Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, July 25, 2014
There are no real secrets about the Wisconsin offense: It wants to run the ball. Then run it some more. And some more. It usually always works with backs like Melvin Gordon and a monster line. Coordinator Andy Ludwig knows that. But he continues to tweak an attack that last year ranked No. 3 overall in the Big Ten in scoring (34.8 ppg) and No. 3 overall (480.8 ypg).
The rushing attack? It rolled on, finishing second in the Big Ten (283.8 ypg). It?s the passing attack that?s a concern.
With all-time great wideout Jared Abbrederis on the roster last season, the Badgers ranked ninth in the conference in passing (197.1 ypg). Now, Abbrederis is gone after making 78 catches for 1,081 yards and seven TDs in 2013. What will happen?
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I caught up with Ludwig to get his feelings on the 2014 Wisconsin offense.
Q: Is the quarterback spot an open competition?
A: It is a real competitive position. We feel very confident in Joel?s (Stave) experience and where he is right now. It was unfortunate he missed most of the spring, but it was a great opportunity for Tanner McEvoy to get the bulk of the reps with the No. 1 offense.
Q: So the competition is open?
A: Yes, it will be a very competitive fall camp. Both guys have had productive summers, and I?m anxious to see what happens.
Q: When do you think you?ll make a decision on who will be the starter?
A: Coach (Gary Andersen) and I haven?t talked about putting a time line on it. You?d like (to make a decision) at least 10 days before the opener. Maybe it will clear itself up sooner. Maybe there will be separation and we?ll move on from there.
Q: Will true freshman D.J. Gillins be a factor?
A: I anticipate a huge amount of growth from D.J. after he arrived early for spring ball. He has a tremendous skill set. But I think it will be hard. I feel good about the (quarterbacks). We need to get the first guy ready to go.
Q: How is receiver shaping up?
A: It?s tough to replace Jared Abbrederis. We have three guys who have played in Kenzel Doe, who was more of a role player last year and had that big return in the bowl game. Alex Erickson was a part-time starter last year who came on late. Robert Wheelwright was a true freshman last year. Unfortunately, he got hurt the first day of spring ball. He has had a good summer. He?s a guy we are counting on stepping up from Day One in the fall at the X-receiver position. Jordan Fredrick is a returning starter. He?s a bit more of a role player. He?s a flanker, the Z. He is a big help as a blocker down field.
We also have three freshmen. We hope one or two will step up and contribute. Natrell Jamerson, George Rushing and Krenwick Sanders.
Q: Who will be the No. 1 wideout?
A: Wheelwright would be the guy among the players we have worked with. I am anxious to see the three newcomers. We need one of those to help. Absolutely.
Q: Is tight end again going to be a position of strength?
A: We feel really good here even though we lost three seniors, including Brian Wozniak and Jacob Pedersen. Wozniak wasn?t the pass catcher but was a tremendous anchor on the line as a blocker. We are in good shape with Sam Arneson, a senior who has played a lot. He can block and catch. We are using Derek Watt, a fullback, as a move tight end and will continue with that. That gives us flexibility. Be aware of a couple young guys. Troy Fumagalli and T.J. Watt are redshirt freshmen who are 6-5, 250 with tremendous ball skills. Hopefully one of them can step up and be a pass-catcher like Pedersen was. We have lots of options.
Q: Safe to say you are pleased with your running backs? How will you keep them happy?
A: It?s a long season. Corey Clement came in as a true freshman last year and excelled. That?s a great 1-2 combo with Melvin Gordon. It is a long season; they are looking for long careers. I would anticipate what we did last year with Melvin and James White, splitting carries. One thing we want to do is get Melvin more involved in the passing game, down-field routes, screens ? whatever. We want to get him touches in other ways.
Q: Is this another vintage line?
A: We feel really good with four starters back. Rob Havenstein at right tackle has a lot of experience and is a vocal leader. A great anchor. Kyle Costigan is next to him at right guard. This will be their third year playing next to each other. Lots of familiarity and confidence on that side. We are working with Dan Voltz at center. We have Dallas Lewallen at left guard after he played at center before he got hurt. And we have a starter back at left tackle in Tyler Marz. Our depth is better than it was a year ago, too.
Q: Did you visit anywhere in the offseason to glean ideas?
A: The Boston College coaches came here and we visited the Packers and Lions. Al Borges visited. He coached me and gave me my first coaching job at Portland State. He spent some days with us, which was nice.
|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.