drew Meyer). Sophomore Kyle French, the backup kicker, will handle kickoffs. Abbrederis, the team's top punt returner, also will handle kickoff returns with backup running back James White.
  • Jordan Kohout's career-ending injury thins the depth a bit at defensive tackle. Sophomores Warren Herring and Bryce Gilbert are listed as the backups behind Beau Allen and Ethan Hemer. Kohout likely would have been in a No. 2 role.

Thoughts on the Badgers' depth chart?

Big Ten Friday mailblog

August, 10, 2012
Thanks for your emails and Twitter questions (we'll keep using Twitter for mailblog questions going forward).

Brian will be driving the blog bus next week, so my next mailblog comes your way Aug. 21.

Let's do it ...

Justin from NYC writes: Hi Adam, Hope all is well in the Midwest, or wherever it is you're based out of, my question is 2 parts. First, Going off a question that was asked in yesterday's mailbag, do you think we will ever see Jim Delany reconsider his stance on a 9-game conference schedule? It seems absurd to me that teams will have to wait 4 years to play an out of division non-protected game with teams in their own conference. Secondly, If we were to move to a 9-game conference schedule, how do you think this would effect bye weeks and overall schedule timing? As a Buckeyes fan I feel that playing the Michigan game on Thanksgiving weekend is terrible for the students who have to travel back and forth from home and hurts the pre-game week festivities.

Adam Rittenberg: Things are great here in Chicago, Justin. Regarding the nine-game conference schedule, it's not Delany's call. It's the athletic directors who make that decision. Delany supported the move to nine games last August, and he has often talked about the importance of conference teams playing one another more, not less. But in the past year, momentum has slowed among the ADs to go to a nine-game league schedule. While some ADs like Michigan State's Mark Hollis never supported the idea, others also joined the movement to stay at eight. The league's coaches, not surprisingly, want to keep the eight-game league slate. Although the longer lulls between two Big Ten teams playing each other are an issue, the bigger concern among ADs was having unbalanced schedules (five Big Ten home games, four Big Ten road games) and the problems that creates when deciding a league champion. The eight-game schedule also helps the Big Ten's chances of reaching the national title game.

Regarding your second question, unless the season started earlier across college football, the Ohio State-Michigan game would remain on the Saturday after Thanksgiving to accommodate championship Saturday the following week. It doesn't have to do with bye weeks or number of league games, but when the season actually starts.

Brian from Atlanta writes: Adam, I'd like to propose a follow-up to your players poll. Without revealing any personal info, did you notice any interesting correlations to the answers? Were skill position players more likely to answer the same way than teammates, etc. Did linemen and skill players see eye to eye, etc.

Adam Rittenberg: Brian, I didn't see too many huge differences between skill players and linemen for most of the questions. The linemen seemed more willing to identify dirty players, and typically named linemen on the other side of the ball. At least one of the "would leave Penn State" votes came from a star player with legitimate NFL skills. I think if we'd surveyed more freshmen and sophomores, we would have gotten more saying they'd leave Penn State. But overall, there weren't too many strong correlations.

@DoWorkLaRoy (via Twitter) writes: what highly ranked team are we most likely to look back on in December and say, "Wow, we really screwed that one up..."?

Adam Rittenberg: Michigan and Wisconsin are the likeliest candidates. While I understand why Michigan is the Big Ten's highest-ranked team entering the season, the Wolverines schedule is among the nation's toughest. As I've stated many times, the Wolverines easily could be a better team than 2011 with an inferior record (i.e. 9-3) this season. It's just very hard to get through a slate featuring Alabama (neutral), Notre Dame (road), Nebraska (road), Michigan State (home) and Ohio State (road), especially when the team has question marks on both lines. Wisconsin also could take a step back this fall. Danny O'Brien isn't Russell Wilson, and the offense likely won't maintain its incredible pace from the past two seasons. The more I look at Wisconsin's defense from 2011, I see a very average unit with good numbers because it wasn't on the field that much. If the Badgers don't find an elite pass-rusher and improve in the secondary, they'll have some problems.

Buckingham U. Badger from Madison, Wis., writes: It seems as though the Badgers haven't had someone really step-up and take hold of the second receiver slot. Obviously [Jared] Abbrederis and [Jacob] Pederson will be the top targets, but two targets is hardly enough. Can you envision a scenario in which the Badgers move James White into that slot role, sort of like Percy Harvin did at Florida? Especially given that Montee [Ball] will receive the majority of the carries and Melvin Gordon seems poised to take over as the feature back.

Adam Rittenberg: While I think White can be used in different ways this season, I don't see him as a No. 2 receiver. He can be a nice change-of-pace guy, but Wisconsin would really benefit if someone else stepped forward during camp. Jeff Duckworth made some big plays in the Big Ten title game, and Manasseh Garner, Marquis Mason and Chase Hammond are three intriguing players, all with good size. If one or two of those guys takes a step during camp and can complement Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin's offense will be that much better. I agree that White needs to have a more expanded role, but he just doesn't strike me as a No. 2 receiver.

Jay from Colorado writes: "At some point, it stops becoming about restoring legacies or wins or blasting the NCAA or the university president or the board of trustees. At some point, the focus and energy needs to shift toward what's happening now and what will happen in the future. "Why don't you let the PSU community do that without providing a judgmental timeline...determined by the media. Despite what you may think, you don't know what kind of effect this has had on the community. Graduating from PSU for meteorology was a life goal and source of pride for me. Cheering for an icon was a privilege. Just because the reporters are not there anymore, espousing their narrative, does not mean the pain has healed and that we need to move on because you think we have to. On the contrary, the PSU community has repeatedly been dealt blow after blow. We are trying to assess and assimilate all that has happened in less than a year. Nobody knew, outside of the select few, anything about what was happening. So it is an understatement to say PSU was rocked by this. And if you expect us to work through it in the speed of the twitter-verse that we now live in, it is you that has lost touch.We are dealing with it...and 'it' has a lot of layers (child abuse and victims, failing of our leaders, media bombardment, failing of the BoT, firing Paterno, a riot, Paterno's death, the Sandusky trial, the Freeh report, and seeming blind acceptance of the Freeh report despite not interviewing key witnesses. So sorry if we are reeling...and would like due process and objectivity...even though that doesn't meet your or ESPN's timeline for how things should go. Stick to the football side of this...please don't moralize about our reaction as this ongoing saga continuously unfolds before our eyes.

Adam Rittenberg: I never wrote Penn Staters didn't deserve time to process all that has happened. React how you want to react. My comment is directed more toward those who clearly aren't helping the situation. What's the point of appealing the NCAA sanctions, which aren't subject to appeal? To show that you're not weak? To show that you're standing up to evil? I understand those folks are hurt by what happened, but they're not making the situation any easier, especially for Bill O'Brien and the current team. Of course, Penn State has been rocked by this, and it will take a very long time to get through what has gone on there. But to keep blaming the media or the Freeh report investigators or the board or whatever, doesn't seem to serve a purpose at this stage. Neither does throwing out the term "due process" without understanding that the NCAA viewed the Freeh report as a self-report from Penn State. There's little need for an infractions hearing at that point.

Some very bad things happened in State College. No one can refute that. The perception of the school has been harmed, and is further harmed by these appeals. Doesn't it matter how this looks to the outside world? Again, quietly processing all that has happened is completely fine. Doing so while supporting O'Brien and the current team seems like the best approach.

@AdoubleD (via Twitter) writes: What are your impressions of MSU's defense that stands out above all others?

Adam Rittenberg: Michigan State's defense has the best combination of talent and depth in the Big Ten. There's no obvious weakness on the unit, and even the defensive tackle position should be fine with Anthony Rashad White, Tyler Hoover and others. I love the way the Spartans have recruited on the defensive side, bringing in a lot of top-shelf athletes to East Lansing. They're not overly reliant on one or two stars, and they can go two or three deep at almost every position. Barring a wave of injuries, Michigan State should have a top 5 defense this season.

Patrick from Alexandria, Va., writes: Two comments on the "poll" results you have been posting. First, I think this is a terrible idea. Seriously, you are asking a bunch of kids which coach on other teams they'd least like to play for? Which opposing players are "dirty"? I know you guys like to get a little "edgy" but this is insulting. Second, you can't really ask for "anonymous" answers face-to-face; that's one reason why so many players did not respond to the negative questions. If you wanted to assure them of anonymity you should have used a simple on-line polling software (e.g., PollMonkey). That also would have allowed you to take a representative sample of players, giving you more valid and reliable results, rather than answers from a small, non-random group of interviewees. If you don't want to take the time how to do this right, then just stick to reporting and stay away from polling.

Adam Rittenberg: Patrick, some fair points here. It was our first go-round, and we certainly can improve our polling methods going forward. Maybe we'll poll Big Ten blog readers to get better questions next time, although I thought they worked out pretty well for the most part. Still, I don't know why you're "insulted" by a poll question, and as far as the edginess, deal with it. It's a blog. It's going to be opinionated and edgy. If you want to read about the loveliest things about each team and each program, all the rainbows and unicorns of the Big Ten, this isn't the place for that. I've made that clear a few thousand times. There are plenty of fanboy blogs out there for you to feel warm and fuzzy. But we'll make a better effort on the methods for polling next time around. We'll need cooperation from the schools, which isn't always easy, but we'll definitely give it a shot.

Big Ten mailblog

April, 3, 2012
Husker Country today, Hawkeye Country tomorrow. Wonder if I'll get stopped at customs.

Nate from Easley, S.C., writes: I really like the idea of a spring scrimmage but, other than injuries, I have one major concern. The current system is slanted towards benefitting those with a good pre-season ranking, so, if voters took the results of a glorified scrimmage into account, wouldn't it further skew the pre-season rankings? (Granted, voters pre-season ranking are already perception-based and not entirely accurate.) Said another way, do you think a scrimmage "Win" would take on more value than player development? Would two highly perceived teams want to to scrimmage if it hurt their stock going into the season?

Adam Rittenberg: Nate, this is a good question. Let me first say I despise preseason rankings. As much fun as is it to see where teams that haven't played games for nine months are subjectively rated in August, it really hurts a sport where there's such limited access to the national title game. My solution is to release the first polls about Oct. 15, but I don't know if it'll ever happen. That said, my hope is that spring scrimmages wouldn't have an overly significant impact on perception. Most teams aren't going to scrimmage their top players for very long, or risk injury to their starting quarterbacks. You can glean a few things about depth, potential breakout players, etc., but how a team performs in these scrimmages wouldn't be a great indicator of how good they'd be in the fall. So my hope is that the perception factor wouldn't be there, and it wouldn't affect whether teams scrimmage or how the polls turn out.

A.J. from Madison, Wis., writes: I agree that Wisconsin needs someone to step up on the defensive line, as well as more speed in general on defense, but I'm not sure I understand the criticism of the lack of receivers. Last year, did the Badgers have anybody we knew about other than Nick Toon? The fact is they almost never run formations with more than two receivers, and I don't think it will be hard to find one player to fill that role between Jeff Duckworth, Kenzel Doe, A.J. Jordan, or anybody else that could potentially step up.

Adam Rittenberg: A.J., I agree that Toon was the big name entering 2011, but Jared Abbrederis also had shown promise after recording 20 receptions in 2010. Wisconsin felt pretty good about Abby, and while some might not have expected him to match Toon's production, he and Toon looked like a solid 1-2 punch. You're right that Wisconsin rarely uses more than three wideouts at once, and with tight end Jacob Pedersen back, along with Abbrederis, the Badgers should be OK. But if either guy gets hurt, I'd be very concerned. Duckworth made a great catch in the Big Ten title game, and he could be that next man in. Yet he and the others have a lot to prove. Mannaseh Garner is another intriguing player. Ideally, Wisconsin wants to be able to go four or five deep at receiver, so it'll have insurance if there are injuries.

Ryan from Lincoln, Neb., writes: In every practice update I read the players talk about the attitude or "swag" this team is carrying with them this spring. Is that something you can sense with them? Also, how big do you think the strides Taylor Martinez has taken actually are? Thanks Adam!

Adam Rittenberg: Definitely, Ryan. I felt Nebraska was a confident team last spring, particularly on defense, but the Huskers' swagger seems to be reaching another level this year. They feel they have greater chemistry and camaraderie now, and it can't hurt that Bo Pelini and his staff have recruited everyone in the program. They also feel they'll be able to execute their schemes a lot better on both sides of the ball. Nebraska talked a lot last season about how different its two-gap defense is from what we see in the Big Ten. But for various reasons, including the first go-round through a new league, the advantages within the scheme didn't surface as often as most folks thought. There's a much greater comfort level on offense, as Nebraska is not only in Year 2 as a Big Ten member, but Year 2 of coordinator Tim Beck's scheme. Spring is always a time to be hopeful and optimistic, and you should want your team to have high expectations. Will Nebraska be projected as a national title contender outside Lincoln? No. But the players and coaches are shooting for that goal, and if a few things fall right, you never know.

Jon from Murfreesboro, Tenn., writes: I'm not an Iowa fan, but if I was, I would be expecting more from the program. With the amount of money Ferentz is getting paid and the minimal success he has had there, I just don't get it. Is there a coach in the Big Ten who is getting paid so handsomely for doing less than Ferentz? In 13 years in Iowa City he's had 4 ten win seasons and 2 conference titles, not exactly killing it. Outsider looking in, it sure seems like Iowa is just throwing cash at him and accept his mediocrity in the hopes that he stays and doesn't bolt for one of NFL jobs his name gets rumored about every year.

Adam Rittenberg: Jon, this is one of the topics I want to address when I'm in Iowa City this week. The thing that jumps out to everyone nationally about Iowa is Ferentz's salary. People acknowledge the wins totals, which are pretty respectable, but wonder why Iowa can't get more despite paying its coach top-10 money. With Iowa, you have to look at the bigger picture. There are some inherent disadvantages there, namely location for recruiting, that will always make it tough to be consistently elite. Iowa has some tradition, but it doesn't have the national allure of Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Nebraska. What Ferentz can sell is the ability to get players to the NFL. The pro personnel evaluators love Iowa, and if you're a good recruit with the potential to get a lot better in college, Iowa isn't a bad place to go. But it's certainly fair to expect more from Ferentz, especially at a time when Wisconsin, a comparable program, has reached back-to-back Rose Bowls. As for the constant NFL buzz, it has worked in Ferentz's favor with the school. But Iowa also doesn't want to become a North Carolina or a Washington State, programs that backslide after losing successful coaches (Mack Brown, Mike Price).

Andrew from Harrisonville, Mo., writes: I love the blog Adam, especially your coverage of the Huskers. And when I was watching your video with Ben Cotton, I noticed how much bigger he was then you. Do you feel small when your in a room full of football players?

Adam Rittenberg: No doubt, Andrew. Clearly bad genetics. It's especially tough with offensive linemen, defensive linemen, tight ends and wide receivers. It's why I'll miss guys like Edwin Baker and Jay Valai -- I was at eye-level with them. If your team has a lineman or a tight end who looks about my height on the videos, you might want to get worried.

Chris from Chicago writes: Given the relative depth/speed at linebacker and the trouble developing a consistent pass-rush with the D-line, did you get any indication during your visits to Evanston that Northwestern might be shifting to a 3-4? Seems like it might be well employed there....

Adam Rittenberg: Chris, it's interesting. When Pat Fitzgerald first became head coach, he mentioned several times on record that the 3-4 was the team's future on defense. But the plans have changed, and I don't see the 3-4 on the horizon in Evanston. Although the coaches feel they've upgraded the athleticism at the linebacker spot, there aren't many proven players aside from the three returning starters (David Nwabuisi, Damien Proby and Collin Ellis). Although the defensive line has some major question marks after recording a league-low 17 sacks in 2011, I get the sense the coaches like their depth there and expect better things this fall. The fact is Northwestern's linebacker play has dropped off a bit after a nice run in the first part of the last decade. I don't know if this is the time to make a switch to the 3-4.

Goldy Gopher from the Frozen Four writes: Do you see Optimus Prime (Rasheed Hageman) having a breakout season making the Gopher run defense respectable?

Adam Rittenberg: Ah, Ra'Shede Hageman. How long have we been hearing he's on the verge of stardom? I remember former Minnesota coach Tim Brewster raving about Hageman a few years ago. Perhaps this is the year he turns the corner, and Minnesota could really use a dominant pass-rusher to emerge. He's a specimen at 6-foot-6, 300 pounds, and he delivered a big hit at a recent practice, but he has only 18 career tackles in 20 career games. So he's still very much unproven in my eyes. But he's only a redshirt junior, so he has time to make strides, and should be better off in the second year under coordinator Tracy Claeys. Minnesota should be OK at linebacker, but it needs several players to make big strides up front and in the secondary. Hageman could be a building block for the Gophers.

Zac from Ann Arbor, Mich., writes: Adam, when will ESPN choose the B1G night games?

Adam Rittenberg: It varies each season, Zac, but the primetime schedule usually comes out in late April or early May. Last year, it came out on May 19, a little later than usual. But there's a larger demand for night games now, and the Big Ten is dealing with ABC/ESPN and the Big Ten Network making picks. I'll bug my pal Mark Rudner in the Big Ten office and see if I can get him moving. So many great choices this year!

Bryan from Michigan writes: Adam,What are the odds of Michigan beating Alabama the first game on the year and then going undefeated for the next 11 games and then wining the big ten championship game and then playing for the national title.

Adam Rittenberg: The Alabama game provides an excellent barometer for Michigan. Are the Wolverines on the cusp of being elite again, or were they a good team with a great record in 2011? We should find out a lot at JerryWorld. People can talk all day about the players Alabama has lost, but any time you beat the Crimson Tide under Nick Saban, it's a signature win in my book. I regard Saban as by far the best coach in the nation, and the Alabama program as a notch above the rest. Looking for an elite program in a competitive environment? Look at the Tide. So if Michigan can beat Alabama, the sky's the limit, although the Wolverines' road doesn't get easier with trips to Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio State. It'll be tough to go undefeated with this schedule.
Wisconsin's fax machine likely didn't run out of ink Feb. 1 as the Badgers signed only 12 football recruits, five fewer than any other team in the Big Ten.

Badgers coach Bret Bielema actually thought the class would be nine or 10, as some roster spots opened up late, including that of center Peter Konz, who decided to skip his senior season and enter the NFL draft. The small class left some Wisconsin fans less than thrilled, but the release of the team's spring roster Thursday provides an explanation.

Wisconsin opens spring practice with just nine seniors on the roster. Only one of them, star running back Montee Ball, is a true senior, while the other eight are entering their fifth years. Eight of the seniors are scholarship players.

Every team redshirts players, Wisconsin has taken things to the extreme in recent years.

While Wisconsin has just nine players of senior eligibility, it has 25 (!) redshirt juniors along with three true juniors: running back James White, wide receiver Manasseh Garner and defensive lineman Beau Allen.

The small senior class and large junior class means Wisconsin likely will sign another small class in February 2013.

The trend continues with Wisconsin's sophomore class, which includes 27 redshirt sophomores and five true sophomores. Wisconsin redshirted only 22 freshmen in 2011, but it's pretty clear the approach the coaches are taking.

Redshirting clearly means more in Madison than the jersey players will wear on fall Saturdays. There are certainly benefits to keeping players in the program for five years, but it also increases the pressure to offer and sign the right recruits as there aren't as many open scholarships.
Wisconsin will be without its top receiver today against Indiana.

Senior Nick Toon is out with a sore left foot. He sustained the injury Oct. 1 in Wisconsin's win against Nebraska and is being held out as a precautionary measure. Toon is expected to return next week for Wisconsin's showdown at Michigan State.

Toon's absence shouldn't hurt too much against Indiana, as Wisconsin figures to run the ball a lot today. The concern here is Toon underwent surgery on his foot during the offseason and missed three games last year because of turf toe.

He leads Wisconsin in receptions (25), receiving yards (447) and receiving touchdowns (6). Expect Manasseh Garner to see more action as Wisconsin's No. 2 receiver alongside Jared Abbrederis.

Big Ten Labor Day personnel roundup

September, 5, 2011
The blog is lighter than normal during the Labor Day holiday, but Big Ten teams remain hard at work.

Here are a few personnel nuggets revealed today around the league:


Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said linebacker Will Compton is day-to-day with a foot injury but has no structural damage. Compton missed the first five games of last season with a foot ailment. Pelini also said star cornerback Alfonzo Dennard (pulled leg muscle) is improving and getting closer to a return. I'd expect to see Dennard on the field Week 3 against Washington, at the latest.


Michigan should be close to full strength for its prime time showdown against Notre Dame. Top cornerback Troy Woolfolk, who suffered a left ankle injury on kickoff coverage against Western Michigan, should be ready for the Irish, coach Brady Hoke said. Woolfolk missed all of last season with a dislocated right ankle. Linebacker Cam Gordon (back) also is expected to return. Freshman Jake Ryan performed well in Gordon's spot against Western. Left guard Ricky Barnum is back this week from a suspension, but he'll compete with Michael Schofield for the starting job in practice.


Wisconsin starting left guard Travis Frederick likely will miss this week's game against Oregon State after suffering a slight MCL sprain in the opener. Sophomore Ryan Groy is listed as the starter in place of Frederick. The Badgers should get receiver Manasseh Garner (hernia surgery) back for the Beavers. Backup quarterback Jon Budmayr underwent surgery Friday to relieve a nerve problem in his throwing arm. His return is uncertain. "It could be two weeks, it could be two months," coach Bret Bielema said.


As I tweeted Sunday, quarterback Kain Colter is fine after undergoing precautionary X-rays following the win against Boston College. Expect Colter to start again in place of Dan Persa this week against Eastern Illinois. The Wildcats will be without starting defensive tackle Jack DiNardo (leg). Sophomore Will Hampton and freshman Chance Carter will compete to fill DiNardo's spot.


Ed Wright-Baker is listed as the No. 1 quarterback for this week's game against Virginia. No surprise there, as Wright-Baker delivered a solid effort in his first career start and wasn't the reason why IU lost to Ball State. Two starters, linebacker Leon Beckum and right tackle Josh Hager, aren't listed on the depth chart following injuries in the opener. Junior Lee Rose is listed as the starting weak-side linebacker, while veteran offensive lineman Justin Pagan shifts from guard to tackle. Receiver Duwyce Wilson and tight end Ted Bolser both aren't listed on the depth chart again as they deal with injuries.


Jason White will be the No. 2 running back this week after the season-ending injury to freshman Mika'il McCall. Sophomore defensive tackle Dominic Alvis has leapfrogged Thomas Nardo into a starting spot, while defensive tackle Carl Davis isn't listed on the depth chart because of an injury.
Wisconsin has good to great depth at several key positions, but wide receiver isn't one of them.

After projected starters Nick Toon and Jared Abbrederis, the Badgers lack proven players and are hoping to build depth in camp. Sophomore Manasseh Garner looked like a good option for the No. 3 receiver role, but he'll miss the next 3-4 weeks following hernia surgery.

Garner will have surgery today and will miss the season opener Sept. 1 against UNLV but should be back for a Week 2 matchup against Oregon State. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Garner, considered a receiver-tight end hybrid, impressed me during spring ball and should provide a boost when he gets healthy.

Who steps up no alongside Toon and Abbrederis?
"Up for grabs," coach Bret Bielema told reporters Tuesday. "You’ve got [Jeff] Duckworth, you’ve got Kenzel Doe, I'm not ruling out any of the three freshmen. I haven’t seen somebody step forward that I would like to come out of the pack."

Doe, a 5-8 freshman projected to be a factor on returns, is an intriguing prospect who enrolled early and turned some heads this spring. Freshman Jordan Fredrick also is a name to watch.

But as good as quarterback Russell Wilson could be this fall, he'll need more options to develop in the passing game.

Fresh faces: Wisconsin

August, 3, 2011
Our look at three fresh faces to watch for each Big Ten team this season continues with the Wisconsin Badgers. Wisconsin has produced the past two Big Ten Freshmen of the Year (RB James White in 2010, LB Chris Borland in 2009).

These players are freshmen, redshirt freshmen, transfers or upperclassmen ready to move into much bigger roles this season.

OFFENSE: Manasseh Garner, TE/WR, sophomore, 6-2, 210

Wisconsin needs more pass-catching options to help its new starting quarterback, and Garner should see an increased role this fall. The Badgers love to feature their tight ends as receivers, and Garner has the speed and athleticism to get open in the middle of the field. He played mostly on special teams as a true freshman but had a nice spring and fits the tight end-wide receiver hybrid mold, much like former All-Big Ten standout Lance Kendricks. Garner had four receptions for 57 yards in the spring game.

DEFENSE: Marcus Trotter, LB, redshirt freshman, 6-0, 235

Injuries to top middle linebackers Chris Borland and Ethan Armstrong allowed Trotter to play with the first-team defense this spring. Trotter capitalized on the opportunity, impressing the coaches with his play and increasing his chances of seeing the field this season. He had five tackles and a forced fumble in the spring game and boasts a knack for being around the ball. Trotter provides some insurance in case Borland's shoulder issues crop up again.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Kenzel Doe, WR, freshman, 5-8, 170

Wisconsin hopes Doe can step in following the departure of longtime return man David Gilreath. Doe enrolled early and had an impressive spring, drawing comparisons to Gilreath and showing good leaping ability to counter his size. The coaches will give him immediate opportunities on returns as Wisconsin tries to remain among the Big Ten leaders.

More Fresh Faces
MADISON, Wis. -- A layer of snow or freezing rain or something yucky covered the Camp Randall Stadium field on Tuesday afternoon. Thankfully, Wisconsin held its practice inside the McClain Center, and I was there for most of it.

Some quick thoughts and notes from the Badgers' 13th workout of the spring.
  • Quarterback Jon Budmayr had a live arm and he showcased it several times during the practice, especially in team drills. Budmayr made a nice throw to a leaping Kenzel Doe, and he also found Jared Abbrederis for a good gain. The downside is he often looked hesitant in the pocket, which will cost him in games. Although he moves decently and can extend plays, he needs to get rid of the ball faster. It's important to note that top receiver Nick Toon isn't practicing following offseason foot surgery, and Budmayr doesn't have a ton of options at his disposal. Some will point to Budmayr's lack of size as a concern, but he can get it done if his decision making gets a bit better.
  • I don't think Budmayr will be pushed much for the starting job. Although redshirt freshman Joe Brennan and true freshman Joel Stave both have nice size and can spin it, their youth shows up at times and both players threw interceptions. Unless Curt Phillips makes amazing progress by fall camp, this will be Budmayr's team.
  • Senior cornerback Devin Smith had a very impressive practice. Smith, who served as Wisconsin's nickelback last season after starting in 2009, stepped in front of a receiver to intercept a Stave pass. Moments later, he won a 50-50 ball against Abbrederis for another interception. The Badgers should have the Big Ten's top cornerback tandem this fall with Smith and All-Big Ten selection Antonio Fenelus. Aaron Henry enters his second full season at safety, while sophomore Dezmen Southward seemed to get the most time as the second first-team safety, while second-team cornerback Peniel Jean recorded an interception. The secondary could be Wisconsin's strongest unit on defense this fall.
  • Wisconsin likely will account for its lack of wide receivers with more tight ends on the field this fall. Toon and Abbrederis are the team's only proven receivers, and I didn't see a clear No. 3 option Tuesday. The good news: there are quite a few options at tight end. Sophomore Manasseh Garner stood out to me Tuesday. Listed as a tight end, the 6-foot-2, 213-pound Garner can play on the edges and made several nice catches. The Badgers will use him as a pass-catcher.
  • Speaking of tight ends, no player impressed me more Tuesday than senior tight end Jake Byrne. He made several nice plays on vertical passes in the middle of the field. Byrne can really stretch the defense. Wisconsin should feature multiple tight ends a lot this fall as Byrne, Jacob Pedersen and Garner all are good options.
  • The pass game only needs to be serviceable because Wisconsin's rushing attack once again should be scary good. Top backs Montee Ball and James White looked good Tuesday, along with the mammoth offensive line. Both Ball and White transformed their bodies during the winter -- Ball slimmed down to 214 pounds and White strengthened his lower body -- and the gains are noticeable when you see them.
  • For depth chart aficionados, the first-team defensive line typically consisted of Louis Nzegwu and Brendan Kelly at the end spots and Patrick Butrym and Ethan Hemer at the tackle spots. Defensive end David Gilbert seemed to be dealing with some sort of ailment. The top linebackers were Mike Taylor, Kevin Claxton and redshirt freshman Marcus Trotter, a star of the spring who made some nice plays.
Wisconsin will be without its top returning receiver this spring as Nick Toon sits out following offseason foot surgery.

Coach Bret Bielema announced Monday that Toon, who ranked second on the team in both receptions (36) and receiving yards (459) last season, will be sidelined for the spring. The Badgers open spring ball Tuesday.

Toon, a two-year starter, missed three games in 2010 with turf toe and saw his production decline from 2009, when he racked up 805 receiving yards. He made the right call to return to Madison for his senior season and provides a proven target for Wisconsin's new starting quarterback.

The Badgers return two starting receivers in Toon and Jared Abbrederis, although they're looking for more options.

Bielema also said Monday that quarterback Curt Phillips and offensive tackle Josh Oglesby both will have limited participation in spring ball following knee surgeries.

Wisconsin down two receivers vs. ASU

September, 17, 2010
Jared Abbrederis was the talk of spring football at Wisconsin, drawing comparisons to another star walk-on receiver for the Badgers, Luke Swan.

We'll see Saturday if Abbrederis can duplicate Swan's production on the game field.

Abbrederis is one of several players who likely will get increased work Saturday afternoon. Wisconsin will face Arizona State (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET) without two starting receivers, Nick Toon and David Gilreath. Toon will miss his second consecutive game with turf toe, while Gilreath sits out following a concussion he suffered on a scary collision last week against San Jose State.

Fortunately, Gilreath appears to be OK after a short trip to the hospital, and both he and Toon should be back soon.

But against the Sun Devils, Wisconsin will turn to starter Isaac Anderson as well as Abbrederis, Kyle Jefferson, Jeff Duckworth and possibly true freshman Manasseh Garner, who could make his collegiate debut Saturday.

Abbrederis likely will handle punt returns in place of Gilreath, while freshman running back James White moves into the primary kickoff return role.

The injuries at receiver place a greater burden on tight end Lance Kendricks, who had three receptions for 60 yards and a touchdown last week.

Wisconsin's offensive line also will be down a starter as right tackle Josh Oglesby deals with a knee injury. Oglesby could play Saturday, but Ricky Wagner will get the start at right tackle.

Nuggets from Wisconsin practice

September, 2, 2010
I've reviewed the Big Ten Network's final preview show at Wisconsin. The crew of Dave Revsine, Gerry DiNardo and Howard Griffith recently stopped by a Badgers practice.

Here are some notes and observations from the show:
  • The offense looked very good in the practice, and I think Wisconsin boasts the most balanced attack in the Big Ten. Quarterback Scott Tolzien is a perfect fit for Paul Chryst's system, the offensive line is big and very physical and there are plenty of weapons at running back, wide receiver and tight end. "This is the most physical offense in the conference," DiNardo said. "There's no doubt about it."
  • Running back John Clay told the BTN crew that his surgically repaired ankles were a bit tender at the start of camp, but he's working his way into game shape. Clay looked OK in the practice, but backups Montee Ball and James White stood out to me. Ball brings a good mix of speed and size, and White really throws a change-up at the defense with tremendous quickness. White made two nifty cutbacks on a long run during team drills. "Talk about a kid who really has it all," Griffith said. "He can flat-out play." I'm already getting excited for the competition at running back after Clay moves onto the NFL.
  • It's fun to watch Tolzien, because he lacks the ideal mechanics but almost always gets the job done. His passing targets performed well in the workout. Top wideout Nick Toon had a good day, displaying physical play and beating two defenders for a touchdown on a deep ball in team drills. "Toon really stood out in this practice," Revsine said. Kyle Jefferson and Lance Kendricks also made several nice catches, and walk-on Jared Abbrederis should be a key contributor this fall.
  • I kept a close eye on the secondary during the practice. There were some issues during team drills, including a breakdown that left Kendricks wide open in the back of the end zone for an easy touchdown. Junior cornerback Antonio Fenelus, one of three players competing for two starting spots, had a nice pass breakup. Reserve safety Shelton Johnson, who drew praise from coach Bret Bielema and the BTN crew, picked off Tolzien near the goal line and likely would have been gone for a touchdown had it been a game. Defensive backs Devin Smith and Peniel Jean showed physical play in a bump-and-run drill that put them against bigger receivers. New secondary coach Chris Ash is very vocal and could be heard a lot during the practice.
  • Wisconsin's young defensive line really should benefit from going against arguably the nation's top offensive line in practice. It was a lot of fun watching junior end J.J. Watt go against star left tackle Gabe Carimi in drills. On one play, defensive tackle Patrick Butrym split a double team, forcing the ball-carrier to cut back. DiNardo tabbed another defensive tackle, sophomore Eriks Briedis, as his under-the-radar player. Bielema said the defensive tackles made a big jump from the first scrimmage to the second. "People thought we were going to be a weakness last year," Watt said of the defensive line, "and that's what a lot of people are saying this year, so we're real excited to prove people wrong."
  • DiNardo had an interesting take on Wisconsin's schedule, saying the Badgers' soft nonconference slate won't adequately prepare them for Big Ten play. Wisconsin faces UNLV, San Jose State, Arizona State and Austin Peay in September before a tough Big Ten opener Oct. 2 at Michigan State. "I don’t know if they’re going to know their problems [after the nonconference slate]," DiNardo said.
  • Bielema told the BTN crew that he expects several freshmen to play right away, including White, defensive lineman Beau Allen and wide receiver Manasseh Garner.
  • Both DiNardo and Griffith love Wisconsin's potential, but they're also concerned about how all the hype and attention will affect the Badgers. The 2008 season is still fresh in the minds of a lot of folks, but I expect the Badgers to handle themselves better. Bielema said only once during the team's first 17 practices did he need to step in and question the work ethic. "Our role as humblers," Bielema said of the coaching staff, "we accept very willingly."
The Wisconsin Badgers are up next on the revolving door series.

Going ...

O'Brien Schofield, DE: A prototypical speed rush end, Schofield made his mark on virtually every game last fall and was could not be blocked at times. He finished second nationally in tackles for loss (24.5), and recorded two or more in nine contests. Schofield also finished second in the Big Ten in sacks with 12.

Chris Maragos, S: Maragos could end up being the biggest loss for Wisconsin's defense because of the position he plays and the leadership he provided. He led the Badgers with four interceptions and recorded a forced fumble, a sack and 49 tackles. The team captain leaves a leadership void that Jay Valai and Aaron Henry will try to fill.

Staying ...

John Clay, RB: The 2009 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year is only a junior, and he'll try to take another step after leading the league with 1,517 rushing yards last fall. Clay expects to be more durable following offseason ankle surgeries, and he'll be running behind a veteran offensive line in 2010. He recorded nine 100-yard rushing performances last season.

J.J. Watt, DE: Schofield will be missed, but Wisconsin might have the perfect replacement in Watt, who is primed for a breakout season. Watt quietly recorded 15.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, five passes defended, four quarterback hurries and two fumble recoveries in 2009. He should shine in a featured role this fall.

Coming ...

Frank Tamakloe, S: Secondary depth is a bit of an issue for the Badgers, and Tamakloe is a decorated prospect with good size and speed. Wisconsin needs some insurance behind Valai and Henry, and Tamakloe might be a good option.

Manasseh Garner, TE/WR: Wisconsin doesn't have a lot of holes on offense, but Garner's versatility could help him get on the field early. The Badgers need some complementary options for wideout Nick Toon and tight end Lance Kendricks, and the 6-2, 205-pound Garner could be a factor.

More revolving door ...

Wisconsin recruiting analysis

February, 4, 2010
Wisconsin Badgers

The class

Recruits: 24 (all high school seniors, one enrolled early). Wisconsin also signed six preferred walk-ons.

Top prospects: Safety Frank Tamakloe was on the fringes of the ESPNU 150 rankings. Defensive tackle Beau Allen could be a force on the defensive line very early in his career.

Sleepers: Offensive lineman Joe McNamara, a late arrival to the class, could end up being a steal. Another late arrival, wide receiver Isaiah Williams from Miami, provides a big target for the quarterback.

Needs met: Wisconsin needed defensive tackles and got three of them, including Allen. The Badgers also addressed the secondary with four defensive backs, including Tamakloe and Peniel Jean.

Analysis: For the second consecutive year, Wisconsin has to feel very good about its recruiting class. Rankings don't matter to Bret Bielema and his assistants, who got a lot out of unheralded young players in 2009 and likely will do so again in 2010. The Badgers added depth in the defensive backfield and the offensive line, filled a need on the interior defensive line and picked up another quarterback in Joseph Brennan. This was an unusually good year for in-state recruiting, and Wisconsin capitalized at home before polishing off the class with Florida prospects.

Scouts Inc. grade: C

What Bret Bielema said:
  • "We expected to take four DBs, which we did. We expected to take three linebackers, so we oversigned by one there. And then the defensive line, it was just an exceptional year for us to get kids on campus and get an opportunity to recruit them. I'm really pleased with the progress there. And then on the offensive side, we had smaller numbers, but we went after specific targets and were able to get them."
  • "Obviously, Dallas Lewallen, the young man from Wisconsin, fits our mode, and then Robbie Havenstein comes our way from Maryland, but in reality, his mom and dad were born and raised in Michigan, Midwest people through and through. They really fit into what we try to do offensive-line wise. And then with the tight ends, same deal. Manasseh [Garner] is more of a Travis Beckum, Lance Kendricks type, and Sherard [Cadogan] is more of a Garrett Graham type, he can do a lot of different things."
  • "Frank [Tamakloe] was a kid who came in during the summer and went on a whirlwind tour, looked at a lot of places that had great academics and a good football reputation. We're excited to get him in here, especially the inroads we're making in that part of the country [Washington D.C.]."