5 things Tom Dienhart learned at Wisconsin football practice

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5 things Tom Dienhart learned at Wisconsin football practice

The fifth stop on our annual summer trek across the Big Ten brought us to Madison, Wisconsin, where we watched the Badgers practice Saturday morning.

[ MORE: Fun nuggets from Wisconsin practice | Get our full tour schedule ]

Before we turn our attention to Northwestern, which we will watch Monday in Kenosha, Wisconsin, here are five things I learned at Wisconsin practice:

1. The offensive line could have issues. Long the bellwether of the program, the Badger front is being rebuilt. And depth is spotty, as four linemen have been lost since 2013—two to concussions, one to a medical issue, one to depression. And the team missed on a few recruits who signed but didn’t pan out. That’s how this unit got to this point. Junior center Dan Voltz and senior left tackle Tyler Marz are good building blocks. Redshirt freshman Michael Deiter is solid at right guard. After that, things are a bit fluid. A guy staffers love is true freshman Jon Dietzen. He went through spring drills. The guy is gonna be a stud.

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2. There isn’t a lot of size up front on defense. The first-team line is sophomore Conor Sheehy at nose tackle and sophomore Chikwe Obasih and junior Arthur Goldberg at the end slots. In nickel packages, sophomore Alec James and redshirt freshman Zander Neuville were with the first-team unit.

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3. Senior Alex Erickson is the clear No. 1 wideout. But is there a legit No. 2 behind him? Erickson has trimmed up and cut body fat, getting a bit faster in the process. The wideouts understand that they will be pressed often, so getting a clean release off the line will be vital to getting open. The second-best wideout may be senior Tanner McEvoy, who is slated to start at safety. The No. 3 wideout may be junior Rob Wheelwright. Senior Jordan Fredrick is among the top four. He has played a lot and needs to shine. He can block. Can he catch more? After that foursome, there is a real sameness to the receivers in junior Reggie Love, sophomore Jazz Peavy and sophomore George Rushing, among others. The lack of drama at quarterback should help these guys, right?

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4. Senior Tanner McEvoy intrigues me. In fact, he may be the most intriguing player in the Big Ten—a truly dynamic talent. The 6-6 McEvoy was the starting quarterback this time last year. Now, he’s slated to start at safety. And he also will play some receiver, where he has been working out almost exclusively in camp. McEvoy needs to refine getting off press coverage. I think he’s gonna impact on both sides of the ball, but no one knows for sure what his primary position will be. Much will depend on how well the other wideouts develop. If the receiver position stabilizes, McEvoy figures to play mostly at safety, where he has a chance to be a pro.

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5. Corey Clement will be a stud. I figured this. But, it was good to see him up close and personal. We all got a glimpse of him last year, when he ripped off 949 yards rushing as Melvin Gordon’s caddie. Clement is a 5-11, 217-pound junior. But I wonder if potential issues on the line could impact Clement. And how will he respond to being the No. 1 back and the pressure and expectations that come with that spot? Many of his yards in the past have come vs. worn-down defenses, too. How will Clement fair vs. top-line defenders?

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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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