By ZACH HEILPRIN
MADISON - Gary Andersen decided to shut Joel Stave down for the final week of spring practice, but to hear the University of Wisconsin coach speak on Thursday, it doesn’t appear he’s overly concerned with his incumbent starting quarterback’s long-term health.
“It looks like just something we’ve got to understand,” Andersen said of the shoulder injury that knocked Stave from the Capital One Bowl. “Trust me, I don’t have an understanding of the shoulder let alone claim to be a doctor in any way shape or form, but I’m confident that he’s going to be fine. I’m confident that he’s going to be ready to go as early as June when the kids return for their summer workouts.”
Stave was in a sling for several days after the injury and didn’t throw a football between then and the start of spring. The coaches limited him to work in individual drills for the first two weeks but he was cleared to take part in team drills when they returned from spring break. But the pain continued to linger for the junior and Andersen made the decision this week to have him sit out the final three sessions of spring and get his rehab underway.
“That ten days he’s going to gain right now, and some may say it’s just a week, but he’s already been evaluated or we’d have been evaluating him next Monday or Tuesday,” Andersen said. “Why wait? So that’s why I had a sense of urgency to get it started.”
The injury was to the AC joint in his throwing shoulder – the same side as his broken collarbone in 2012 and similar issues in high school. But again, Andersen believes surgery won’t be necessary.
“Other position groups, linebacker, d-linemen, o-linemen play all day with that but not when you’ve got to throw that ball with the accuracy and the way a quarterback has to play,” Andersen said.
With Stave not taking part in Saturday’s Spring Game, it means more time for junior Tanner McEvoy, redshirt sophomore Bart Houston and true freshman D.J. Gillins.
National title or bust?
During a conference call with Big Ten coaches and players on Wednesday, running back Melvin Gordon let everyone know what his expectations were for his junior season.
"I want to help take Wisconsin to greater heights,” said Gordon, who ran for 1,609 yards and 12 touchdowns as a sophomore. “I want to get our team to the playoffs. That's my goal."
This year will be the first that includes a four-team playoff at the end of the season. A committee, that includes UW athletic director Barry Alvarez, will determine the four teams with the semifinals being played on New Years Day at the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl, followed by the championship game in Arlington, Texas at AT&T Stadium on Jan. 12.
Getting to those games is Gordon’s focus – so much so that he has a paper posted on his wall with the words – college football playoffs – on it.
"I didn't come back to win this or that, to win the Heisman,” Gordon said. “I don't feel like that is important. The goal right now is really a national championship. Wisconsin has never had one before. So that is my goal and that is our team goal."
While Andersen wasn’t willing to jump on board with Gordon’s proclamations, he didn’t have a problem with his star’s comments.
“Some may deem those as a wow statement a bit,” Andersen said. “But to me, I deem that as Melvin speaking his expectations. What’s wrong with that at the end? People may look at that in different ways but I don’t. I look at it as a competitive kid who has greatness on his mind. It’s an exciting time for him in his life and he has high expectations. We’re not going to come out and say that as a team, or jump around and make t-shirts that say that on them, but that’s his goals and objectives.”
Still a work in progress
Coming into the spring, the coaches were really hoping to find answers at wide receiver and safety. Consider those efforts still very much in progress.
Injuries at the receiver spot have hurt the staff’s effort to find a replacement for Jared Abbrederis. Senior Kenzel Doe and redshirt freshman Jazz Peavy have been the constants on the field over the past month but juniors Jordan Fredrick and Reggie Love along with sophomores Robert Wheelwright and Alex Erickson have missed major portions of the spring due to injury.
“It’s a work in progress,” Andersen said. “I’ve seen this. I’ve seen tremendous work ethic. I’ve seen kids working like crazy to get better. I’ve seen a senior in Kenzel (Doe) that takes every rep and doesn’t bat an eye so those are all real positive things. We need to get healthy with the young men in the program. Get ourselves at full strength there.”
Spring was vital for the guys already on campus because of what will be arriving this summer. UW signed five wide receivers in the class of 2014 – George Rushing (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) Dareian Watkins (Galion, Ohio), Krenwick Sanders (Jesup, Ga.), Chris Jones (Hyattsville, Mary.) and Natrell Jamerson (Ocala, Fla.).
“We’ve got to rely on ourselves as coaches and the young men we recruited,” Andersen said. “A couple of those kids have to come in and be factors. If we can do that, we’ll have a chance to be a very potent offense. If we can’t do that, it’s going to be tough. And that is the bottom line and that’s really where I see the offense right now.”
Safety has also been an issue this spring. While junior Michael Caputo has been penciled in as the strong safety, they are still looking for someone to replace Dezmen Southward at the free safety spot.
Among the options are sophomore Leo Musso, converted cornerback Peniel Jean and early enrollee Austin Hudson. There are also four more defensive backs coming in this fall.
“Whoever can develop into being a post player,” Andersen said. “When we’re playing our three-deep, our zone dogs, our man to man coverage with a middle of the field player, will end up being the starter at that point and (right now) we’re still up in the air.”
What Andersen wants on Saturday
Don’t expect to see much of Gordon or Corey Clement in Saturday’s Spring Game. The same goes for right tackle Rob Havenstein. Andersen says they’ll limit the contact in the first 40 plays of the scrimmage before playing two 15-minute quarters with normal rules.
“First half will be controlled, heavy thud. First half will feel like a game, minus the tackling,” he said. “The second half will be a football game other than the special teams aspects.”
Though they’ll be without their starting quarterback from a year ago, their top two running backs, three of their starting offensive linemen and will play with only one wide receiver that caught a pass last season, Andersen knows what he wants to see.
“We need to compete and play football. I want to see a productive offense and a productive defense,” Andersen said. “I’m looking for a team that we can all walk off the field and say, ‘They’re moving in the right direction.’ Ready to play LSU tomorrow? No. But definitely made strides from day one to day fifteen and they should be substantial from the way we look on the field Saturday.”
Listen to Zach Heilprin every weekday on “The Jump Around” at ESPNWisconsin.com, and follow him on Twitter: @zachheilprin