Wisconsin football: 6 offseason priorities for 2021
A list of 6 offseason priorities for Wisconsin football in 2021:
Graham Mertz progression
This is far and away the most important item on this list. The improvement of redshirt freshman quarterback Graham Mertz will be crucial to the future success of the program. He entered his name into the Badgers record book in the season opener, then tested positive for the coronavirus the very next day.
He performance since then left as many questions as answers, yet he enters the offseason as the clear favorite to start at QB next fall.
Mertz wasn’t originally expected to start this season until senior Jack Coan injured his foot in a preseason practice. Coan has since entered the transfer portal, so Mertz is going into the offseason as the unquestioned starter at quarterback for the first time in his college career. Wisconsin’s outlook for 2021 and beyond hinges on Mertz’s growth and maturation this offseason.
Prepare Jalen Berger for a bigger workload
Wisconsin appears to have its next star running back from New Jersey. As a true freshman, Jalen Berger emerged as the Badgers’ top option out of the backfield. He was unable to go in the season opener and missed the final two games of the regular season, but he showed enough in between to suggest he is probably going to have a special career in Madison.
As we’ve seen in the past, the Badgers love to ride a true workhorse, and it’ll be interesting to see if Berger can develop into a player who can handle tons of carries. It seemed evident the coaching staff didn’t think he was ready for that in 2010: In each of his 4 games, including the Badgers’ bowl victory, Berger carried exactly 15 times.
Garrett Groshek has yet to announce whether he will return, and Nakia Watson has entered the transfer portal, so this is Berger’s position moving forward.
Get healthy at wide receiver
The Badgers’ top two wideouts — Danny Davis and Kendric Pryor — missed the majority of the season with injuries, and neither has announced whether he will be back for another senior season, although offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph has hinted that there’s a pretty good chance both will return.
If Davis and Pryor return and can stay healthy, all of a sudden the Badgers passing game is going to be pretty good. With those veterans at the position in addition to freshman Chimere Dike, Wisconsin would have a pretty solid wide receiver group. Tight end Jake Ferguson announced he will be returning, so it’s fair to say the passing game should see a significant improvement.
Improve the play-calling system
There was a development late in the season that certainly needs to be fixed before next fall. Between plays, Mertz would run to the sideline, get the play, then run back to the huddle to relay it to the rest of the team — a very inefficient system. Wisconsin is a team that typically uses quite a bit of pre-snap motion, and getting to the line with 10 seconds on the play clock limits those opportunities.
In addition, it would be nice for Paul Chryst to start calling plays again. It came out during the season that Rudolph had taken over, and it’s not clear why. Chryst is known as an offensive guy, and his ability as a play-caller is the reason he got a shot at being a Power 5 head coach. Wisconsin went three consecutive games where it didn’t score more than 7 points. Would a change at play-caller have changed that? I’m not sure, but it couldn’t hurt.
Develop defensive linemen
Wisconsin will have plenty of returning starters on the defensive side of the ball, but the defensive line depth will be an issue. The Badgers are losing 2 key starters with seniors Garrett Rand and Isaiahh Loudermilk not returning. Wisconsin will get back Matt Henningsen, who suffered a season-ending injury, but several Badgers will need to develop across the defensive line.
Get creative in 2022 recruiting
For the third season in a row, Wisconsin is going to set a program record according to the 247Sports composite team rankings for the class of 2021. To keep this up, the Badgers will need to pull off an incredible feat for the 2022 class, which is going to be a mess with the continued recruiting restrictions due to COVID-19.
Wisconsin typically has a number of recruits committed by now, but as 2021 begins, the Badgers’ 2022 class remains at zero. The state has plenty of talented high school prospects, and the coaching staff will do its best to keep them all in Wisconsin this offseason.