In this edition of "Five Burning Questions" our good friend Andrew Coppens of Bloguin's own MadtownBadgers.com stops by to discuss all things Wisconsin, as the Badgers just finished up spring ball. Amongst the topics include Danny O'Brien, a new name at running back, and a great day in New York last weekend for Wisconsin.
1. The big off-season story at Wisconsin actually had nothing to do with Saturday's spring game, but instead will come when Maryland transfer Danny O'Brien arrives this summer. Unfortunately for O'Brien, because of the success of Russell Wilson last year, everyone obviously expects similar results from him. Is that fair? Also, does it say anything about Bret Bielema's comfort with the other quarterbacks on the team that he brought in a second transfer quarterback in two years, or is everyone looking too much into that?
I'm going to take the second question first here and I'd say it didn't have as much to do with the QB's on the roster this time around as it did last season. Especially knowing what we saw from the Spring game this season. The decision to recruit O'Brien had more to do with his talents and the fact that the Badgers only have two healthy QB's on the roster at the moment and won't have a third until incoming freshman Bart Houston comes aboard in the fall. That being said it also had to do with getting quality in the group and if O'Brien is his 2010 self again the Badgers have themselves one heck of a QB.
On to the Wilson comparisons.... It's something that I actually have been harping on since his transfer, there isn't a comparison between the two other than coming from ACC schools and having won Freshman of the Year awards. I've been begging the fan base to stop with the comparisons because I have a feeling they won't be happy when they see what happens on the field. O'Brien isn't Wilson at all, he's much more of a pocket passer, he's taller, and a bit less adept to running the football unless totally necessary. D.O'B also doesn't quite have that "it" factor that Wilson had here last season. Now that's not to say he can't equal the production of Wilson, but expecting a repeat of the single best season from a QB at Wisconsin is just totally unrealistic. Add in the fact that we'll have D.O'B for two years and the situations are totally different in my book.
2. The star of Saturday's scrimmage was undoubtedly running back Melvin Gordon, who carried the ball 30 times for 159 yards. Given that both James White and Montee Ball were out with injury, should we make anything of Gordon's big day? Do you really expect him to have a big part in what Wisconsin does on offense this fall?
Wisconsin is known for a few things on the football field and that's producing road-grader offensive lineman and for it's stable of running backs throughout the past 20 or so years. Gordon's performance on Saturday was absolutely huge in my book. Remember we're talking about about a redshirt freshman that looks like he not only belongs on the field, but that he could dominate and that doesn't happen all too often right out the gate. He showed that 1) he can carry the load of a full game on his shoulders with 30 carries in the game and 2) he's made huge strides in just one season at Wisconsin in terms of getting used to running more between the tackles as he was part of a Wing-T offense in high school.
Now the question is how do they get Gordon on the field this fall? I think some are overlooking the fact that he may end up being great competition to James White for the backup running back spot and that alone could get him on the field more. However, indications are that the Badgers are planning on using a lot more of the two back sets with new offensive coordinator Matt Canada adding a few wrinkles of his own to the pro-style offense at Wisconsin and that could mean we see Gordon used in that package because of his ability to burn teams on the edges. That being said Gordon's biggest contributions may come in the return game were many, myself included, expect him to be a weapon on the kick return unit. Of course you can never count out the injury factor and with White being banged up this spring it's great to know we've got three and even four (Jeff Lewis) starting caliber backs on the 2012 roster.
3. Outside of Gordon, it was actually the defense which shined overall Saturday. What did you see from them that you liked? More importantly, given how many key players were out to injury on offense, did we really learn that much?
You are right, the defense was the second biggest story of the Spring game. The Badgers were missing at least 5 potential starters from their No. 1 unit that will likely be there in the Sept. 1st opener against Northern Iowa. As a result I think we learned a ton about this team. My biggest take away is that the front four is going to be able to generate a ton of pressure this season. Tackle Beau Allen had 3 tfl's (tackles for loss) as well as a sack. Outside of him DE Brendan Kelly really surprised a few people with the pressure he was getting off the edge. That unit didn't even have it's main pass rushing threat, David Gilbert, on the field either. Getting more out of that unit will only help to free up an already great linebacking corp., one that on Saturday showed just how deep it was with Derek Landish, Derek Watt, and Jake Keefer all looking good in expanded roles, so knowing if something happens to Mike Taylor or Chris Borland we'll be in great hands was hugely important.
Finally, the one area that not a lot of people focused on, but I think is huge was the play of the secondary in the game. We were down to just three healthy cornerbacks, none of which were starters last season, and Dez Southward and Shelton Johnson playing in their first "game" as a duo in front of the fans. The group held their own and a guy like Peniel Jean who saw limited at best action last season clearly made a statement that he's ready to be a major contributor in 2012. He's most likely a nickel/dime back, but if one of the starters struggles don't be surprised to see him jump up to the starters role.
4. While everyone was quick to point to Nick Toon as the "best" receiver on Wisconsin last year, it was actually Jason Abberderis who had the statistically better season overall. Why don't more college football fans know about him?
Shhh.... let's just keep that bit to ourselves, o.k.? No, but seriously, I thought he had a bit of a "coming out" party during the Rose Bowl and was seriously unlucky with that late fumble. As for why more aren't talking about him I think a lot has to do with his personality. He's just another one of those small town Wisconsin kids that dreamed of playing for the Badgers, walked-on, and is now a bona-fide threat and a star of this team. He doesn't seek out the spotlight, so that is also a reason people aren't mentioning hiim among the great WR's in 2012 and if you asked him I'm sure he'd be fine with that too.
5. Finally, outside of Saturday's scrimmage, this was also a banner weekend for the Badgers football program, as 13 players were either drafted or signed as free agents to the NFL? Isn't that the best indication of just truly how far this program has come under Bret Bielema?
It's funny you should mention that as Head Coach Bret Bielema actually brought up a fact that I didn't know on Saturday and that's that the 2011 Badgers produced the most players to the NFL out of any school IN THE COUNTRY. I think that alone is a mark of just where this program is and it's a testament not only to Bielema, but to the foundation that Barry Alvarez laid down before handing the reigns over to Bielema. This program is certainly on another level since he took over and I think this past weekend was just another notch in the belt to proving to the country and to recruits that this is a program that's no longer just a regional power, but it's a national program now.
But as for this past weekend's NFL draft numbers I'd dare you to ask the trivia question of anyone - name the three schools with the most drafted players in the 2012 NFL Draft? I'm guessing it would take quite some time for anyone to guess Wisconsin as one of those schools yet that's exactly what they did. But hey, keep producing Big Ten Championships and that might become commonplace around these parts and that would be ridiculous as a Badger fan since the mid 80's to see happening to say the least.