Dienhart: Wisconsin spring football wrap

Wisconsin’s Gary Andersen inherited some good talent from Bret Bielema, riding that skill to a nine-win season in 2013 that would have culminated with a BCS bowl if not for that Senior Day loss to Penn State. But now, Andersen faces some big voids—especially on defense. That side of the ball was a major emphasis for the Badgers this spring. And, the unit showed some spark during last Saturday’s spring game.

Here’s what I learned about that and other aspects of this Badger team as it heads to the offseason.

[ MORE: Watch a replay of the Wisconsin spring game on BTN2Go ]

1. The new-look defense showed potential. Coordinator Dave Aranda has built a smaller, quicker, sleeker defense. Why? He wants to be able to attack from a variety of different spots and in a number of different ways. It’s all about getting after the quarterback. Wisconsin couldn’t be as aggressive last year because the personnel didn’t fit such a package/philosophy. But, that’s changing. In the spring game, the Badgers blitzed a variety of ways, bringing cornerbacks and the like. The defense even has a 2-4-5 nickel package, which wants to make offenses guess who is coming and who is covering.

2. With Joel Stave out of the spring game with a shoulder issue, Tanner McEvoy stepped up and impressed. The former junior college transfer is a big, athletic player who was moved to safety last year. His return to quarterback has been inspiring for an offense that continues to look for competition for Stave at a position that needs to improve. It looks like McEvoy may have a real shot to win this job in the fall. The staff has often said it wants a dual-threat quarterback. McEvoy is the closest thing to that on the roster right now. But he’ll have to show he’s on par with Stave as a passer if he wants the spot.

3. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, Bucky: The field-goal kicking is a great unknown. And, an answer is needed. In 2013, the Badgers’ .667 field-goal percentage ranked 10th in the Big Ten. And Wisconsin’s four misses in the red zone were a conference high. Incoming freshman Rafael Gaglianone may cure what ails the Badgers. Jack Russell—who hit from 41 and 30 yards in the spring game–and Andrew Endicott also are back to compete. Stay tuned.

4. Are there any playmakers at wide receiver? The Badgers need some wideouts to step up to bring a vertical dimension to a passing game that too often last season was pedestrian—at best. And the top wideout, Jared Abbrederis, is gone. No one seemed to make a big move in the spring. Kenzel Doe? Jordan Fredrick? Alex Erickson? Robert Wheelwright? Can either of these guys step up? Or will someone else? A newcomer, perhaps?

The quote: “That’s the question mark, there’s no doubt. But you’re excited about the effort they’re putting in and the want-to they have.” –Gary Andersen on Wisconsin’s receivers, a unit that will be bolstered by the arrival of five players over the summer.

The number: 6, total points scored by both teams in the spring game. And those came on two field goals. Don’t be alarmed. Many key offensive players didn’t play, including stud running back Melvin Gordon and projected starting linemen Dallas Lewallen and Dan Voltz. Plus, the staff kept things generic.

The offseason to-do list
1. Develop playmakers at receiver for what was the No. 9 passing attack in the Big Ten in 2013.
2. Continue to fit in personnel in a new, smaller, quicker defense that wants to attack.
3. Settle the quarterback spot. Is Joel Stave still the guy? Will Tanner McEvoy win the spot?
4. Get the field-goal kicking figured out ASAP. Two veterans and a newcomer will battle in camp.

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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