Quarterbacks Tanner McEvoy (left) and Joel Stave (right) are locked in a tight battle for the starting job, but a decision must be made soon.
Where things stand
By ZACH HEILPRIN
MADISON - The University of Wisconsin will be on the field against LSU in 12 days and still have questions to answer at several positions. They’ll start trying to get those answers on Monday as they scrimmage for a second time in fall camp.
1) Who is the starting quarterback?
The two competitors – Joel Stave and Tanner McEvoy – will get one more opportunity to prove they deserve to be under center against LSU in Monday’s scrimmage. To this point, neither has jumped up and grabbed the spot. However, Stave has been the better of the two in the portions of practice open to the media. He didn’t have a great Friday and Saturday, but over the course of the past two weeks it’s apparent that the junior is better now then he was when he last took the field in the Capital One Bowl.
Forced to look at more than one receiver now that Jared Abbrederis is gone, Stave seems to have improved his ability to make more than one read. He’s had fewer inaccurate throws, which largely comes from a revamping of his footwork in the offseason.
McEvoy has had his moments and certainly provides an extra dimension with his running ability but he’s still raw. He does throw a really catchable deep ball and has matched or surpassed Stave’s accuracy in that department.
Is Stave the mobile quarterback that UW coach Gary Andersen and his staff want? No. But in truth, while the coaches want that type of player, above all else they want a guy that can manage the offense. That means someone that can handle it before the play, too. That is a strength of Stave’s and it has been mentioned by Andersen numerous times. So much of the Badgers’ run game is called at the line of scrimmage, and while McEvoy is coming along in that aspect, Stave is so much more comfortable right now.
There is a very good chance both quarterbacks will see time against LSU, with McEvoy being used in certain packages, but Stave is the likely answer to this question.
2) Who are the backups along the offensive line?
The starting five is set for the Badgers, and it’s just a matter of keeping them as healthy as possible for the opener against LSU. But if one of them goes down – and at some point this season it will happen as UW hasn’t started the same five guys for an entire year since 2006 – who are the answers behind them?
The question is a lot easier to answer inside. Offensive line coach T.J. Woods said he hasn’t decided which of the three backups – Ray Ball, Trent Denlinger or Michael Deiter – would be the first off the bench. It could depend on the opponent they’re facing, but Woods is very comfortable with the trio. In a perfect world they would redshirt Deiter, but if forced into action, he can more than hold his own.
The tackle spots are where the biggest question marks still remain. Woods said this weekend that he’d like to see what happens in the scrimmage before deciding on the future plans at the position. Right now, it’s sophomore Walker Williams backing up Tyler Marz at left tackle, and redshirt freshman Hayden Biegel working behind right tackle Rob Havenstein. Woods said both players have improved from last year.
3) What wide receivers will be in the rotation?
Due to injuries and players stepping up this question isn’t nearly as murky as some of the others.
Sophomore Rob Wheelwright and redshirt freshman Jazzy Peavy have fallen behind after missing all of last week with injuries. When they do come back, and Andersen has said they are close, how quickly can they reassert themselves in the competition for playing time? Because even before they went out, the three true freshmen and sophomore Reggie Love have been pushing them for time.
All three of those true freshmen – Natrell Jamerson, George Rushing and Krenwick Sanders – will travel with the team to Houston and are expected to play. Jamerson and Rushing figure to get the most time of the three.
Meanwhile, Love has jumped in as a starter with sophomore Alex Erickson. Along with senior Kenzel Doe, who is likely to be UW’s slot receiver, those two would be the first ones out on the field depending on the package being used. Junior Jordan Fredrick, who has missed time himself with an injury, will also be used, especially with how good of a blocker he is.
4) What’s going on at inside linebacker?
This position is starting to become a concern simply because of injuries. Senior Derek Landisch, UW’s most experienced defensive player, is dealing with a hamstring injury suffered last Wednesday. Prior to that he was having his best camp. Andersen said he’d be very surprised if Landisch didn’t play against LSU, but he said the same thing about Chris Borland against Iowa last year and he didn’t get on the field. Add in the concussion to Michael Trotter that has left him out of contact drills, and the absence of his twin brother, Marcus, during Saturday’s practice and the level of concern is rising.
Without those three, the starting inside linebackers were sophomore Leon Jacobs and senior Ben Ruechel on Saturday. It’s likely that both Trotters will be back soon, but UW needs to find out if some of the younger players are ready. That includes freshmen Chasen Andersen and D’Cota Dixon, with the latter of the two poised to help in passing situations. However, at 5-foot-10, 206 pounds, Dixon isn’t ready to play on all three downs.
5) Who is the other safety?
Junior Michael Caputo is entrenched at one of the safety spots and it appears UW is ready to have a true freshman start next to him. With sophomore Leo Musso sidelined by an injury over the past week, Lubern Figaro has run with the first-team defense and held his own. Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda likes to have interchangeable safeties, but also needs to have them work as a team. Caputo is much better up around the line of scrimmage, so Figaro would serve as the deep safety, though Aranda said with some of the different packages they have Figaro would also be covering receivers in the slot.
Behind them are a number of players that will see time, including senior Peniel Jean, junior A.J. Jordan and freshman Austin Hudson.
Also, it’ll be interesting to see where Musso is on the pecking order when he returns.
Couple other items we’ll be keeping an eye on:
- Does junior Devin Gaulden hold off newcomer Derek Tindal for the third cornerback spot?
- Is Jeremy Patterson going to be the true freshman that ends up as the third nose guard? Or is it Conor Sheehy?
Listen to Zach Heilprin every weekday on “The Jump Around” at ESPNWisconsin.com, and follow him on Twitter: @zachheilprin