Jordan Fredrick (9) is among a number of Badgers trying to fill the hole left by Jared Abbrederis (4).
Power in numbers
By TONY CARTAGENA
MADISON -- University of Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen made it no more than 10 minutes into his Big Ten media days press conference before fielding a question about someone who isn’t even on his roster.
Jared Abbrederis, the former Badgers’ wide receiver, who tied the UW school record for receptions during his career, managed a team-high 78 receptions for 1,081 yards and seven touchdowns in his senior season.
The next highest reception total – 39 -- came courtesy of Jacob Pedersen and James White, both of whom are now on an NFL roster. Jeff Duckworth and his 12 receptions are also gone.
Fifth on the list of reception leaders from 2013 was Jordan Fredrick – a Madison native who has just 27 receptions in two years of play at Wisconsin. The three other receivers that have played a college game -- senior Kenzel Doe (25 career receptions), sophomore Alex Erickson (9) and sophomore Robert Wheelwright (2) – have a combined 36 catches.
“The challenge is going to by those numbers,” Andersen answered to the original question. “We have to replace (Abbrederis) with two or three players. Now there are some young men in this program that Wisconsin football means a lot to. (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.
“(Fredrick) has had his role. (Erickson) has had his role.”
Wisconsin enters the start of fall camp this week with a bold, underlined, bright red question mark at the wide receiver position. Primarily, can that trio match their predecessor’s success?
“I think we can be very productive,” Fredrick said at the Badgers local media day. “I think we are going to spread the ball around a lot more. We had a canon like (Abbrederis) who was our go-to-guy, and no one has really proven themselves so far, so someone has to step up.
“People got to step up, just as an offense as a whole, we could be really dangerous.”
While making his obligatory media rounds in the week prior to fall camp, Andersen alluded to the positional competitions his team and players face before their opening game against LSU – and not just at quarterback.
“Everyone is just so eager,” Fredrick added. “Now that (Abbrederis) is gone everyone just wants that spot. Something is up for grabs right now, and you can see it in all of our eyes. Even the young guys, the ball is just waiting there and everyone is trying to reach it. That’s the biggest thing. Everyone is just trying to get that number one spot and (Doe, Erickson and I) are working together really to be leaders.
“Knowing we can spread the ball around equally, but at the same time, we all want the ball so that is a big thing.”
Fredrick has a Rose Bowl touchdown and a pair of letters in two consistent years under his belt, but this offseason – in an effort to build and improve – he has focused solely on the negative.
“Working on your weaknesses is the biggest thing,” he said. “Obviously your strengths are things that you rely on at this point in time and you just go to them naturally. But as an older guy you try to work on the weaknesses and get rid of those (weaknesses) that kind of brought you down the past couple of years.”
By his own admission, speed, explosion, and route running were definitely things that he worked to improve this summer, things that he learned and will try to emulate from none other than the former No. 4 in cardinal and white.
“You watch (Abbrederis) and his route running is just amazing. It’s very good so you just kind of learn from that and that’s where you get your separation.”
After suffering some injuries during spring practice, Fredrick says he is back at full strength and feeling better than he ever has before – waiting, salivating at the opportunity to take the field and emerge as the receiver he knows he can be.
“We’re not going to have (Abbrederis) out there at this point,” Andersen added. “Somebody’s going to have to catch a lot of balls and do a lot of special things to be put on that pedestal.”
Tony covers the Badgers for ESPNWisconsin.com, listen to him on the Jump Around Podcast and follow him on Twitter: @TonyCartagena