Everyone knows about Melvin Gordon.
The Wisconsin running back mulled leaving for the NFL, but the 1,600-yard rusher is back in Madison for his redshirt junior season. He’s ready to tear up the Big Ten again, but for second-year head coach Gary Andersen, he’s one of a few known commodities on the Badgers’ offense heading into the 2014 season.
The offensive line is stout like most Wisconsin lines in past seasons have been, but wide receiver, with Jared Abbrederis (78 catches, 1,081 yards, 7 TDs) out of the picture, is the offense’s weakest link.
“Offensively – there’s lots of questions. Wide receiver is a big question mark and it’s been talked about a lot. We need a couple young men to step up,” Andersen said Monday at Big Ten Media Day in Chicago.
It’s not easy to replace a player as productive as Abbrederis, a recent draft choice of the Green Bay Packers. One player is not going to do it, but Andersen pointed to a few different guys who can collectively fill the void.
“We have to replace Jared with two or three players,” Andersen said. “Now, there's some young men in that program that Wisconsin football means a lot to. Kenzel Doe has had an unbelievable offseason, a very good spring, became dynamic at the end of the year in the return game. He'll be a presence for us in that situation. Jordan Fredrick has had his role. Alex Erickson has had his role. The challenge is for the youth to step up.”
In addition to Doe (7 catches, 57 yards in 2013), Fredrick (10 catches, 106 yards) and Erickson (9 catches, 127 yards), Andersen also named sophomore Robert Wheelwright and redshirt freshman Jazz Peavy as two guys who “need to be ready to step up.”
Another question on offense is who exactly will be delivering the ball to these untested receivers.
Joel Stave, who started all 13 games for the Badgers last season, returns, but Andersen hardly offered him a vote of confidence Monday. In fact, Andersen said the position is “an open competition” between Stave and Tanner McEvoy.
McEvoy started his career at South Carolina, but transferred to a junior college before landing with the Badgers in the summer of 2013. He arrived on campus as a quarterback, but then moved to wide receiver when the season began. Soon after, a wrist injury moved him over to safety, where he started three games. With the wrist healed, the 6-foot-6, 222-pound McEvoy is back in the picture at QB.
“Joel Stave and Tanner McEvoy will come in and split the reps. It’s going to be interesting to watch,” Andersen said. “The kids are handling it very well amongst themselves and they're also handling it very well amongst the team. It’s no different than the battle that may be taking place at a wide receiver position. It works itself out.”
Stave injured his throwing shoulder in the Capital One Bowl, which limited him in practice and allowed for McEvoy to take a significant portion of the reps in the spring. On top of that, McEvoy’s athleticism allows for Andersen to implement more spread formations into the offense, similar to what he ran during his time at Utah State.
“I would say he's an elite athlete,” Andersen said. “But the way he moves around in his size, his ability to ‑‑ the speed he runs with, I think he runs very, very well. He's elusive and he's smart. He allows you to do some things offensively to force defenses to understand that if you make a mistake, he's more than willing to take off and make you pay.”
Andersen said there’s no timetable in terms of naming his starter for the season opening matchup against LSU in Houston. It will certainly be one of the more intriguing position battles in the Big Ten to monitor.
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