Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, April 25, 2015
MADISON, Wis. — Dressed in loose black sweats, an oversized gray sweatshirt with a ball cap resting on his head, Paul Chryst looks like he snuck down to the field from the stands.
He is me. He is you. He is Wisconsin. And that?s what makes his arrival in the Dairy State so great.
Chryst knows the culture of this school and state. He knows, loves it, sells it and embraces it … and most importantly, he understands it. That?s what makes Chryst so perfect for this job. He?s a natural in Wisconsin red. And, it showed today in Wisconsin's spring game.
This is Chryst?s school. This is Chryst?s town. This is Chryst?s state. It?s all too perfect, the type of story that begins with ?once upon a time? and usually ends with ?they all lived happily ever after.?
That?s the hope among the states denizens after Wisconsin has seen its last two coaches leave not so happily ever after.
The 49-year-old Chryst is the son of a high school coach from Platteville, Wisconsin, where he starred as a quarterback before moving on to the University of Wisconsin in 1984. Chryst knows his way up and down State Street in Madison. He won't be surprised by any academic hurdles with it comes to player admissions. Chryst knows how the place operates.
Chryst returned to his roots on a few occasions over the years, serving as tight ends coach in 2002 under Barry Alvarez and then as offensive coordinator under Bret Bielema from 2005-11. Alvarez was tempted to tab Chryst for the Badger job when Bielema shocked the state by leaving for Arkansas after the 2012 season. But Chryst had only been a head coach at Pitt for one season at that point. When Gary Andersen became the second Wisconsin coach to leave in a huff in a three-year period, however, Alvarez didn?t hesitate to call Chryst home.
Today?s spring game added a few paragraphs to the opening chapter of Chryst?s Wisconsin career. It was a cold day with a late-October feel to it. Camp Randall Stadium wasn?t rollicking, but it didn?t matter. They tried to jump around after the third quarter. That?ll all come in the fall.
Today was about sneaking a glimpse of what Chryst?s first edition will look like. And, there?s a lot to like-especially on offense at the skill spots.
Quarterback Joel Stave is back for his fifth season. Yes, he has had his ups and down during his tenure, but Stave has the skill set to execute the offense that Chryst wants to run. He has a strong arm and good pocket presence. And, not having to look over his shoulder, Stave has been able to focus on improving some weak spots in his game without fear of losing his job.
Corey Clement is the heir to Melvin Gordon at what has become one of the sport?s most glamorous positions: Wisconsin running back. America got a glimpse of Clement last season, when he could have started for several other Big Ten teams en route to rushing for 949 yards. But, Clement was stuck behind an all-time great in Gordon. Now, it?s Clement?s turn. He lacks the top-end gears of Gordon, but Clement is every bit as physical as Gordon and has plenty of giddy-up.
A big spring storyline has been: Who will be Clement?s caddy? Dare Ogunbowale and Taiwan Deal have had a good battle. This is a key role, as Clement will need help.
The receiving corps has been a concern in recent years, but it actually looks good. Alex Erickson emerged last season as the clear No. 1 with a 55-catch season. But who is his sidekick? Robert Wheelwright looks like the No. 2, but Reggie Love also has impressed along with Jazz Peavy. And keep an eye on Tanner McEvoy-yes, THAT Tanner McEvoy. The same guy who opened last year as the starting quarterback has taken some reps at wideout in the spring. And, the 6-6 McEvoy has looked good. More on him later.
If there?s reason to worry, it?s up front. It?s typically a foregone conclusion that Wisconsin will have a good offensive line. But this unit is still coming together as it looks to replace three starters. Depth is a major concern. If a real game had been played today and everyone was healthy, the front probably would have looked like this: Tyler Marz at left tackle; Ray Ball at left guard; Dan Voltz at center; Michael Deiter at right guard; Hayden Biegel at right tackle.
There are more questions on defense, especially along the line. There are many options, with players like Chikwe Obasih, Arthur Goldberg (hurt), Conor Sheehy, Alec James and Jake Keefer battling. The staff is still sorting through personnel. Stay tuned.
The linebacking corps is under construction. The Badgers are breaking in two new inside linebackers, a spot that lacks experienced depth. T.J. Edwards has impressed inside along with Leon Jacobs. After that? Wisconsin is set on the outside with Vince Biegel and Joe Schobert.
The secondary may be the best part of the team. McEvoy is now a full-time safety, teaming with Michael Caputo-one of the best in the Big Ten. The corner duo of Sojourn Shelton and Darius Hillary is outstanding. Natrell Jamerson is a converted wideout who may be the nickel back.
Wisconsin has played in three of the first four Big Ten title games. Can it return to Indianapolis as West Division champ in 2015? The offensive line and defensive front seven will tell the tale of the upcoming season.
|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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