Wisconsin is coming off back-to-back Rose Bowl appearances for the second time in school history. To make a third consecutive Rose Bowl visit, the Badgers have to find a quarterback.
In addition, there has been a coaching staff makeover after offensive coordinator Paul Chryst departed to become Pittsburgh's coach.
|Coach: Bret Bielema (7th season)
Last season: 11-3 overall, 6-2 in Big Ten
Spring practice dates: March 17-April 28
(minimum 7 starts last season):
Offense (5): WR Jared Abbrederis, TB Montee Ball, G/C Travis Frederick, TE Jacob Pedersen, T Ricky Wagner
Defense (6): LB Chris Borland, CB Marcus Cromartie, T Ethan Hemer, SS Shelton Johnson, E Brendan Kelly, LB Mike Taylor
Special teams: None
The issues at quarterback make the rushing attack all the more important. TB Montee Ball decided to stay in school for his senior season, and that is the biggest positive for the Badgers. While there is a need for three new starting offensive linemen, the Badgers seemingly always have a talented, physical line, so it's a safe bet that Ball is going to have some room to run.
The Badgers are looking for two new starters along the defensive line and in the secondary. The secondary is the bigger issue. There's a solid duo at linebacker with Chris Borland and Mike Taylor.
Finally, Wisconsin also is looking for a new kicker and a new punter; expect a drop-off at both positions this season.
The biggest problem: Quarterback. The biggest concern heading into spring camp is the exact issue Wisconsin had a year ago at this time. This time around, though, Russell Wilson won't be arriving on campus to stabilize the position. Quarterback is a glaring question, with just two healthy bodies – Joe Brennan and Joel Stave – set to open spring camp. Neither has started a game, though Brennan received a few reps in mop-up time last fall. The status of Jon Budmayr (throwing arm) and Curt Phillips (multiple knee surgeries) is not known at this point, and it's possible both will not be ready until the summer. There's no clear-cut favorite, and any prediction in regard to the starter in 2012 would be nothing more than a guess at this point.
On the spot: CB Marcus Cromartie. He was thrown into a starting role in 2011 when Devin Smith went down with an injury but largely was inconsistent. Smith and Cromartie are penciled in as starters, though youngsters Peniel Jean, Devin Gaulden, Darius Hillary and Jameson Wright are waiting in the wings should Cromartie not perform at a high level. One of the bigger "gets" in the Badgers' 2008 recruiting class, Cromartie has one final season to reach his potential.
On the verge: OT Rob Havenstein. The starting job at right tackle is Havenstein's to lose and it's unlikely the 6-foot-8, 345-pound sophomore will relinquish any ground this spring. Havenstein, who started one game in 2011 but played in all 13 contests, will take over for Josh Oglesby, and few expect the line to miss a beat. Havenstein moves extremely well for a lineman his size and could be the next great tackle from Wisconsin's program.
General overview: Though learning more about all five quarterbacks will be crucial for the Badgers this offseason, there are other areas that need to be addressed as well. It hasn't been talked about much, but Wisconsin must replace its starting kicker (Philip Welch) and punter (Brad Nortman). Sophomore-to-be Kyle French is the frontrunner at kicker, while walk-on Drew Meyer is expected to be the lone punter competing in spring camp. Expect freshman walk-on Jack Russell to push French when he arrives on campus this summer, though. Offensively, a second option at wide receiver is needed to complement Jared Abbrederis; Jeff Duckworth, Manasseh Garner and a host of underclassmen will be given the opportunity. The offensive line should be strong despite the early departure of C Peter Konz to the NFL. The backfield, led by Heisman candidate Montee Ball at tailback, returns four players with game experience from 2011. Defensively, the ball, the front seven should be solid. LBs Mike Taylor and Chris Borland likely will emerge as leaders not only on their unit, but also throughout the entire locker room. The safeties need to perform at a higher level in 2012. Shelton Johnson returns and Dezmen Southward likely will open camp opposite him. Behind those two, plenty of questions remain.
For in-depth coverage of Wisconsin athletics, go to BadgerBlitz.com
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