NCF Nation: Andy Ludwig

MADISON, Wis. -- Most Wisconsin players had disappeared into the northeast tunnel of Camp Randall Stadium, leaving behind another spring workout. But Melvin Gordon remained, running routes and catching passes from walk-on quarterback Thad Armstrong.

It's the type of image college football fans covet but can't always count on: their team's best player being the last to leave the practice field. In this way, Wisconsin fans are spoiled with their recent running backs. Montee Ball set records on fall Saturdays, but he was even better, teammates and coaches say, during practices. James White forged a 4,015-yard, 48-touchdown Badgers career on production, versatility and unselfishness. Those qualities showed up every time he practiced.

[+] EnlargeMelvin Gordon
Matt Kartozian/USA TODAY SportsMelvin Gordon said he came back this season to lead Wisconsin to a national championship.
Now comes Gordon, the flashiest of the recent Badgers backs. Ball mass-produced touchdowns; Gordon mass-produces highlight-reel runs. Last season he led the FBS in runs of 60 yards or longer (4) and 70 yards or longer (3), while ranking in the top five for rushes of 30 yards or longer (9) and 40 yards or longer (6).

But on this day, as afternoon spills into evening, Gordon works on catching passes. He recorded only one reception in 2013 and has just three in his career.

"I always try to do a little something after practice," Gordon told "People ask me what specific thing I'm working on, what one thing, but as a back, you have to work on everything, feel like everything is your weakness and make it a strength."

There is a next level for Gordon. He sees it. If there wasn't, he would have gone to the next level. Instead, he's back at Wisconsin, hoping to take the program to the next level.

Gordon finalized his decision in December before receiving a grade from the NFL draft advisory board. He was projected as a second-round pick and could have climbed higher with a strong pre-draft showing.

"It was very clear what Melvin wanted to do," Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said. "He wanted to come back. He never seemed one bit distracted, nor has he seemed one bit distracted since that time. If you ask Melvin right now, it's clear-cut for him: He wants to be in a position to help the team reach a high level of elite football, and be the featured tailback.

"That is his goal."

Gordon specified his objective last week on a conference call with reporters.

"I want to get our team to the playoff," he said. "I have a paper posted on my wall of the College Football Playoff. I didn’t come back to win this or that, to win the Heisman, people talk about that, I don't really feel like that's important. The goal right now is a national championship.

"Wisconsin's never had one before, so that's my goal and that's our team goal."

Gordon undoubtedly will enter the Heisman picture if he builds upon a sophomore season that included 1,609 rush yards and 12 touchdowns on only 206 carries. He led the nation and set a team record in yards per rush (7.81). With a career average of 8.1 yards per rush, he needs just 12 attempts to set the Big Ten record held by former Penn State star Ki-Jana Carter (7.27 YPR).

[+] EnlargeGary Anderson
Michael Hickey/Getty ImagesWisconsin coach Gary Andersen has no doubt about Melvin Gordon's significance.
The big runs should come, but Gordon wants to be a pass-catching back, a role White held last season (39 receptions). Gordon also knows he must improve his pass-blocking. The spring helped him in these areas, as Andersen held Gordon out of contact this spring and limited his ball-carrying reps, taking no chances with Wisconsin's best weapon or his talented backup, Corey Clement.

"Melvin plays so well with the ball in his hands," offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig said. "This spring, he's had great opportunities playing without the ball, and has made the most of those opportunities."

The reduced role posed a challenge at times. Wide receiver Kenzel Doe, one of Gordon's best friends, said Gordon often told him, "Man, I know they don't want me to get the reps, but I want to be out there so bad."

Gordon maximized the reps he received during practice and stayed after to work more.

"Montee always told me, 'Practice is harder than games,'" Gordon said. "Everything you do in practice, you get to the game, you’ll be in the same situation, and you'll be able to make that cut. You practice how you play. I believe in that."

Gordon has known he would be back at Wisconsin for four months. Three of those months have featured incessant NFL draft coverage, from the scouting combine to pro days to individual workouts to daily rumors. A later draft means three more weeks of chatter.

You wouldn't blame a player who easily could be part of the process for completely tuning it out. But Gordon watches "all of it." He loves the NFL Network as much as the next draftnik.

"When they're talking about this running back or that one, you can't help but think about it," Gordon said of his potential pro path. "It's human nature. But you can't dwell on it too much. When you give your commitment, that's what it is. You can't go back, even if you wanted to."

Andersen doesn't undersell what Gordon's return means. "Huge," he said, "is probably not a big enough word." Wisconsin is very thin at wide receiver after losing Jared Abbrederis and remains unsettled at quarterback coming out of the spring.

No matter who lines up under center, the unit will lean on Gordon and Clement, who Andersen calls Wisconsin's two best offensive players. At times, they'll play together. Other times, they'll spell one another. Gordon and White formed the most productive single-season rushing tandem in NCAA history last fall (3,053 yards), and hopes are high that Clement complements Gordon just as well, if not better.

But Gordon returned to be the lead ball carrier, to be more involved in the pass game, to be a complete player and a better leader. He'll reach the next level soon enough.

He wants to get Wisconsin there first.

"His mentality is, 'I came back for a reason,'" Doe said. "He has that eagerness to win, so he's going to do whatever he has to do."

MADISON, Wis. -- Spring practice has provided some answers at quarterback in places like Nebraska, Northwestern, Illinois and Minnesota. Other competitions, while potentially narrowing a bit, remain unresolved as summer approaches.

Wisconsin certainly belongs in the latter category. A program that is no stranger to quarterback races has another that should last well into fall camp.

Junior Joel Stave has started for the better part of the past two seasons. But an AC joint injury to his throwing shoulder sustained in the Capital One Bowl against South Carolina has limited him throughout spring and ended his session prematurely following Saturday's scrimmage. Stave won't participate in Saturday's spring game. Although Andersen admits the injury is a concern and further evaluation is needed, Stave should be fine for summer workouts.

[+] EnlargeJoel Stave
Mike McGinnis/Getty ImagesA recurring injury suffered in Wisconsin's bowl game might have put Joel Stave behind in Wisconsin's QB race.
Even if Stave had been healthy, he likely still would have to beat out Tanner McEvoy in fall camp. McEvoy, a junior college transfer who briefly competed for the starting quarterback job last summer before moving to wide receiver and eventually to safety, has spent the entire offseason as a signal-caller. He took most of the reps with the top offense in Tuesday's practice and will do the same Saturday.

"There's definitely a separation between those two and the rest of the pack," Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen told "I see D.J. [Gillins] and Bart [Houston] fighting in different ways and different situations and scenarios."

Stave's injury and a wave of others to an already inexperienced wide receiving corps have made it tough to get an accurate gauge on the passing game this spring. Senior Kenzel Doe is the only wideout with substantial experience who is fully participating in the spring. Alex Erickson is sitting out the spring following a knee injury in the bowl game, Jordan Fredrick suffered an arm injury midway through the session and Robert Wheelwright, pegged by many to emerge as Wisconsin's top wideout, has been slowed by a knee issue.

The Badgers will be healthier at receiver in fall camp, and most likely better as five wide receiver recruits arrive, led by Dareian Watkins.

"We need a couple of them to produce for us," offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig said. "To say all five are going to step in and produce right away, that would be a little bit of a stretch. But we're looking for two guys: one that can provide a vertical stretch for us and the next guy to see what his strengths are and design around him.

"We need a player to take the top off the coverage."

Another subplot is where Andersen, Lugwig and the staff truly want to take the offense. In recruiting McEvoy and Gillins, the coaches made it clear they want more athleticism under center. Andersen wants "the threat of the run" at quarterback to complement backs Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement.

Wisconsin has incorporated more zone-read plays this spring, and McEvoy said the speed option was introduced in Tuesday's practice.

"Me being mobile gives some more elements that hopefully I can use," McEvoy said. "It seems to be working, but it's the same playbook as before. We've just got to execute."

Ludwig considers both Gillins, a freshman early enrollee, and McEvoy, as "brand-new players" this spring. He's pleased with the way both have learned the system but wants to see better execution from all the quarterbacks.

"Recently, I've had happy feet when I'm in the pocket," McEvoy said. "The next couple of days, I'm going to focus on really staying in there, taking my steps and throwing the ball, and running it when I really need to run it."

Gillins is ahead of where the coaches thought he would be and, with a strong summer, could push both Stave and McEvoy when camp begins. Andersen said if it appears Gillins won't contribute much at quarterback this fall, he'll likely redshirt rather than play another position.

Houston has the arm strength but lacks mobility and needs to show greater consistency to factor in the race.

"With Joel not being 100 percent, it's kind of tweaked our thought process a little bit," Ludwig said. "The guys are all competing well and learning. We've got to be a lot more productive at the QB spot. Spring football, it's about being productive and laying a foundation for the summer workouts, and putting yourself in position to come back in fall camp as Practice 16 rather than Practice 1."
When Northwestern prepared for its game at Wisconsin earlier this month, one play the Wildcats knew to look out for defensively was the Melvin Gordon jet sweep package.

But like other teams before and after, Northwestern found out that knowing that play is coming and stopping it are two very different things.

“Most teams have game-planned for it, and so did we,” Wildcats head coach Pat Fitzgerald said this week. “We went 0-for-2 on it.”

[+] EnlargeMelvin Gordon
Matt Kartozian/USA TODAY SportsArizona State is one of several teams that have been helpless against the Melvin Gordon jet sweep that Wisconsin runs.
Those two misses happened to come on the two biggest plays of Wisconsin’s 35-6 win on Oct. 12. In the first quarter, the Badgers used the sweep as part of a play-action, 63-yard touchdown pass to Jared Abbrederis. Gordon got the handoff in the second quarter and took it 71 yards for the score.

Halloween isn’t until tomorrow, but the Gordon jet sweep series has been terrorizing opponents for about a year now and ranks as arguably the single most devastating play in the Big Ten.

“It’s always fun running that play in a game,” Gordon told “If teams don’t get the right guys in the right place, you can break it for a long one.”

What we describe as the jet sweep series is really an option play. The Badgers can go at least three different ways with it, and they’re often highly successful.

It all begins with Gordon, the Big Ten’s leading rusher, lining up as a wide receiver. Before the snap, he goes into motion. If the quarterback hands Gordon the ball, he already has a head of steam, and Wisconsin usually places two tight ends on the play side along with the other wide receiver, who becomes a downfield blocker.

“It comes down to you and the safety and the cornerback,” Gordon said. “And 95 percent of the time, the tight end or the receiver is going to get the block. There’s always one guy you’ve got to make guy miss, but as a running back, you’ve got to take pride in making that one guy miss.”

Gordon is one of the best in the Big Ten at doing just that. With his speed, elusiveness and vision, getting him on the edge with a convoy of blockers is a frightening proposition for defenses.

Gordon gained 113 of his 193 rushing yards at Arizona State earlier this season on jet sweep carries, including an 80-yard touchdown run. A week after the package worked for two big scores against Northwestern, it resulted in a 28-yard Gordon run to set up a touchdown at Illinois.

“He gets out on the perimeter right now,” Illinois coach Tim Beckman said. “You have to try to read and get to the perimeter as fast as you can. If you don’t, you’re going to have problems with that play.”

If Gordon were solely running a glorified end-around, then defenses could easily stop it. But Wisconsin also can use Gordon as a decoy and either A) hand it to James White, one of the most accomplished running backs in Big Ten history or B) throw downfield in almost certain single coverage to Abbrederis. On the 63-yard touchdown throw to Abbrederis versus Northwestern, quarterback Joel Stave faked to Gordon and then to White before stepping up in the pocket for the throw. Abbrederis was running free behind the Wildcats’ safety.

“It’s not an option play, but there are three different options off of it, and you’ve got to play each one the same way,” Fitzgerald said. “You have to stay disciplined with your eyes on the back end. On the big play to Jared, we did not get our safety rotation the right way.”

The Badgers began incorporating the jet sweep in the middle of last season as a way to get Gordon -- then the third-string running back behind White and Montee Ball -- involved in the offense. Then they broke it out in a big way against Nebraska in the Big Ten championship game. Gordon opened Wisconsin’s flood of scoring with a 56-yard touchdown off the jet sweep and ended up with 216 yards on only nine carries.

When Gary Andersen took over as head coach following the Rose Bowl, he and new offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig knew not to fix what wasn’t broken.

“Andy had that play in his system prior [to Wisconsin], and without question, we looked at the success it had,” Andersen said. “It’s something Melvin is very good at, and we try to use kids’ talents to give them the opportunity to succeed at the highest level.”

Gordon said he expected the package to remain in the playbook for the new coaches, but he’s been surprised at how much they’ve used it this season. Other teams are not surprised to see the formation.

“Since the beginning of year, every time I go out there I hear them yelling ‘25! 25!’” said Gordon, who wears that number. “They’re checking and they’re moving around. I’m hearing them, so obviously they’re preparing for it.”

But as teams keep finding out, preparing for the jet sweep play and stopping it are two very different things.
It's no real secret that new Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen likes mobile quarterbacks. He put them to use at Utah State and has expressed his preference for guys who can extend plays and make things happen with their feet.

But if there were any remaining doubts about which direction the Badgers are headed under center, Andersen's recent recruitment should tell you everything you need to know.

Earlier this week, Wisconsin gained a commitment from D.J. Gillins, a four-star quarterback prospect from Jacksonville, Fla. ranks Gillins as the No. 13 dual-threat signal-caller in the 2014 class, and though he did miss last year with a torn ACL, the 6-foot-3, 185-pounder is known for having great quickness and escapability.

[+] EnlargeJoel Stave
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireQuarterback Joel Stave, who might have the inside track on the starting job for 2013, does not possess a lot of mobility.
Earlier this offseason, the Badgers landed a verbal pledge from 2015 quarterback Austin Kafentzis, from Sandy, Utah. Kafentzis, who measures in at 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds, threw for 2,860 yards and ran for 1,689 yards last year as a high school sophomore. He ran for 1,377 yards as a freshman.

And, of course, Andersen brought in junior college transfer Tanner McEvoy back in February. McEvoy is a rangy 6-foot-5 athlete who can make things happen outside of the pocket. Some viewed him as the top dual-threat junior college quarterback last year. He'll compete for the starting job this August.

If you think the Badgers' quarterback picture is crowded now -- and it is -- just wait a couple of years. Joel Stave, who might have the inside track on the starting job for 2013, is just a redshirt sophomore, as is McEvoy. Bart Houston, the once highly touted prospect, is a redshirt freshman. Gillins will be a freshman in 2014, while Kafentzis will enter in 2015. Teams often like to pick up a quarterback in each class, so it makes sense, and with potential redshirts and unforeseen injuries, the spacing may work out. Yet it's hard to see how Stave, McEvoy and Houston will all co-exist going forward.

And you wonder if Stave, who does not possess a lot of mobility, will be the type of quarterback Andersen wants going forward. At Utah State the past two years, he started Chuckie Keeton after handing him the reins as a true freshman. Keeton ran for 618 yards and eight touchdowns last year for the Aggies.

Andersen had this to say last month when I asked him about McEvoy:

"He has the ability to hurt you with his arm, his mind and his legs, and that's important. Coming from a defensive background, I know that when a quarterback has all three of those, it's much more difficult to defend than if he only has one of the three or two of the three. It becomes a pretty vicious weapon."

It seems clear that Andersen wants guys who can do all three of those things. Don't expect any Denard Robinson-types or even the 2012 version of Braxton Miller at Wisconsin. Andersen has pledged to keep the Badgers' tradition of the power run game strong, and offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig has a pro-style philosophy. What adding a mobile quarterback will do is give the Wisconsin offense an added wrinkle.

Andersen also isn't bringing in players who are just athletes standing in the shotgun. McEvoy completed 67.3 percent of his passes last year at Arizona Western. Gillins and Kafentzis have also been known for their accuracy. At Utah State, Keeton connected on 67.6 percent of his passes.

This new wave of Badgers quarterbacks could, in a perfect world, look like a version of Russell Wilson: players with great ability to get out of trouble and still find receivers down the field outside of the pocket. Wilson didn't run the ball all that much at Wisconsin, a product of both his unbelievable acumen in keeping his eyes downfield for the open man and the team's utter lack of depth behind him. A plethora of athletic options could allow Andersen to call more designed quarterback runs in the near future.

While many fans may think of Wisconsin as the land of huge offensive linemen, great running backs and game-managers at quarterback, this wouldn't be the first time in recent memory that the Badgers have had mobile quarterbacks. There was Wilson, of course. Tyler Donovan was a scrambler, and Brooks Bollinger allowed the team to run some option. Current sixth-year senior Curt Phillips, another candidate to start in 2013, was ticketed as a big-time dual-threat quarterback before multiple knee injuries robbed him of his speed.

In the future, a lot of Wisconsin's quarterbacks could look like what Phillips was supposed to become.
Ohio State already had started paying more competitive salaries for assistant coaches before Urban Meyer arrived in November 2011.

But when Meyer and athletic director Gene Smith sat down to discuss staff pay, Smith soon realized he needed to do more.

"I think Michigan had stepped up with their coordinators," Smith recalled last week during Big Ten spring meetings in Chicago. "So we were already going to that before Urban Meyer came, but we bumped it up a little more. Any time there's change, you have that opportunity."

[+] EnlargeGreg Mattison
Lon Horwedel/Icon SMIMichigan DC Greg Mattison ranks as the highest-paid assistant coach in the Big Ten for the 2013 season.
"Everyone's always focused on head coaches' salaries," Smith continued. "That's always the thing. But really when you look at the changes, it's really been assistants' salaries across the country -- not just in the SEC, but the Big 12, Pac-12, all across the country."

The Big Ten is part of the change, too, as the league is allocating more money toward football assistants than ever before. The Detroit Free Press has an excellent look at Big Ten assistants' salaries, complete with a database that includes 10 of the 12 current members (Northwestern doesn't submit salaries as a private institution, and Penn State doesn't have to because of state laws).

The Free Press found that eight of the 10 schools are paying more for assistants in 2013 than they did in 2012 (only Indiana and Illinois are not). There are some significant total increases, such as Wisconsin (up $558,000), Nebraska (up $518,500), Purdue ($400,000) and Minnesota ($355,000). Staff pay had been an issue at Wisconsin, which lost six assistant coaches following the 2012 Rose Bowl, and at Purdue, which paid less for its staff during the Danny Hope era than any Big Ten school.

The total trend among the 10 schools is an increase of $1,720,852.24 for 2013.

Ohio State and Michigan remain No. 1 and No. 2 in Big Ten staff salary, as the Buckeyes allocate $3.416 million and the Wolverines allocate $2.805 million. Nebraska and Wisconsin make the biggest moves in the league for 2013, as the Huskers rise from sixth to third and the Badgers rise from seventh to fourth.

Illinois, which replaced five assistants from the 2012 team, including co-offensive coordinators Chris Beatty and Billy Gonzales, dropped from third in staff pay ($2.314 million) to eighth ($2.065 million).

The database shows that nearly every Big Ten assistant with "coordinator" in his title -- whether he's the sole coordinator or a co-coordinator -- will earn north of $300,000 for 2013. Only 18 assistants listed will make less than $200,000 in 2013 -- 15 work for Minnesota, Illinois, Purdue and Indiana.

Some notes:

  • Although Wisconsin paid former offensive coordinator Paul Chryst good coin, the school has increased its commitment for Gary Andersen's staff, not only with the coordinators but with some coveted position coaches like running backs coach Thomas Hammock ($300,000).
  • All of Nebraska's assistants are earning $200,000 or more for 2013, but there's a huge drop-off between Beck and the next highest-paid assistant (defensive coordinator John Papuchis at $310,000).
  • Michigan State has a similar drop off between Narduzzi and co-offensive coordinators Dave Warner ($270,000) and Jim Bollman ($260,000). Warner will be the primary offensive play-caller and has been on Mark Dantonio's staff since 2006, while Bollman is a newcomer.
  • Although Michigan is paying top dollar for its coordinators, the school gets its assistants for a relative bargain. Receivers coach/recruiting coordinator Jeff Hecklinski will earn $225,000 in 2013, while the others all will earn $205,000. Ohio State, meanwhile, pays all but one of its assistants $286,000 or more.
  • The Big Ten's three lowest-paid assistants all are in their first years: Illinois wide receivers coach Mike Bellamy ($125,000) and Purdue linebackers coach Marcus Freeman and running backs coach Jafar Williams (both at $120,000).
  • Although schools like Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa ($325,000) pay their coordinators the exact same amount, others have slight differences in salary. Purdue's Shoop makes $5,000 more than defensive coordinator Greg Hudson. Minnesota defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys ($340,000) makes $5,000 more than offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover. Wonder if that leads to any underlying jealousy?
  • Most Big Ten schools have assistant salaries in round numbers, but there are some interesting totals from Indiana, which pays co-offensive coordinators Seth Littrell and Kevin Johns $255,500.04 and new recruiting coordinator/assistant defensive line coach James Patton $173,740.08. Never know when that change can come in handy.

The Big Ten still lacks some of the OMG totals seen in the SEC -- LSU is paying new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron $3.4 million in the next three years -- but the overall trend puts the league more on par with what we're seeing nationally.
MADISON, Wis. -- Is this season James White's chance to finally be The Man at Wisconsin?

Standing outside Wisconsin's locker room earlier this spring, White began to answer the question when a passer-by interrupted him.

"You da man!" new Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said.

White burst into laughter, flashed his big smile, looked down and shook his head. Then he responded in typical fashion.

[+] EnlargeWisconsin's James White
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)James White has 2,571 career rush yards and 32 career touchdowns at Wisconsin.
"No, I don't treat it that way," he said. "We have great competition going on in the running back room. Everybody wants that starting spot, so it's going to make each and every one of us better."

The truth is White could be The Man this season. He also could share carries with Melvin Gordon, who emerged late last fall as a significant contributor for Wisconsin's rushing attack. It's also possible Gordon, a sophomore that some believe has a higher ceiling than any recent Badgers back, moves into a featured role ahead of White. Gordon racked up 216 yards on only nine carries in Wisconsin's blowout of Nebraska in last year's Big Ten championship.

"Who's 1, who's 2? Not worried about that just yet," offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig said.

White certainly prefers Door No. 1, but you can be sure he'll react the same way regardless of what happens -- with a big smile on his face. At almost any other program, a running back with White's credentials -- 2,571 career rush yards, 32 career touchdowns, nine career 100-yard rushing performance -- would be a sure-fire starter, case closed. But Wisconsin isn't a normal program at the running back position. No one understands this better than White. No one embraces it better, either.

"It's a team sport and everybody can't be on the field at the same time," White said. "Everybody has to know their role on the team, and when you get your chance, you've got to take advantage of it. Sometimes you have to wait your turn, and at the same time, you have to attack each day."

White has done quite a bit of waiting the past two seasons after earning Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors in 2010, when he rushed for a team-high 1,052 yards and recorded career bests in yards, carries (156) and rushing touchdowns (14). Montee Ball, who emerged down the stretch in 2010, claimed a featured role the following season, leading the FBS in rushing (1,923 yards) and tying Barry Sanders' single-season NCAA record for touchdowns (39). Ball was a Heisman Trophy finalist in 2011 and somewhat surprisingly returned to Wisconsin for his senior season, where he once again started and earned the Doak Walker Award.

Ball's emergence didn't spark anger or jealousy in White, who seemingly lacks both traits. White not only supported Ball on the field and accepted his role -- combining for 2,225 all-purpose yards -- but was one of his best friends off of it. A similar bond is developing between Gordon and White, whose Twitter page includes a photo of himself, Ball, Gordon and fullback Derek Watt in the locker room.

"They understand that they need each other," Andersen said. "As much as they're the same as backs, they're different as backs. They're both young men who understand they can make each other better."

Ball and White accepted Gordon as one of their own last season. Things have carried over with White and Gordon, and the other backs.

"We definitely compete with each other, but we're really good friends off of the field," Gordon said. "It's just his character and what type of guy he is. He's always in a good mood. To be honest, I don't think I've ever seen him upset.

"Just a friendly dude."

White's genial demeanor shouldn't be mistaken for a lack of fire. He wants to be the starter. And he knows his career could have taken a different arc elsewhere, especially after his freshman season.

"That goes through everybody's mind, that if you would have went somewhere else, you could have started four years," White said. "But I wouldn't change it. I learned a lot over these past three years, and I'll use my experiences to the best of my ability and help lead this team this year."

When Ludwig reviewed tape from the past two seasons, two players kept coming up on the screen: White and senior wide receiver Jared Abbrederis. Ludwig calls White and Gordon a "good 1-2 punch," and he's exploring ways to get both men on the field together.

White's receiving skills -- he has 34 career receptions for 370 yards and a touchdown -- could pay off in a slot role for Ludwig's offense.

"That's coming, and he knows that," Ludwig said. "We have some background of doing that with some of those running backs."

White's speed always has jumped out more than his size (5-foot-10, 197), and his versatility as a dual-threat back could improve his stock for the NFL.

"It definitely helps when you're trying to go to the next level," he said. "You have to be versatile, pass-protect, get out on routes, catch the ball and make defenders miss."

No matter what role White has this year or next, one thing is clear. He'll accept it with a smile.
When Curt Phillips received a sixth season of eligibility at Wisconsin, some viewed him as a nice insurance policy at quarterback.

Make no mistake, Badgers fans appreciated Phillips' contributions last season, when he started the team's final five games, including the Big Ten championship game and the Rose Bowl. Phillips' quest to continue his football career despite three ACL surgeries is admired by all who have followed his Wisconsin career.

[+] EnlargeCurt Phillips
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesCurt Phillips threw for 540 yards and five touchdowns last season.
But Phillips was hardly the talk of the offseason among Badgers quarterbacks. When spring practice kicked off last month, most wanted to see Bart Houston, the strong-armed, highly recruited redshirt freshman, or Joel Stave, who seemed to be blossoming last season as the starter before suffering a broken collarbone against Michigan State. Even Tanner McEvoy, a junior-college quarterback Wisconsin signed in February, generated more buzz than Phillips.

The fact that Phillips only entered the starting lineup following Stave's injury and Danny O'Brien's struggles keeps him under the radar.

So where do things stand as Wisconsin enters the final stretch of spring practice? Exactly how they did after the 2012 season. Phillips and Stave have been sharing reps with the first-team unit, but Phillips has consistently received the first set of reps and performed well in Saturday's scrimmage.

"I want the job," Phillips told last month. "I didn't come back for a sixth year and from all these surgeries to sit on the bench. That's far and away my No. 1 goal."

Wisconsin's new coaches know they have a motivated player in Phillips. Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig called the sixth-year senior "a grinder" and "ultra competitive."

"Curt is a good athlete, not a great athlete," Ludwig said. "He throws a good ball, not a great ball. But he is doing everything we ask him to do. He can rally the troops."

Winning the locker room won't be a problem for Phillips if he wins the starting job. To do so, he must show he can be an effective pocket passer for a unit that finished last in the Big Ten and 111th nationally in passing a season ago.

Phillips is learning his third offensive system with the Badgers, and while new terminology and new protections prove challenging, there are similarities between Ludwig's West Coast-style scheme and the one he first learned under former coordinator Paul Chryst. He has more confidence after playing in several huge games last season, and after "finding a rhythm toward the end," he's trying to build on it.

"I want to continue to improve my game, becoming more of a pure pocket passer," Phillips said. "And then just developing more of that athleticism. By no means am I anywhere close to how I was pre-injury, but the further I get away from that, it's definitely something that I can get back."

Phillips came to Wisconsin as a true dual-threat quarterback after rushing for 3,788 yards in high school. He had 138 yards on 14 carries as a redshirt freshman in 2009 before the knee injuries started.

The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Phillips sustained another knee injury -- a more minor one -- in the Rose Bowl that has somewhat limited his mobility this spring. But he expects to be moving much better by preseason camp.

"I've heard Coach [Gary] Andersen mention that he wants a mobile quarterback," Phillips said. "With the athletes we have here at Wisconsin, we don't necessarily need the quarterbacks to do anything special, but at the same time, if you are able to extend the play a little bit and get the ball in those guys' hands, it's going to be big for us."

Ludwig and Andersen want to reduce the candidate pool to two by the end of the spring, and Phillips and Stave appear to be closing in on those spots. The competition undoubtedly will continue in fall camp -- McEvoy will have a chance to push the top two when he arrives -- and Andersen doesn't have a firm deadline on when they'll pick a starter.

"If it's a battle that's gone down to the wire, we'll probably let him jog onto the field for the first time and announce himself as the starter," Andersen said.

Don't be surprised if he's wearing No. 10.
Gary AndersenAP Photo/David StlukaGary Andersen has paid close attention to every detail in his transition as Wisconsin's new coach.
MADISON, Wis. -- When Gary Andersen arrived at Utah State in December 2008, he didn't spend much time looking back. Some would say he didn't want to strain his eyes.

At the time, Utah State barely seemed worthy of FBS citizenship. The Aggies had endured 11 consecutive losing seasons, 30 losses in the previous three seasons and eight consecutive seasons of four or fewer victories. Andersen faced a total rebuild, but at least he could wipe the slate clean and look only to the future.

It's not so simple at Wisconsin. Despite the construction going on just north of Camp Randall Stadium, Andersen isn't walking into a mess. Quite the contrary.

He takes over a Badgers team that has won three consecutive Big Ten championships, reached three consecutive Rose Bowls, won 40 games in the past four seasons and hasn't endured a losing campaign since 2001. Andersen's new program has produced 39 NFL draft picks and five consensus first-team All-Americans since 2002. The man who hired him, Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, won three conference titles and three Rose Bowls as Badgers coach, resuscitating a downtrodden program and building it into the closest thing we've seen to a third Big Ten power.

"You take a lot longer and harder look at what's made them successful and what's made the kids successful," Andersen told "For me, there were so many familiarities. The types of young men in this program are what I'm used to at Utah State, the emphasis on in-state recruiting, the emphasis they’ve had in the walk-on program. All those things are staples to what I believe in.

"The transition, there's nothing difficult about it, but you’re more open-minded to what's happened in the past."

Andersen and his assistants also are mindful of what Wisconsin players have been through. One of the nation's most successful and stable programs has endured drastic changes in each of the past two winters.

Six assistant coaches departed after the 2011 season, and head coach Bret Bielema made a surprise exit to Arkansas in December, just three days after watching his team upset Nebraska in the Big Ten title game. Andersen brings in seven new assistants, including T.J. Woods, the team's fourth offensive line coach since the 2012 Rose Bowl.

"We've been through a lot of changes," senior defensive tackle Beau Allen said. "Last season we had all these new facilities [being built] and we were in different locker rooms on different days. Sometimes we didn't really know where we were practicing. And then with all the coaching changes. I think we've rolled with it pretty well."

Allen could be right, but Andersen is taking no chances during the transition. He has gone to great lengths to connect with the players during his first three months on the job.

[+] EnlargeWisconsin Badgers
Adam Rittenberg/ESPN.comWisconsin coaches have incorporated team-building exercises into offseason training with a competition called the Badger Team Accountability Challenge.
It starts with the BTA Challenge (Badger Team Accountability), a competition that includes 10 teams of 10 players, each assigned to two coaches or support staffers. They compete in academics, community service events, weightlifting and even dodgeball. The challenge has carried over to the practice field this spring.

Andersen meets regularly with the 27-player leadership council. He brought the team together to watch the Super Bowl in the players lounge. During practices, he'll snap the ball to the quarterbacks (Andersen played center in college) or press receivers on the line. Players often receive calls from Andersen, just to check in.

"Guys appreciate that," linebacker Chris Borland said. "He's really in tune with the pulse of the team."

Andersen's player-focused approach is a big reason Alvarez hired him.

"A lot of coaches don't feel that’s important," Alvarez said. "You're a dictator and you’re going to do this and this. The good ones still get close to their kids. They’re still demanding, yet they have an empathy.

"The bottom line in everything he talks about is the kids."

When Andersen accepted the Wisconsin job 18 days after announcing he'd stay at Utah State, he called all 106 Aggies to inform them of his move, reaching the final player at 2:30 a.m. Andersen's new players took notice of the gesture. Badgers running back James White said he "knew it was a good fit right away."

Although Bielema was also popular with the players during his time at Wisconsin, Andersen has brought "a different energy" to practices, according to quarterback Curt Phillips. Practices are crisp and upbeat, and music blares throughout the workouts, a change from the past.

"It’s getting there," Andersen said. "They get an idea of who we are, the way we practice. The speed, the pace, everything we do, we want it to be fast and quick. We want to make sure we’re putting the kids first.

"I want them to know I care about them."

Andersen's assistants also are doing their part to ease the burden on players. Woods has kept about 60 percent of the terminology the Badger offensive linemen used last season under Bart Miller. It helps that Woods has a direct connection to Miller -- he coached him at New Mexico -- and an indirect one to former longtime Badgers line coach Bob Bostad. (Woods worked for Jason Lenzmeier, who had played under Bostad at New Mexico.)

"I'm the fourth guy in two years to walk through those doors in that meeting room," Woods said. "I've tried to strain myself more than them just because of the situation they've been in."

There's certainly an if-it-ain't-broke element of Andersen's challenge at Wisconsin.

The offense will remain rooted in the power run, while mixing in some play-action passes. Andersen inherits two backs -- White and sophomore Melvin Gordon -- who would start for almost any FBS team, veteran linemen like Ryan Groy and Rob Havenstein, and good depth at tight end. Although the quarterback competition is crowded, Wisconsin has three options with Big Ten starting experience: Phillips, Joel Stave and Danny O'Brien. He also has bionic-armed redshirt freshman Bart Houston and incoming junior-college transfer Tanner McEvoy.

"It's been easy for the players to adapt because we're doing stuff that they've done," offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig said. "There's a little different terminology, but again, we're trying to draw as much as we can from the past."

Andersen's influence will be seen more on defense, where his expertise lies. The Badgers will be the only Big Ten team operating out of a 3-4 set, although their flexibility with the outside linebackers, who previously played defensive end, allows them to show a 5-2 personnel package.

There will be much more variation in coverages and calls for a unit that has been statistically strong in recent years but a notch or two below elite status.

"We've been on the cusp of greatness, but I don't think we've achieved it yet," Borland said. "We've got a lot of seniors, a lot of guys who have experience. We haven't set any concrete goals, but I think we should be one of the best defenses there is."

Expectations are high despite the coaching change, and for good reason. Wisconsin returns 25 seniors and many key underclassmen who have only experienced winning in their careers.

Bielema often pointed to the 2013 Wisconsin team as potentially his best. Although many are already handing the Big Ten title to Ohio State, the Badgers are aiming for a fourth straight Rose Bowl appearance, which would tie the record held by Ohio State (1973-76) and USC (1967-70).

"There is a good core," Andersen said. "As with every program, there are definite questions that need to be answered. But to say we're not excited about next season would be the ultimate understatement."
When I talked to Curt Phillips in late December for a feature story on his career, the Wisconsin quarterback was optimistic that he would get a sixth year from the NCAA. But you never know for sure with the NCAA, and so he was making sure to savor the Rose Bowl experience just in case.

[+] EnlargeCurt Phillips
AP Photo/David StlukaThe NCAA granted Curt Phillips another shot at guiding the Wisconsin offense.
On Thursday, Phillips found out that he had indeed been granted an extra year of eligibility. That's great news both for he and the Badgers.

The NCAA has been doing a better job of late in granting these waivers, and Phillips had one of the best cases ever for using the rule. He missed the 2010 and 2011 seasons with two ACL tears and a third surgery after his body rejected the second operation. It was inspiring to see him assume the Wisconsin QB position after Joel Stave got hurt, as Phillips started the final five games of the season, including the Big Ten championship game and the Rose Bowl.

Phillips went 10-for-16 for 83 yards and a touchdown in the 20-14 loss against Stanford and threw an interception on the Badgers' final drive. Some fans wanted to see more of Stave in that game as he returned from his broken collarbone to throw two passes in Pasadena. But Phillips also showed some great mobility in the game, running five times for 64 yards, including a 38-yarder. He was originally recruited as a dual-threat quarterback, but the knee injuries never really let him show that in college.

Wisconsin now has much more depth at quarterback than it has seen in a while, and the competition this spring under new head coach Gary Andersen and offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig will be fun to track. Phillips and Stave will battle it out, along with former starter Danny O'Brien, former hotshot recruit Bart Houston and possibly Jon Budmayr if Budmayr can overcome his arm injury issues. At the very least, the Badgers will have some experienced options behind the starter.

Phillips did not show tremendous arm strength this season, but his father, Dr. Jim Phillips, told me that Curt had to change his throwing mechanics this year to adjust to not having much leg strength. He believes that with another year away from the knee surgeries, Curt will get back to a more natural throwing motion and have much more zip on his passes.

It wasn't guaranteed that Phillips would get a chance to do that again at Wisconsin. Thanks to the right decision by the NCAA, he will.

Q&A: New Wisconsin OC Andy Ludwig

January, 11, 2013
Gary Andersen's choice for his offensive coordinator at Wisconsin certainly doesn't lack for experience. Andy Ludwig has spent 18 years as an offensive play-caller, including stops at Fresno State, Utah, California and, most recently, San Diego State. caught up with Ludwig this week to get his thoughts on the new Badgers offense:

Tell us about your relationship with Gary Andersen, and how big of a factor was that in you taking this job?

Andy Ludwig: We worked together for four years at the University of Utah. He was the defensive coordinator, and I was the offensive coordinator, and we had a very good working relationship. I've got a lot of respect for Gary as a football coach and as a person, and I really respect his competitiveness. I thought the opportunity to work for Gary at a school like the University of Wisconsin, with the tradition of the Wisconsin Badgers, was something I had to jump on.

He, of course, has a defensive background. How involved with the offense do you think he'll be?

AL: I'm sure that he'll want to know what the plans are and what we're doing. He's got some ideas and some things he wants to incorporate, but we're on the same page. We've talked about those things. I hope he's involved. I hope he comes and sits in our meetings.

What's your offensive philosophy?

AL: The first thing I'd say is it's a players' game. What we do on Saturdays is going to be designed to highlight the skills and strengths of 24 or 25 guys, or the 18 guys that will be playing that day. So our initial starting point is, we want to establish the running game and be a great play-action team, which is Wisconsin football. And if you look at San Diego State, that's what San Diego State was about this year. But more than that, it's about identifying the skills an abilities of the players in the program and design the plays to put them in a position to be successful. So I don't want to be locked in to, "Hey, we're going to do this or that," before I get a chance to fully evaluate everyone in the program.

[+] EnlargeAndy Ludwig
Larry Clouse/Icon SMIWisconsin offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig worked with new Badgers coach Gary Andersen at Utah.
How much were you familiar with what Wisconsin has done on offense in recent years, especially with regards to the running game?

AL: Very much. A couple of offseasons we spent studying Wisconsin film, looking for new ideas and concepts. Actually, kind of coincidentally, we spent two days last spring out at the University of Pittsburgh with coach [Paul] Chryst and the offensive staff, because we did have so much respect for what they were doing and we wanted to learn more about it and incorporate as many ideas as we could back at San Diego State.

Did you use any of those last season?

AL: Absolutely, yeah. You just take a couple of their concepts and implement them with what we were doing, and we enjoyed some success with those ideas that we picked up there.

It must make you smile to think about designing an offense with those 300-plus-pound offensive linemen leading the way, huh?

AL: Oh yeah. That's Wisconsin football right there, those big guys. You know, I had a chance to watch them practice for a couple days in Los Angeles as they were getting ready for the bowl game, and that's the first thing that jumps out at you is that position group. I'm just anxious to meet those guys and put 'em to work.

Barry Alvarez has said he wanted coaches who would keep the style of offense that helped him build this program. It sounds like you are on the same page philosophically with that. Would you agree?

AL: I do agree with that, yes. Very much so. The initial offense, the core of the offense isn't going to look much different than it has for the past "X" amount of years. There will be wrinkles and maybe a couple new concepts, but it's going to be player-driven. You've got a couple new guys coming in who can maybe contribute in different ways but it's going to be Wisconsin football.

There should be a good quarterback battle this offseason. What, in general terms, are you looking for in a quarterback?

AL: There are two things physically that you're looking for. One is competitive accuracy. You've got to throw completions and you've got to be 90-plus percent on those. But then athleticism, the ability to extend plays, is an absolute must. That's what we'll be looking for. Again, I don't have a great bead on the guys. I've just started watching the game film and tried to identify the three guys that played this year and identify their strengths and weaknesses, but it's going to be real competitive, I know that. It's going to be a competitive spring.

You've coached at a lot of different places. What have you learned about trying to make that transition to a new system go smoothly for the players?

AL: The first thing is, you've got to have great communication. And through that communication, you earn trust. That's going to be a big part of the initial part of the transition, is just getting to know the players by name and position, and having great communication with them. And then being very meticulous in terms of the installation process and making sure they understand the whys behind the how. Not just the "this is how we're going to do it," but just as important is the why we're going to it.

What are your impressions of the Big Ten as an outsider, and are there things about the league, such as the defenses and the cold weather, that will affect your approach?

AL: I don't have great familiarity with the league. I've got great respect for the league. But your ability to run the football in November is going to be a big part of our success. So there are some things I'm going to learn and I'm going to ask questions about to make sure nothing catches me off guard. But it's a great league and I can't wait to be a part of it.

What can you tell us about coach Andersen and what we can expect from him?

AL: I've got great respect for Gary, because he's a man of high character. He cares about the players. The players are absolutely first in his program. And he's an extremely competitive man. So those, to me, are some of the characteristics that stand out about coach Andersen.

Finally, this is a new area for you. But can you use some of your previous ties to maybe open up some new recruiting areas for Wisconsin?

AL: I think so, because recruiting is all about relationships. So I've got some West Coast relationships, and I'm hoping to be able to utilize those to get us a couple players every year. But I'm also looking forward to developing new relationships in this part of the country, or wherever coach Andersen sends me on the recruiting trail.
New Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen on Thursday announced five assistant coaches for the 2013 season.

Several of these names have already been reported but they're now official. Here's the rundown:
  • Andy Ludwig, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
  • Dave Aranda, defensive coordinator
  • Bill Busch, secondary
  • Chad Kauha'aha'a, defensive line
  • T.J. Woods, offensive line

Andersen is retaining two assistants from the previous Badgers staff: running backs coach Thomas Hammock and Ben Strickland, who coached the secondary in 2011 and will assist Busch.

Andersen worked with Ludwig at Utah, and Kauha'aha'a worked on Andersen's staff at Utah State before joining Utah's last year. The other three assistants -- Aranda, Busch and Woods -- served on Andersen's staff at Utah State this past season.

The notable absence here is Bart Miller, who coached Wisconsin's offensive line this season after being promoted from his graduate-assistant role to replace the fired Mike Markuson. Miller fostered improvement with the line and gained the respect of the players, but Andersen opted to go with Woods, who coached four first-team All-WAC selections the past two seasons, as his line coach. Miller mentioned before the Rose Bowl that he could be auditioning for a spot on Andersen's staff. Ironically, Woods helped tutor Miller at New Mexico as an offensive graduate assistant there.

Andersen still has two assistant coaches to hire, so we'll see if Miller ends up filling one of those spots. Tight ends/H-backs coach is a possibility for Miller.
"I have previously worked with the five coaches we are bringing in and I have gotten to know Thomas and Ben in the last few weeks so that familiarity will be beneficial," Andersen said in a prepared statement. "Both on offense and defense, these coaches have shown a lot of flexibility within their systems, and their main goal is to get the best 11 players on the field and build around their strengths. Our style on offense will be very familiar to Wisconsin fans while on defense I am confident that we can continue the great tradition of tough and physical units that has been established here."

Although most of the new additions spent most of their careers on the West Coast, Busch has ties to Wisconsin after serving as a graduate assistant for former Badgers coach Barry Alvarez in 1993-94.

Thoughts on Andersen's staff additions?
At his introductory news conference a week ago, new Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen described the team's offensive coordinator post as a great job, not merely a good one.

"They'll line up a thousand deep if you want them to," Andersen said.

Andersen likely didn't interview 1,000 candidates for the post. Instead, he will reportedly turn to a familiar name in Andy Ludwig, who served as San Diego State's offensive coordinator the past two seasons.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel first reported that Wisconsin is set to hire Ludwig as its new offensive coordinator. Because of hiring rules for state employees, Ludwig won't be officially on board until the job posting expires. He attended Wisconsin's pre-Rose Bowl practice Friday in Los Angeles.

Andersen and Ludwig served as Utah's coordinators -- Andersen defense, Ludwig offense -- from 2005-08, helping the Utes to a 13-0 season and a Sugar Bowl championship in 2008. While Andersen moved onto the top job at Utah State, Ludwig went to Cal, where he struggled as offensive coordinator for two seasons before taking the same post at San Diego State.

Ludwig has bounced around quite a bit, serving as offensive coordinator at San Diego State (2011-12), California (2009-10), Utah (2005-08), Oregon (2002-04) and Fresno State (1998-2001). He initially went to Kansas State after Utah but was hired away by Cal before coaching a game.

The guy is clearly in demand as an offensive mind and runs a pro-style system, but he hasn't led a top-25 offense since the 2005 season (Utah finished 12th nationally). His San Diego State offense ranks 38th nationally in scoring (32.9 points per game) and 64th in total offense (396.6 yards per game) this season. As someone who follows Cal football somewhat closely from a distance, I wasn't overly impressed by Ludwig, but he definitely brings experience to the position and inherits a talented group in Madison.

Andersen wisely is retaining running backs coach Thomas Hammock, and it would be a smart move if he kept offensive line coach Bart Miller as well. Wisconsin has lost three offensive assistants in recent weeks: coordinator Matt Canada (NC State), tight ends/fullbacks coach Eddie Faulker (NC State) and receivers coach Zach Azzanni (Tennessee).

Kyle Whittingham goes young for OC

February, 2, 2012
When Utah coach Kyle Whittingham tapped Norm Chow as his offensive coordinator last year, he got a celebrated, experienced veteran. With Chow off to the islands as Hawaii's new head coach, Whittingham is going with youth, energy and potential this go-around.

Whittingham has promoted has promoted Brian Johnson from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator.

Johnson, who will turn 25 on Feb. 16, has been the Utes quarterbacks coach for just a year. He will continue to coach quarterbacks, and it seems likely that the Utes will use more of a spread-option scheme in 2012 as they did before Chow arrived with a pro-style offense.

"After spending the past month conducting a national search for an offensive coordinator, it became very apparent that we had the best candidate for the job right here on our own staff," Whittingham said in a statement. "Brian is a leader and a special coaching talent, just as he was a special player, and he is the right person to lead our offense."

The winningest quarterback in Utah history, going 26-7 as the Utes' starter, Johnson was the MVP of the blowout victory against Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl, which capped a 13-0 season.

This is a bold move for Whittingham -- if there are any 24-year-old coordinators with any other AQ team, none come immediately to mind -- and a huge career boost for Johnson. Simply put, if he's successful he will become a head coach before he turns 30.

"I am excited that Coach Whittingham has given me this opportunity and I am prepared for the challenge," Johnson said in a statement. "I'm looking forward to working with a great coaching staff and putting together a productive offense that will help us win a conference championship. I've had many good mentors as a player and a coach, including Dan Mullen, Andy Ludwig, Aaron Roderick and Norm Chow."

Whittingham also announced other staff moves. Defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake was given the title of assistant head coach. Aaron Roderick, in his eighth year coaching the receivers, will also serve as the passing game coordinator.

Sitake, 36, has become a hot defensive coordinator since being promoted from linebackers coach in 2009. Roderick was the Utes' co-offensive coordinator before Chow arrived, and he applied for the job that went to Johnson.

Dan Finn, a Utah graduate assistant from 2004-06, has been hired to coach the centers and guards. Finn spent last season as the offensive line coach at San Diego State, and the previous four years as the offensive line coach at Idaho (2007-10). Tim Davis, Utah's offensive line coach in 2011, will now concentrate on coaching the tackles and tight ends.

Jay Hill, in his eighth season as a full-time assistant, takes over the running backs for Dave Schramm, who was hired as Fresno State's offensive coordinator. Hill has served two different stints as the cornerbacks coach, most recently in 2010 and 2011, and oversaw the tight ends from 2007-09. He remains Utah's special teams coordinator.

Sharrieff Shah, a starting safety for the Utes from 1990-93 and a three-year team captain, returns to his alma mater to coach the cornerbacks. Shah, a Salt Lake City attorney since 2001, was a certified NFL agent from 1996-2002, representing players in the NFL, CFL and NFL-Europe. He received his bachelor's, master's and law degrees from the University of Utah. Shah has also served as the team's sideline reporter for ESPN 700 radio for the past 12 years.

Andrea Adelson talks about what San Diego State’s offense will look like under new coordinator Andy Ludwig.

Spring rewind: San Diego State

April, 13, 2011
Time to check in on San Diego State, which is trying to build on a 9-4 season -- its best since 1996. With a new coach in Rocky Long and new coordinators, the spring was mainly used to get comfortable with the new staff, schemes and build depth.

Questions answered: One of the big ones is how Ryan Lindley and Ronnie Hillman would adjust to new coordinator Andy Ludwig. Ludwig does have a different coaching style, but San Diego State will still run a pro-style offense, with plenty of runs and play-action. But where the key in 2010 was getting the run game established, it is the reverse in 2011 because of inexperience at receiver. Teams are going to load the box and dare Lindley to beat them. Lindley does not have Vincent Brown or DeMarco Sampson to rely on, and he has been mistake-prone at times. Getting that balance going again is going to be huge. Alec Johnson has moved from left guard to center to replace Trask Iosefa. Emilio Rivera is penciled in to start at left guard.

Questions unanswered: Receiver. Losing Brown and Sampson is going to hurt. No receiver that is currently on the roster caught a touchdown pass last season. Brown and Sampson combined for 18. Dominique Sandifer and Dylan Denso are most likely to replace them. Also in the mix are redshirt freshmen Jay Waddell and Ezell Ruffin. Sandifer missed most of the spring with a groin injury. Long was not overly impressed with his receivers early in camp. It is obvious somebody is going to have to step up quickly for the Aztecs to have any shot at building on 2010. Rob Andrews and Jake Fely are competing to start at middle linebacker.

Spring stars: Denso did stand out, especially in the spring game. He ended up catching four passes for 66 yards -- tops among all receivers -- and had a 19-yard touchdown reception. Lindley told the San Diego Union-Tribune that Denso "has been a rock." Lindley will need more of the same come fall.

Of note: Defensive end Perry Jackson was dismissed from the team for an unspecified violation of team rules. Meanwhile, cornerback J.J. Whittaker re-injured his knee. Long is hopeful he will return in the fall. Whittaker was a highly prized recruit who chose the Aztecs over Arizona, but redshirted last season with a knee injury. Fullback Anthony Miller has decided to transfer... San Diego State could have a two-way player in Leon McFadden. The all-MWC defensive back took some reps at receiver this spring in case he is needed, given the inexperience at the position.