Wisconsin's Summer To-Do List
For the next two weeks, we’ll be taking a look at where each B1G team needs to improve and answering pressing questions this offseason. For some it’s establishing depth, and for others, it’s learning a new system. Whatever it is, each team has at least five things to take care of before 2016 kicks off.
-Get Corey Clement to the opener at 100 percent
The Wisconsin tailback had plenty of expectations on himself entering 2015. The heir apparent to Melvin Gordon, Clement made the bold prediction of 2,000 yards for himself. Perhaps that was why he played through a groin injury that he had no business playing through. As a result, it was the beginning — and end — of a season to forget.
Clement’s desire to bounce back in 2016 has been well-documented. He bypassed the NFL draft, briefly changed his number and maintained his desire to just get back to playing football on Saturdays. That all starts with his health. Clement learned that he has to let things heal properly to be at his elite level.
He’ll obviously be extremely cautious this time around. Wisconsin will be, too. Clement isn’t one of those guys who needs to go through every rep of fall camp for him to be ready to go in September.
He’s already been dubbed the most indispensable player on Wisconsin’s roster. It’s hard to argue with that after the way last year’s regular season played out.
-Declare winner in quarterback race
I’ve written this before and I’ll write it again. Competition is well and good. Quarterback decisions shouldn’t be rushed. They can make or break a season (looking at you, Iowa). But when a coaching staff does have a clear favorite, the competition needs to end.
Whoever replaces Joel Stave will need as many reps with the first-team offense as possible. If Paul Chryst doesn’t want to announce a starter until kickoff against LSU, there’s nothing wrong with that. But privately, this matter needs to be settled sooner rather than later.
After the spring game, Alex Hornibrook appears to be the favorite. He might have more upside than any Badger quarterback since Russell Wilson. He looked calm throwing the deep ball and he had good footwork for a redshirt freshman. Bart Houston, however, might be the safer option. The fifth-year senior has been patiently waiting for his chance to get the starting gig. If he hits the ground running in August, the job could be his.
Whoever gets the job, they should get plenty of time to prepare for LSU as the starter.
-Find key contributors in secondary
Wisconsin’s secondary could be its biggest question mark heading into 2016. Three starters are gone, but the talented Sojourn Shelton is back. He’ll be the unquestioned leader for a group that’s far less experienced than last year’s.
Starting alongside Shelton figures to be Derrick Tindal. The versatile junior will have a more expanded role after being a nickel back last year. Natrell Jamerson — another cornerback who played a little receiver at Wisconsin — will also be part of the rotation at corner.
The biggest unknown is at safety. Michael Caputo and Tanner McEvoy made up one of the best duos in the country. Replacing two playmakers at the back end will be a major challenge. D’Cota Dixon and Leo Musso got limited action last year, but both are relatively unproven because of the durability of Caputo and McEvoy.
Arrington Farrar could be the difference-maker Wisconsin needs. The former four-star recruit is a capable tackler and he has the size to match up with bigger wideouts downfield. He played on special teams as a true freshman, which doesn’t lead one to believe he’ll spend much time on the bench as a sophomore.
The challenge with Farrar and the rest of the Badger safeties will be getting them to look like veterans by the start of their daunting 2016 slate.
-Get in sync with Justin Wilcox
Part of that responsibility will fall on Wisconsin’s new defensive coordinator. Dave Aranda’s replacement isn’t expecting to change many things with the defense that finished first in the nation in scoring. But with any new coordinator, communication takes time.
Players that thrived under Aranda will now have to buy into a guy who finished with middling defenses in each of the last two seasons at USC. Part of that could’ve been because of NCAA sanctions, and part of it could’ve been because of the instability surrounding Steve Sarkisian. Either way, that’s in the past now.
Wilcox inherited a defense that doesn’t need much tweaking. Wisconsin might have the best group of linebackers in the country with Vince Biegel, Jack Cichy, T.J. Edwards, Chris Orr and T.J. Watt. Experience up front should once again prevent the Badgers from getting pushed around.
It’ll be interesting to see how much pressure Wilcox chooses to apply. Aranda, obviously, blitzed like it was going out of style and did so with great success. Can Wilcox tap into that? This summer will be a good early indicator of whether or not the Badgers will take a step back on defense.
-Let the opener fuel the offseason
Wisconsin is no stranger to opening the season with a headliner game in an NFL stadium (this is the third straight year of that). But at Lambeau Field, this will be different. For the majority of Wisconsin’s roster, it’s a game in the stadium they grew up idolizing. Even better, it’s a battle against the coordinator that bolted for more money.
Did I mention that Wisconsin will take on a Heisman Trophy candidate?
The opener won’t lack juice. That’s not a bad thing for a veteran group. That can get a team through the dog days of August. That doesn’t, however, mean that guys should grit their teeth just to get to the opener. Wisconsin needs to be as close to 100 percent as possible come September.
That didn’t happen last year. As a result, Wisconsin dealt with more instability on the offensive line than any time in recent memory. A stable offensive line throughout fall camp would be huge, especially against Aranda’s blitz-heavy defense.
The Badgers were annual Rose Bowl contenders with stability through the offseason. Wisconsin needs that again.
And if talk if staying healthy isn’t enough to fire up a locker room, then the whole Lambeau/Aranda/Heisman candidate opponent/SEC power storyline should do the trick.