With the Early Signing Period and the 2018 Pinstripe Bowl both being massive successes for the Wisconsin Badgers, let’s focus our attention on the next phase of the program: the offseason.
With winter conditioning set to begin when the players get back on campus, it is time for the players—especially freshmen—to get their first meaningful long-term work with the strength and conditioning coach Ross Kolodziej and start making gains.
However, as the seniors and redshirt junior David Edwards depart Madison, the team for next season very slowly begins to take shape. While fans were disappointed with the results in 2018, there’s always next year(!).
B5Q will go one position at a time and project the top couple of players at each position and how they could appear on the depth chart. Again, it is extremely early and there are at least two months until spring practices begin, but let’s start first on the offensive side of the ball.
Obviously, Hornibrook is the wildcard here. The three-year starter at quarterback had a tough season in 2018 and dealt with symptoms from a concussion/head injury. He began bowl prep before being ruled out of the Pinstripe Bowl. If Hornibrook is unable to go in 2019, everyone on the list moves up one spot. I’m unwilling to project Mertz anywhere but the bottom until he goes through spring ball.
1. Jonathan Taylor JR
2a. Garrett Groshek RS JR
2b. Bradrick Shaw RS SR
3. Nakia Watson RS FR
This is one of the easier positions to project, as it’s going to look nearly the same as it did this year, just substitute Shaw for Taiwan Deal. Taylor is going to get the lion’s share of the workload with Shaw relieving him in base looks, while Groshek will continue to be the third down back and primary pass protector. Watson will look to earn more carries, as he presents more of a true power element than any of the other backs currently on the roster.
1. Mason Stokke RS JR
2a. Quan Easterling (not early enrollee)
2b. Coy Wanner RS SO
2c. John Chenal SO
Stokke got some reps late in 2018 at fullback, and with Alec Ingold headed to the NFL, he’s next in line for those responsibilities. While it is certainly an endorsement of Easterling that a true fullback was given a scholarship immediately, Stokke will likely work with the first-team in spring ball. Wanner and Chenal could get a lot of special teams snaps, with the latter burning his redshirt his first year and playing in eight games.
1. Danny Davis JR
2. AJ Taylor SR
3. Kendric Pryor RS JR
4. Aron Cruickshank SO
5. Jack Dunn RS JR
6. Taj Mustapha RS FR
Another group that will look largely the same as 2018. As was last year, I expect a fairly large stratification between the top three and anyone else at the position as far as usage next year. Davis, Taylor and Pryor will all get NFL looks of varying degrees, so that’s not a knock on the rest of the group. Cruickshank will likely see a fairly similar role as well, more of the speed sweep stuff and other gadget type plays, but he’ll continue to improve as a receiver under position coach Ted Gilmore. Dunn is trusted a lot as a blocker, and Mustapha got some looks early in the season on special teams and even caught a touchdown from Danny Vanden Boom.
1. Jake Ferguson RS SO
2. Kyle Penniston RS SR
3. Luke Benzschawel RS JR
4. Gabe Lloyd RS JR
Ferguson is a burgeoning star for Wisconsin and is the next pro at the position. While he’ll continue to develop as a blocker, his receiving ability keeps you from taking him off the field very often. Penniston and Benzschawel will be the other often-seen tight ends like in 2018. Lloyd is almost solely a special teamer, but I’d imagine he’s the next man up in the instance they need another blocking tight end.
Left Tackle: Cole Van Lanen RS JR, Michael Furtney RS FR, Logan Brown FR
Left Guard: Jon Dietzen RS SR, David Moorman RS SR
Center: Tyler Biadasz RS JR, Kayden Lyles RS SO, Blake Smithback RS SO
Right Guard: Jason Erdmann RS SR, Josh Seltzner RS SO
Right Tackle: Logan Bruss RS SO, Tyler Beach RS SO
Obviously, the kicker here is Biadasz—a legitimate first-round prospect, if he returns he would bolster an already veteran group that has more talent and depth than would be necessary (a good problem). I don’t doubt for a second that Lyles is more talented than Erdmann, but I’d be stunned if the coaching staff does not give the fifth-year senior former walk-on a chance to win the job at right guard in spring ball and camp. Erdmann, for that matter, has ability to start at center as well. Van Lanen will return after a solid 2018, and Dietzen will be able to slide back inside where he belongs. Bruss is hyper-athletic and will be an interesting piece to watch.
With this position group, I will be interested to see how the coaches treat the tackles depending on if Hornibrook is healthy or not. In the traditional offense, the left tackle is more athletic with the right tackle being a better run blocker. With Hornibrook being left-handed, however, these positions have unofficially been flipped. I would not anticipate any changes with guys already established at positions, but for example, I would anticipate incoming freshman Logan Brown—all 6’6 and 288 pounds of him—will be placed at left tackle, while fellow incoming freshman Joe Tippman would end up at right tackle. That is something to track moving forward.