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March 4, 2013

Spring preview: WRs & TEs





Just when you thought the coaching carousel was over, it strikes right back. Gary Andersen hired Jay Boulware to coach the tight ends two months ago, but Boulware bolted for the same job at Oklahoma on Friday and the Badgers are now left one member of staff short just under a week before the start of spring camp.

But the Badgers have other issues to address during spring camp. For one thing, there's still a lot of uncertainty about their passing game. Part of that uncertainty is schematic- we don't know what kind of passing offense new offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig will use. But other than Jared Abbrederis, the Badgers haven't had a lot to work with at wide receiver.

And while that's the short-term issue for Wisconsin's passing game, a longer-term issue will be their depth at tight end. Three seniors are scheduled to graduate after this season, and there isn't a lot of developed experience behind them.

Spring camp might not produce definitive answers, but at the very least Andersen and Ludwig will have a better idea of what they have to work with when it comes time to put together a playbook for the 2013 season.

Who will coach the tight ends?

Needless to say, this is suddenly one of the biggest questions the Badgers will face during spring camp. Tight ends have been a big part of Wisconsin's success over the last few seasons, and suddenly the Badgers are without a position coach there.

The thing is, there aren't many good tight ends coaches who also happened to be unemployed at the moment. Teams are starting up their spring practice all over the country, and it might be that the Badger continue the cycle and hire someone away from their current job just like Oklahoma did with Boulware. It's too early to say if Andersen would or wouldn't be comfortable doing that, we'll find out what he's thinking tomorrow during his press conference.

However, the fact remains that the Badgers will need a tight ends coach eventually. There doesn't appear to be any natural candidates on staff, and they'll also need another coach to make sure their recruiting efforts are up to snuff. Either way, it'll be interesting to see how Andersen deals with this situation.

Can the Badgers develop more receiver depth?

Abbrederis can only do so much. He had another nice season as a junior, catching 49 passes for 837 yards and five touchdowns. But when he was off the field Wisconsin's passing offense was very forgettable. Jordan Fredrick had the second most receiving yards of Wisconsin's wide receivers at 196, with just one touchdown. In fact, of the seven players with the most receiving yards, only three of them actually played wide receiver.

Kenzel Doe also had 121 yards as a sophomore, but that was about it for the Badgers. Jeff Duckworth, Chase Hammond, and Reggie Love combined for 15 catches during the season, while other players like Marquis Mason, A.J. Jordan and Isaiah Williams didn't catch any passes.

Needless to say, that will need to change if the Badgers want to be more than a one-dimensional offense in the fall. A new coaching staff could mean a fresh slate for some of those players, but ultimately one or two of them will need to step up if the Badgers want to make sure teams don't double-cover Abbrederis and then key in on the running game. Jordan might be a player to watch- he was the No. 4 receiver for a lot of fall camp last season, and another year under his belt might have helped.

What kind of depth do they have at tight end?

The Badgers already have established tight ends in Jacob Pedersen, Brian Wozniak, and Sam Arneson, but Pedersen, Wozniak, and Brock DeCicco will be gone after this season. Pedersen in particular will be a big loss- he won the Big Ten's tight end of the year award last year and has 14 career touchdowns. That's a lot of production to replace.

So while Arneson will be back next season, the Badgers will likely be taking a hard look at some of their younger tight ends like Austin Maly and Austin Traylor. This spring will be an important time for those tight ends and other younger players to really impress their new coaches, so we'll see if they can do anything to catch their coach's eye.

Once they have one, that is.

For more Wisconsin Badgers news, notes and discussion, follow John on Twitter.


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