Wide receiver Natrell Jamerson is among the true freshmen expected to play in their first year on campus.
Banking on new blood
By ZACH HEILPRIN
MADISON - A year ago seven true freshmen saw time for the University of Wisconsin. This season that is likely to be the bare minimum. Through eight split-squad practices it’s clear that many new players are ready to contribute to a Badgers team that needed an injection of fresh blood and appear to have gotten it.
“That’s a fun number,” UW coach Gary Andersen said following practice on Thursday. “The youth, they bring a lot of excitement. I think you’ve seen some of the plays that some of those kids have been able to make the first few days, which is fun to see.”
Though it must be mentioned that Wisconsin hasn’t had a practice with the full team yet – they’ll do that on Friday – the positions where some young guys will see playing time are areas of need.
Among the names mentioned by Andersen and the other coaches this week include, the three wide receivers – George Rushing, Natrell Jamerson and Krenwick Sanders -- running back Taiwan Deal, center Michael Deiter and safeties Lubern Figaro and Austin Hudson.
Those appear to be the best bets but there are several others that could push for time and put the number of first-year players in the double-digits. Kicker Rafael Gaglianone, cornerback Derek Tindal, inside linebackers D’Cota Dixon, T.J. Edwards and Chasen Andersen are all possibilities.
The key for all of those young players is to build on what they’ve done in the split-squad practices as UW comes together as a full team and holds their first scrimmage of camp on Sunday.
“The challenge mentally is for them to stay there. Some kids, that’s harder for them than it is physically,” Andersen said. “Certain positions have opportunities to play early, but I’m looking for them to stay in the playbook. I’m looking for them to hang in there mentally with the grind of the camp and show us we could put them in a game and count on them. I’ve got to be able to have that feel out of every freshman.”
Nose guard questions
Warren Herring is the starter at nose guard, but there are concerns who might be able to spell him. The battle to back the senior up is between sophomore Arthur Goldberg and a pair of true freshmen – Jeremy Patterson and Conor Sheehy.
“I don’t know how much of a battle it is right now, but I know it’s not where we need to be,” Andersen said. “My hope is those kids will play within our scheme and develop the toughness they need to be able to play at that spot, but we’ve got a ways to go, and that worries me.”
The problem isn’t the player’s physical ability. All three guys are big enough and strong enough to play over the center in the Badgers’ 3-4 scheme. But it’s also a position of technique, and that’s where the coaches feel they are coming up short right now.
“We flash at times and show some tremendous things, and then we flash the other way too much and that’s not where we need to be,” Andersen said. “(Defensive line) Coach Chad (Kauha’aha’a) will get them right as we move forward. Last year we had a luxury. We had Beau (Allen) in that spot and right behind him was Warren, so that was a good 1-2 punch. It’s such a vital part to the defense.”
If things don’t play out the way the coaches want, they could move senior Konrad Zagzebski or junior Jake Keefer inside, but that is a last resort.
No position has been impacted by the split-squad practices more than the quarterbacks.
The two players in the running for the starting job – incumbent Joel Stave and fellow junior Tanner McEvoy – alternated each day, with one taking snaps with a majority of the first-team offense in the morning, and the other with a group made up of a lot of true freshmen in the afternoon. As you would expect, there was a much higher success rate in the morning for the quarterbacks then in the afternoon.
“It’s a fight right now,” Andersen said. “We’ve got to get them in those live scenarios, real football, get the whole scheme in and see how they’re handling it from there. And get them with their guys; get them with the full unit.”
Trezy in camp?
It appears more and more likely that Serge Trezy won’t be joining the Badgers this fall. Andersen said on Monday that they were still waiting on final transcripts to be cleared and that they were hopeful he’d be on the field soon. But he also mentioned that if Trezy were not here soon, it might be too late for him to join the team this fall.
“We’re quickly approaching the spot where Serge would come in in January,” Andersen said on Thursday. “You can’t just flip a coin in the air and get a kid into Wisconsin. There’s a lot that has to go through to get into the situation of getting in school and handling scenarios. So everyday that goes by there’s less of a chance that he’ll be here with us this fall, but like I said earlier he has the redshirt and we fully anticipate him getting here in January and having two years to go, hopefully, be a very good player for us.”
Listen to Zach Heilprin every weekday on “The Jump Around” at ESPNWisconsin.com, and follow him on Twitter: @zachheilprin