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The Badgers receivers, outside of Jared Abbrederis, have taken some heat for their performance so far this year.
'We know what the deal is'
By TONY CARTAGENA
MADISON – Through five games this season, University of Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave has 80 completions for 1,056 yards and eight touchdowns. Four of those touchdowns, along with 33 receptions and 572 yards have come on connections with first team All-Big Ten wide receiver Jared Abbrederis.
“They have been together for a while and (have) a lot of accumulated reps,” wide receivers coach Chris Beatty said of the two former walk-ons. “Our whole deal is trying to make sure we are quarterback friendly and (Abbrederis) is obviously the most quarterback friendly of our group.
“There is a confidence level if you’re the quarterback and you feel that this guy is going to go get it.”
The rest of this “group” has been under the microscope as of late for their inability to emerge as legitimate compliments to Abbrederis. This year wide receivers at Wisconsin not wearing No. 4 have combined for just 16 catches, 199 yards and zero touchdowns.
Stave’s four other touchdown passes were to tight ends Jacob Pedersen, Brian Wozniak, Sam Arneson and fullback Derek Straus.
Stats are one thing and facts are another. Fact is Beatty has heard the criticisms of his group of receivers, and quite frankly, thinks those critics are flat out wrong.
“That is people that don’t know what they are talking about,” he said. “People watch the game but don’t really know it and they watch TV but don’t really see it. There are a lot of things that are going on and unless you are apart of it you don’t really know what is going on. We move (Abbrederis) around to a bunch of spots, would you rather play somebody else at that spot and not place (Abbrederis) there because if (Abbrederis) doesn’t catch 10 balls then you’re sitting back complaining about why (Abbrederis) didn’t catch ten balls. It is kind of one of those ‘hard to win’ regardless of what you do.
“It is what it is. People are entitled to their opinion but we know what the deal is.”
As leader of the receiving core, Abbrederis was also quick to jump to the defense of his teammates.
“They do a good job,” he said. “The fans don’t get to see them in practice and they work hard and make a lot of plays. When they get their opportunity they are going to make their play. Nobody is perfect, you are going to have a drop or two but that’s just kind of the way it goes. You just got to try and make sure you catch everything thrown your way.
“Like I said, you’re not going to be perfect. But they are going to do their job, and when the time comes for them to make their play, they are going to make it.”
The problem for the group is they haven’t always been on the field to make the plays. As a whole, the receivers have struggled to stay healthy through the first five games. Jordan Fredrick is the team’s second leading receiver (six catches, 66 yards) but he left the loss at Ohio State after suffering a head injury. Kenzel Doe (two catches, 19 yards) has already missed two games this season with a hamstring injury. Jeff Duckworth, Chase Hammond and Marquis Mason (out for the season) have also all missed time this year with injuries.
True freshman Rob Wheelwright has played in every game this season, but has just two catches and nine yards to show for it. Still, Beatty said the Ohio-native is getting noticeably better by the day.
“He is getting better, he is getting a lot better,” coach Beatty said of the Ohio native Wheelwright. “I think its one of those things where he is making progress everyday, the light hadn’t quite come on yet but he is a true freshman and that is hard.
A.J Jordan has made an impact on special teams, and according to Beatty, he is going “to be a good player,” and “(the coaches) can see that.”
When they are at full strength, especially moving forward into next season, the Badgers receiving core is better than most would assume. Naysayers will be quick to point out that Beatty jumping to the side of his receivers is, ‘exactly what a coach is supposed to do.’ However, with a coach like him that is not always the case. According to one of his former players, Beatty’s best trait is honesty, and telling players exactly what’s going on – good or bad – a trait respected by the players he has taught in the past.
“He was a coach that told me how it was day-to-day and told me exactly what was going on,” said Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhasse, who had Beatty as his offensive coordinator last season. “He was the same person from day one to day two and every day moving forward. He didn’t change or say anything different to different people, and that is something that I have respect for. That is they type of person I want to play for. He is honestly one of the best men I’ve been around.”
As for honesty, when it comes to coaching raw and natural talent, Beatty ranks Abbrederis towards the top of the list of talented wide receivers he has coached. While an assistant at Vanderbilt, Beatty coached Jordan Matthews, who ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. ranks as the best senior wide receiver in country heading into next spring’s NFL Draft.
“I thought (Abbrederis) was a really good player when I was at (Illinois) but he is way better than I thought he was, way better than I thought,” Beatty said. “I wouldn’t trade him for anybody.”
Tony Cartagena covers Wisconsin football and basketball for ESPNWisconsin. You can follow him on Twitter @tonycartagena