Dienhart: 5 things I learned in Wisconsin spring game
B1G HIGHLIGHT - Watch all of the top highlights from the Wisconsin spring game Saturday.
Wisconsin is aiming to get back to the summit in the Big Ten West. But there is work to do as Paul Chryst begins his second season in Madison coming off a 10-3 debut and second-place finish in the West.
Key personnel is gone. And the coaching staff has been impacted with defensive coordinator Dave Aranda leaving for the same post at LSU. Chryst tabbed Justin Wilcox from USC to take over. How will that impact the defense, which was excellent under Aranda?
Having a healthy Corey Clement will help, as injuries ruined the running back’s 2015 season. And the offensive line has better talent, depth and experience. But who will be the quarterback? Who will be the go-to wideout with Alex Erickson gone? And how will the Badgers navigate one of the nation’s toughest schedule?
Here are five things I learned in Wisconsin’s spring game.
1. The race to replace QB Joel Stave is close. Redshirt Alex Hornibrook came on strong during the last two weeks of spring drills in his battle with Bart Houston to quarterback the 2016 Badgers. Hornibrook hit 4-of-8 passes for 138 yards and two TDs in the spring game. The lefty could add needed juice to a deep game that too often has been inconsistent in Madison in recent years. Still, this looks like Houston’s job to lose.
2. The offensive line looks better. That wasn’t always the case last season, when the unit was impacted by a lack of depth and injury. Just two of the five starters in the opening against Alabama were able to finish the season. And the only player to start at his same position for all 13 games was left tackle Tyler Marz, who is gone. Dan Voltz is back from injury and is a force on the interior. Michael Deiter is back as the lone vet who started each game in 2015. Ryan Ramczyk, Jacob Maxwell, Beau Benzschawel, Micah Kapoi, Jon Dietzen and Walker Williams are others who factor in. This group will be up to normal Wisconsin o-line standards.
3. Corey Clement looks like Corey Clement. He didn’t get extensive work in the spring game. Why should he have? The guy is a proven commodity but is coming off a 2015 season that was ruined by injury. The staff wants Clement at full-go for camp. When he got work in the spring, Clement flashed the skills that make him so deadly and effective in 2014.
4. The receiving corps has work to do. The Badgers have had some good No. 1 options in targets of late with the likes of Jared Abbrederis and Alex Erickson. But finding reliable pass-catchers beyond the top option has been a struggle. With Erickson out of eligibility, the Badgers are looking for a new No. 1 and depth behind him. Maybe speedy junior George Rushing can be the top option this season, as he looked good last Saturday with two TD grabs. In addition to making catches, Rushing is a threat as a ball carrier. Robert Wheelwright and Reggie Love are the leading returning receivers, with 32 and 20 receptions, respectively. Keep an eye on Peter Roy, too.
5. New defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox has settled in well. The former USC assistant hasn’t made any radical alterations to what departed DC Dave Aranda did. And, that’s probably a good thing, considering this has been one of the nation’s top defenses in recent years. The front seven is loaded with veteran talent, but the secondary has work to do with Darius Hillary, Tanner McEvoy and Michael Caputo gone. Don’t expect much drop-off—if any—from this defense in 2016.
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