Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, August 19, 2017
MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin is the defending Big Ten West champ. And the Badgers have a good chance to repeat in 2017. The roster is loaded with talent, including what look to be strong lines on both sides of the ball.
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A big key: The development of sophomore quarterback Alex Hornibrook. This was one of the best-looking squads I have seen on the tour.
Here are five things I learned at Wisconsin practice.
1. The offensive line is in vintage Wisconsin form. And this is the case even with Ryan Ramczyk gone a year early to the NFL. That wasn?t the case in recent years, as injury, youth and a lack of depth hurt the o-line. The left side of the line is filled with talent and beef, with Michael Deiter (6-6, 328) at tackle and Jon Dietzen (6-6, 336) at guard. Keep an eye on redshirt freshman center Tyler Biadasz, who looks like a future star. The right side has Beau Benzschawel (6-6, 317) at guard and David Edwards (6-7, 315) at tackle. Edwards was a prep QB who was signed as a TE. Now he is protecting Alex Hornibrook?s blind side. This unit is big, tough and physical. And it?s smart, too. They should pave the way for another strong rushing season for the Badgers.
2. This may be the top secondary in the Big Ten–and maybe the nation. Really. Keep an eye on CB Nick Nelson. He?s a transfer from Hawaii who has ?All-Big Ten? written all over him. He?s just a junior, but this may be his final season of college ball. Nelson is the total package on the edge: strong, big and quick. He also will run back punts. He stayed late after tonight?s scrimmage working on technique. Nelson teams with Derrick Tindal to give UW a boffo tandem at cornerback. And the safeties are tough and physical, led by D?Cota Dixon and Natrell Jamerson. Patrick Johnson is another safety to watch. Dontye Carriere-Williams is the nickel. The unit is coached by rising star Jim Leonhard, who is in his first year as DC.
3. The running back position is loaded with talent. Bradrick Shaw looks like Wisconsin's next 1,000-yard back. He?s a nice combo of size and speed. But don?t discount Pitt transfer Chris James, a physical runner who will have a role in this tough, rugged attack. These two are basically No. 1 and No. 1A. But the real buzz tonight was about true freshman Jonathan Taylor. Keep an eye on him. He busted off a long TD run early in the scrimmage. He broke Corey Clement?s prep records in New Jersey. Taylor may be a special back.
4. The pass-catchers looks good. Jazz Peavy, a true difference maker who can stretch the field, is the top option as far as receivers go. Quintez Cephus is a speedy complement. He?s No. 2. A.J. Taylor is a vet, while George Rushing is out hurt now. There is a lot of buzz around true freshman Danny Davis, who will impact this year. Count on it. Throw in tight ends Troy Fumagalli and Kyle Penniston, and there will be no shortage of targets. And watch true freshman TE Jake Ferguson.
5. This is a nice collection of linebackers, even after Jack Cichy's season-ending injury. Garrett Dooley and Zack Baun are on the outside with help from Leon Jacobs and JC Andrew Van Ginkel. Chris Orr is back from injury to start inside next to T.J. Edwards. Ryan Connelly is another option inside. Jacobs could be a special linebacker and needs to have a good year.