April 2, 2010

Midway through spring camp: The offense

MADISON - With spring break winding down and the second half of Wisconsin's spring practice set to begin Tuesday afternoon, BadgerBlitz.com takes a look back and what we've learned during the first eight practices of camp.

The following is a look at the offensive side of the ball.

WHAT WE KNOW….

About the quarterbacks:

-With the injury to Curt Phillips midway through the opening half of spring camp, the quarterback position became much more interesting. Now, with Scott Tolzien and Jon Budmayr receiving the majority of the reps, depth is at a premium. And with one more injury to either of those two players the position will be in major trouble as junior back up Nate Tice is nowhere near being close to contending for a starting role and currently doesn't receive many reps in practices.

We do know that Tolzien has looked solid throughout the spring. He looks comfortable under center and poised to build off of his first season as a starting quarterback. It also helps that Budmayr and Phillips (until he got hurt) were pushing the senior signal caller.

There may not be a quarterback competition for the starting job this year, but there is a good chance for Budmayr to take the lead entering spring camp next year while Phillips recovers from his torn ACL and Tolzien is no longer in the program.

About the running backs:

Like last year during fall camp, Zach Brown has been looking incredibly efficient as the go-to running back while John Clay rehabs his surgically repaired ankles.

He has been running the ball with authority, looks decisive in his cuts and continues to impress with the speed he has had throughout his days as a Badgers. For the most part, Brown and sophomore tailback Montee Ball have been receiving the majority of the reps as Clay sits out.

Recently, when Ball suffered a dinged up shoulder as a result of a punishing Jay Valai hit during a scrimmage, Kyle Zuleger has received reps at the running back position.

In short, there are no shortages of reps going around the running back position during spring camp. And for players like Brown, with one year of eligibility remaining, spring has really surfaced as a chance for him to open eyes.

"Anytime you can get reps you're always going to get better," Brown said. "That's just how I'm looking at it. As Clay is out, I'm able to get more reps and I'm able to work on my craft as a running back."

About the wide receivers:

There is no question that one player has stood out more than any other so far in spring camp. Jared Abbrederis, a walk-on former quarterback turned wide receiver, has been a playmaker on a daily basis throughout the first half of spring camp.

"I think it's a great opportunity just to learn and get better and show the coaches what you have," Abbrederis said earlier in spring camp. "Once fall comes they'll most likely have the guys that they're going to play so they'll need the reps. We'll still get some reps, but this is a great opportunity for us young guys to go out there and show what we have."

It really seems as though Abbrederis has a great connection with Budmayr that was established throughout off-season work together.

"I think in the off-season, when you've got a guy like Jon Budmayr who works really hard, he brought me in," Abbrederis said. "We talked to each other and were like, let's go throw. So we would go in there and work together. I think that has something to do with it on the field. We can kind of have that trust.

"We know where each other is going to be on the field so that kind of helps out."

In addition to Abbrederis, junior wide receiver Nick Toon has had many eye-popping plays. He looks a bit stronger and maybe even a little faster than he was a season ago and that is translating to the field.

In the red zone, UW may not have a better weapon considering Toon's vertical leap and pass catching ability. He truly is forming to the mold of a complete playmaker and looks to be building on his success from a season ago.

"He's done a good job," UW wide receivers coach DelVaughn Alexander said. "He's got a big body and a big vertical. If we put the ball up, chances are pretty good that he can come down with it."

David Gilreath looks to be completely healthy and very quick after recovering from a foot injury that plagued him most of the season a year ago. He, along with Toon and Isaac Anderson seem to be the wide outs with the most reps so far in spring.

Gilreath, who also returns punts, will likely return kicks as well.

Anderson, a player haunted by mental miscues a season ago, looks to be more focused entering his final spring camp. There are still times when the senior wide receiver suffers a mental lapse or doesn't go as hard as the coaches would like, but for the most part it seems he is poised to set himself up for a nice season during spring camp.

About the tight ends:

Junior Jake Byrne, a 6-foot-4, 257-pound tight end, has really had a solid start to spring camp. He's a physical body that has improved himself as a blocker and seems to be figuring things out with the route-running aspect of his position.

"He's doing good," UW tight ends coach Joe Rudolph said. "He did a lot of good things last year but he had some good people in front of him. But I see things really starting to come together with him. It's really a consistency standpoint. Can he be the best Jake Byrne each play?

"That's what's starting to emerge so I'm excited about that."

At his size Byrne really runs well. He's tough to defend for opposing linebackers, too, because he is simply one of the tallest skill position players on the field. He can catch the ball in traffic and open space just the same and seems to be poised for a breakout year.

Obviously the headliner of the position is Lance Kendricks, and like one would expect, the senior hasn't disappointed.

"He comes out and he works every day," Rudolph said. "I love that about him. He works his tail off, but last year we played a lot with two and three tight end sets. We don't have to do that, but we're trying to get the best guys on the field. The guys that can help us win."

As far as some of the younger guys at the position, it seems as though Rob Korslin is making strides as a potential replacement for Mickey Turner. At his size (6-foot-4, 258 pounds) he could provide a big body at the fullback position along with Bradie Ewing. Though Korslin probably won't receive as many passes as some of the other tight ends, he is still putting himself in a position to garner attention from the coaching staff.

"He will know all three positions which makes him invaluable," Rudolph said. "You run into trouble and you need someone to be able to fix some things. He's smart and he understands that. He will be invaluable at all three positions.

"I just saw him having the best opportunity of him getting on the field the quickest there at fullback."

Before he was injured, Brian Wozniak was looking pretty solid at the tight end position. He was coming on strong and seemed to have taken a stride from his first fall camp to his first spring camp.

Jacob Pedersen, a relatively raw prospect, is also showcasing his ability this spring. He may not be fully immersed with everything he needs to be offensively yet, but he continues to make strides.

"Jacob has been a pleasant surprise," Rudolph said. "Probably one of the big questions was backing up the H and who could that be? I'm hoping he continues. Him and Korslin are battling there and both of those guys have showed some flashes. I hope these last six (practices) somebody emerges there."

About the offensive line:

Considering John Moffitt, Peter Konz and Gabe Carimi (for the most part) were sidelined throughout the first half, it seems the offensive line has made plenty of progress.

Bill Nagy, a player sidelined most of the year last season as he recovered from a serious moped accident, seems to have his ability back and is improving at the guard position.

Travis Frederick is performing well at safety and Kevin Zeitler continues to improve at right guard. At right tackle, it seems as though Josh Oglesby has been playing with more intensity and looks to be punishing opposing defenders.

Ricky Wagner, who performed with the No. 1 unit continued to progress, although there were several occasions where junior defensive end J.J. Watt got the best of him.

With Carimi back in the fold, and a rather feisty Carimi at that, it seems like the UW offensive line is developing a bit of a mean streak that only makes the unit better collectively.

Moffitt is scheduled to be back before the annual spring game so it seems as though the entire starting lineup, except for Konz will be back for the final couple weeks of camp. That will essentially serve as a good chance for the Badgers to develop some solid team chemistry moving forward.

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