Football Tour: Dienhart's best from Wisconsin

The Badgers have the ingredients for a strong team, but there will be much unproven talent coming back from a 9-4 team.

There are just five starters back on offense and three on defense. Issues at quarterback, receiver and the front seven hang over the program. The good news: The vintage Wisconsin running game should hum along behind a monster line and terrific tailbacks in Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement.

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Here are my thoughts from Wisconsin practice on a cool, crisp almost Autumn-like day in August.

BEST OF WISCONSIN PRACTICE

Most impressive player: Melvin Gordon. The running back looks like a comic book super hero with muscles galore. Plus, he’s blazing fast.

Watch our Melvin Gordon interview:

Top specimen: RB Corey Clement. Like running mate Gordon, Clement is a package of muscle and speed. He has muscles in places where other people don’t have places.

Loudest coach: D-line coach Chad Kauha’aha’a had his troops out early and was getting after it.

Impressive newcomer: All three of the frosh wideouts looked good: Krenwick Sanders, Natrell Jamerson, George Rushing. And they all will play, according to OC Andy Ludwig.

On the rise: QB Tanner McEvoy. Ludwig gushed about the progress McEvoy has made. He is making a push and figures to have some role on this team.

Nagging question: Is the front seven on defense OK?

Under the radar: Freshman S Lubern Figaro is turning heads. We didn’t get to see much, but he looks the part and reportedly can hit and run.

MY POSITION-BY-POSITION OBSERVATIONS

Watched the quarterback battle with much interest, as Joel Stave and Tanner McEvoy are competing. But it was difficult to get a read on much with the team not working out in pads. McEvoy is a better fit for what Gary Andersen wants to do scheme-wise, but Stave has the experience. After the first scrimmage about a week ago, it looked like Stave—13-6 as a starter–had the upper hand. He has passed with more consistency than McEvoy. OC Andy Ludwig told me Stave’s passing has been good, and he has been consistent. I will be surprised if he isn’t named the starter. But Ludwig alluded to the notion of having a package for whoever doesn’t win the job.

Watch our Joel Stave and Tanner McEvoy interview:

The front seven of this 3-4 defense was of keen interest, as all are new starters. End Chikwe Obasih is impressive. Fast and explosive. Alec James also is pushing for a spot at end. Both can bring the heat off the edge. Konrad Zagzebski is an anchor on the other side. He is thick. Warren Herring is on the nose. He gets a push. Keep an eye on the backups at nose tackle; it is a bit of a worry. Bryce Gilbert was supposed to backup, but he graduated and bolted. Arthur Goldberg, Jeremy Patterson and Conor Sheehy are competing.

In a 3-4 defense, you need good linebackers. Coordinator Dave Aranda has them in a scheme where he likes to disguise and attack from various areas. These guys can run. And they like to hit. Good athletic ability at linebacker. Vince Biegel is a future star but was out recovering from a concussion. There also are Joe Schobert, Derek Landisch, Marcus Trotter, a former safety. I would have liked to have seen these guys hit.

Watch our Dave Aranda interview:

The secondary is no doubt the strength of the defense. The Badgers have a nice corner tandem in Sojourn Shelton and Darius Hillary. Shelton was a freshman star last season. Strong safety Michael Caputo is the leader of the D, the new “Chris Borland,” if you will. Other safeties need to develop. There is talent, but not much experience. A.J. Jordan (a WR last year), Vonte Jackson (ex-RB), Peniel Jean (was a CB), Austin Hudson (high school) and Lubern Figaro (high school) are five of the eight options—and they all are new. Leo Musso brings some needed experience opposite Caputo but was limited today.

Watch our Michael Caputo interview:

The Badgers expect seven true freshmen to play this fall: running back Taiwan Deal, offensive linemen Michael Deiter and receivers Krenwick Sanders, Natrell Jamerson and George Rushing and safeties Lubern Figaro and Austin Hudson. And don’t count out cornerback D’Cota Dixon and kicker Rafael Gaglianone. Wisconsin played eight freshmen last year.

Speaking of Gaglianone, he figures to win the kicking job. He’s a Brazilian via a prep school in Tennessee who has a big leg. Wisconsin had to leap through many NCAA hurdles to get him eligible. It looks like it was worth it.

The offensive line looks good. No shock there. Right tackle Rob Havenstein is one of the biggest human beings in the Big Ten. A true sun-blocker. Right guard Kyle Costigan is one of the toughest players on the team, a mauler. Dan Voltz soon will be the best center in the Big Ten. I like left tackle Tyler Marz, who could be the best of the bunch. Versatile Dallas Lewallen is the left guard but missed today with the flu; Ray Ball took his place.

The search for a top wideout continues. Coordinator Andy Ludwig has many options. Kenzel Doe is small but fast. Rob Wheelwright—6-2–is a big target but was held out today. Alex Erickson is in the mix. Jordan Fredrick is a possession guy. He’s also the team’s leading returning wideout with a scant 10 grabs. Doe, Fredrick, Erickson and Wheelwright combined to catch 28 passes for 299 yards without a touchdown in 2013. Reggie Love looks good. Ludwig has told me he will give freshmen a shot: Natrell Jamerson, George Rushing and Krenwick Sanders. The most advanced of the trio? Rushing.

Watch our Andy Ludwig interview:

Even without Brian Wozniak and Jacob Pedersen, I like these tight ends. Very good depth for TE coach Jeff Genyk. Sam Arneson, Derek Watt (also a FB), Troy Fumagalli and T.J. Watt. Fumagalli and Watt (limited today) are big. Austin Traylor, Eric Steffes, Sam Eckert and Austin Maly also are in the mix. Arneson is No. 1. Traylor and Steffes are more geared toward blocking. Genyk told me the team used a three-tight end set 27 percent of the time last year. I don’t see that changing. UW has to use this talent.

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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