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Wisconsin Football Coaches, Players With the Most to Prove in 2023



Wisconsin Football defensive coordinator Mike Tressel
Wisconsin's new defensive coordinator, Mike Tressel, meets with reporters for the first time at the McClain Center in Madison, Wis. on Thursday Jan. 5, 2023.

Madison, Wis. — The Wisconsin football program underwent wholesale changes this offseason — headlined by a new head coach, new offensive/defensive systems, and transfer portal additions, to name a few.

So when the Badgers return to the field for spring practice, there will be no shortage of storylines to follow. But which players and coaches will have the most to prove after UW’s wild offseason?

Defensive Coordinator – Mike Tressel

New defensive coordinator Mike Tressel has some mighty big shoes to fill. Fair or not, fans will compare all of his accomplishments to the man he’s replacing – Jim Leonhard.

Leonhard is a Wisconsin football legend and was one of the sport’s best and brightest defensive minds.

Tressel, the reigning AFCA Assistant Coach of the Year, who followed Luke Fickell to UW from Cincinnati, faces the challenge of meshing Leonhard’s 3-4 defense with his 3-3-5 system to accentuate the strengths of the personnel within the program and putting the best product on the field next season.

Last season, the Cincinnati Bearcats played 66.3% of its snaps out of a 3-3-5 personnel grouping. And anyone who watched Wisconsin football during the Leonhard era knows that UW ran a 3-4/2-4-5 most of the time.

“We’re spending a lot of time right now, second to recruiting, trying to figure out how to mesh the elite,” Tressel said, referring to Wisconsin’s run defense and Cincinnati’s pass-d.

Regardless of his credentials, Tressel must maintain UW’s reputation as an elite defense in 2023 to gain the trust of the Badgers fan-base.

Running Back’s Coach – Devon Spalding

It’s no secret that the Wisconsin football program is RBU – so holding the title of running back coach at UW is a big deal.

Luke Fickell hired Devon Spalding this offseason, who worked for him as a grad assistant at Cincinnati, as the new running backs coach, after spending the last three seasons working with the tailbacks at Youngstown State.

“Being a part of a place that has such a great tradition in running back play, the challenge is to continue to recruit the best running backs in the country and make sure the production that we put on the field on Saturdays from the running back room is up to par to what they’ve done here in the past,” Spalding told UW reporters.

“We have a standard that we set in that room,” Spalding said of his initial message to the players. “The expectations of production are very high. Everything we do is tailor-made towards one thing, and that’s being the best unit in the country in everything we do.”

Spalding is a fast riser in the coaching ranks, having wrapped up his playing career in 2018. Last season, he coached standout RB Jaleel McLaughlin, who ran for 1,588 yards and was named a finalist for the Walter Payton Award, honoring the FCS’s top offensive player

He inherits a talented running back room headlined by Braelon Allen and Chez Mellusi, but I’m most interested to see what he can do to develop the RBs behind them.

Wisconsin football doesn’t have a slam-dunk option for its RB3, so monitoring the competition/improvements from Jackson Acker, Julius Davis, Cade Yacamelli, and Nate White during spring and fall camp will be intriguing.

Running Back – Braelon Allen

It feels kind of nit-picky to have Braelon Allen, arguably Wisconsin football’s MVP from last season, on this list, but hear me out.

After back-to-back second-team All-Big Ten seasons, Allen will finally play in a competent offensive scheme (thank you, Phil Longo).

The 6-foot-2, 238-pound RB finished the 2022 season with 230 carries for 1,242 yards (5.4 YPC) and 11 touchdowns. He also caught a career-high 13 passes for 104 yards.

According to Pro Football Focus, the Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin native registered 671 yards after contact, 2.92 yards after contact per attempt, and was the highest-graded starting offensive player for the Badgers (79.6).

But he also saw a stacked box (8+ defenders) more than any other Power 5 running back in the nation. So for anyone concerned about his production dipping in efficiency, there’s your explanation.

All of this is a long-winded way of saying that realistically, with the spacing Longo’s air raid scheme should provide, Allen should be well-positioned for a breakout season that vaults him into the NFL.

“I feel like I’m absolutely the best running back in the country heading into next season,” Allen told Max Chadwick of PFF. “The ideal plan is for me to have a great year and declare for the draft. The main goal, though, is to win a Big Ten title and a national championship. Once we start playing, I think we’ll realize that those goals are within reach.”

When you make bold comments like that, you have to back it up, and I think he will.

Outside Linebacker – Darryl Peterson

Wisconsin football lost Nick Herbig and Keeanu Benton to the NFL this offseason, who, by themselves, accounted for over half of the team’s sacks (15.5) and nearly 30% of the Badgers’ total pressures.

That means UW needs the next star pass-rusher to step up. The problem is — nobody can be sure what the defensive alignment will look like under Mike Tressel — and there’s also no obvious candidate to take on that load.

Enter redshirt sophomore Darryl Peterson, who received a ton of hype last offseason and finally got his feet wet in 2023 as the Badgers third OLB, playing 165 total snaps.

The 6-foot-1, 245-pound OLB registered 27 tackles, 11 pressures, two sacks, two tackles for loss, and a disappointing 14.7 pass-rush win rate. Per PFF, Peterson finished with a 64.1 grade (average) as a pass-rusher.

He undoubtedly has the highest upside in the OLB room, but that needs to translate onto the field next season for Wisconsin football to be disruptive and get after the opposing team’s QBs.

Contact/Follow us @Badger_Notes on Twitter, Subscribe to the BadgerNotes Newsletter here, and like our page on Facebook to follow ongoing coverage of Wisconsin Badgers news, notes, opinion, and analysis. You can also follow Dillon Graff on Twitter @DillonGraff.

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Wisconsin Football News, Notes From First Day of Spring Practice



Wisconsin Football
Sep 3, 2022; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; General view of Camp Randall Stadium prior to the game between the Illinois State Redbirds and Wisconsin Badgers. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The Luke Fickell era is officially underway, and the Wisconsin football team was back on the field for the first day of spring practice. 

Madison, Wis. – University of Wisconsin football coaches and players took the field on Saturday afternoon and started laying the foundation for what’s to come under Luke Fickell and company. 

Here’s a quick recap, with a few buttoned-up observations UW media outlets reported from the first of 15 sessions available to reporters

Wisconsin Badgers QB Pecking Order 

All eyes will be on UW’s rebuilt quarterback room heading into 2023.

While everyone is understandably excited about Tanner Mordecai’s addition to the program, I’m most interested to see who gets the reps behind him this spring because it potentially foreshadows who has a leg up in the battle for the Badgers QB1 next season.

On day one, Zach Heilprin reported that Mordecai took all the first-team reps, as expected. However, Texas A&M transfer Braedyn Locke, a player known for accuracy, took the second-team reps for the Badgers offense.

Nick Evers, Myles Burkett, and walk-on Marshall Howe filled in behind them, with freshman signal caller Cole LaCrue held out due to a left arm injury.

Word on the street is Evers has been wildly impressive since stepping onto campus and will make for a fun position battle for QB2 this season because of his immense upside.

Wisconsin Football Maintain’s 2-4-5 Defensive Alignment 

One of the most intriguing storylines of Wisconsin football spring practice is how new DC Mike Tressel plans to blend two defensive schemes. 

Last season, the Cincinnati Bearcats played 66.3% of its snaps out of a 3-3-5 personnel grouping. Jim Leonhard primarily ran a 2-4-5 during his tenure with the Badgers.

While the blending might still be a work in progress, Zach Heilprin reported that the initial first-team defensive alignment was a 2-4-5 with the following players lining up as starters: 

  • DL Isaiah Mullens 
  • DL Rodas Johnson 
  • OLB CJ Goetz
  • ILB Maema Njongmeta 
  • ILB Jordan Turner 
  • OLB Daryl Peterson 
  • CB Alexander Smith 
  • S Hunter Wohler
  • S Travian Blaylock 
  • CB Ricardo Hallman 
  • Slot Jason Maitre

No real surprises here; my only thoughts on the first unit are: It’s great to see Travian Blaylock back with the starting safeties, and he could make a significant impact in the Badgers secondary if he can stay healthy.

The other thought I had was, will Wisconsin football keep this as their base defense to help mitigate the fact there is no proven nose tackle on the roster? Instead, UW might rotate its defensive ends and linebackers more to keep them fresh and get after the QB.

It’s only day one, but this is something to watch throughout the spring as the new coaching staff forms their opinions about roster holdovers.

Wisconsin Football Offensive Line Pecking Order

I recently wrote an article suggesting that the Wisconsin football offensive line could bounce back in 2023 because of the amount of returning talent they had with the additions UW made through the transfer portal

New offensive line coach Jack Bicknell is of everyone on the Badgers O-line a clean slate this offseason. Which should help breed competition for a unit in transition.

But that won’t stop us from overreacting to Wisconsin’s day one alignment at the first spring football practice. 

First Team: 

  • LT Jack Nelson
  • LG Tanor Bortolini 
  • C Jake Renfro
  • RG Michael Furtney
  • RT Riley Mahlman 

Nothing too crazy here, but it’s definitely noteworthy that Michael Furtney, who UW’s coaching staff convinced to withdraw his name from the transfer portal, is getting the first crack with the starters. 

Furtney noted the new coaching staff was very honest about how he could improve, and, overall, he is a solid option with the starting group if he can take a step forward.

Second Team: 

  • LT Nolan Rucci 
  • LG Joe Brunner 
  • C Dylan Barrett 
  • RG Joe Huber 
  • RT Trey Wedig

My thoughts on the second unit are pretty simple: Trey Wedig is best suited to play tackle, and I won’t be surprised if he pushes for the starting right tackle spot this spring/fall. 

It was rumored that Joe Huber was coming to the Wisconsin football program to play guard, and now we have confirmation.  He’s an experienced option that could also push for a starting spot.

The overall depth of Wisconsin’s offensive line is better this season, and several players (I’m looking at you Joe Brunner) could find themselves at the top of the depth chart come week one. 

Other Wisconsin Football Notes

According to a report from Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the following players are either out for the spring or limited moving forward: 

  • TEs Clay Cundiff + Cole Dakovich + Cam Large
  • WR Bryson Green
  • DEs Darian Varner + Mike Jarvis
  • QB Cole LaCrue
  • CB Max Lofy
  • OLBs Aaron Witt + Ross Gengler
  • ILBs Aidan Vaughan + Luna Larson
  • OL Sean Timmis

Contact/Follow us @Badger_Notes on Twitter, Subscribe to the BadgerNotes Newsletter here, and like our page on Facebook to follow ongoing coverage of Wisconsin Badgers news, notes, opinion, and analysis. You can also follow Dillon Graff on Twitter @DillonGraff.

Join the Badger Notes watch party and stream Wisconsin Badgers games by following this link.

*Subscribe to Locked on Badgers on Youtube and wherever you find podcasts, the only daily Wisconsin Badgers podcast on the internet.

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Wisconsin Football: 3 Questions for the Defense in Spring Practice



Wisconsin Football defensive coordinator Mike Tressel

Wisconsin football is undergoing a slew of changes under head coach Luke Fickell. Fortunately, this weekend marks the first of a series of 15 spring practices for UW. Fans will be able to see defensive coordinator Mike Tressel implement his 3-3-5 defensive scheme in real time. With new offensive and defensive systems, there are plenty of questions about what to expect from the Badgers.

Who Makes the Two-Deep on the Cornerback Depth Chart?

The cornerback room has undergone significant changes since Wisconsin’s bowl game. Jay Shaw and Cedric Dort Jr. – who served as starting corners last season – each exhausted their eligibility. Reserve cornerback Justin Clark also graduated, while Semar Melvin transferred to Michigan State.

There are four new cornerbacks in Madison this year. Jason Maitre, a transfer from Boston College, is as versatile as they come. During his time at BC, Maitre played in the slot, on the outside, and even started seven games at safety. Jonas Duclona and Jace Arnold, a pair of three-star recruits, enrolled early to join the Badgers during spring practice. Four-star prospect Amare Snowden will enroll this fall.

RELATED: 3 Questions for the Wisconsin Football Offense in Spring Practice

Headlining the returning cornerbacks is Alexander Smith. Smith played in the starting role to end the season after missing the first half due to injury. Ricardo Hallman started in Smith’s absence, but saw his role wane with Smith’s return. Redshirt junior Max Lofy saw the field in 12 games getting most of his work in the slot. Another redshirt junior, Amaun Williams, played in 12 games last season in a reserve role.

Wisconsin football cornerbacks Ricardo Hallman and Max Lofy

Sep 10, 2022; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers cornerback Ricardo Hallman (2) celebrates with cornerback Max Lofy (12) following an interception during the first quarter against the Washington State Cougars at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Snowden may be the x-factor this fall as the depth chart shapes out. Although he will not be available for spring practice, Snowden’s athletic ability could allow him to see the field in a reserve role. In Tressel’s system that uses five defensive backs, Snowden could be used as a third cornerback as a ball-hawking threat over the center of the field. An apt role considering his talent in the outfield as a baseball player.

Who Will Start at Safety for Wisconsin Football?

Tressel is more well known for running a 3-3-5 stack system. In lieu of a third cornerback, his system often employs a third safety. Because of this, Wisconsin will need to find new contributors after a pair of key departures.

John Torchio and Titus Toler are the departures at safety from the Badgers. Torchio, who declared for the NFL Draft, led UW in 2022 with five interceptions; his 55 tackles were the fourth most on the team. Toler appeared in five games last year in a reserve role and transferred to Boise State.

UW returns two other major contributors at safety. Kamo’i Latu returns after starting alongside Torchio in 2022. The senior tied Torchio’s 55 tackles last season and also recorded two sacks and two interceptions. Latu snagged both of his interceptions in Wisconsin’s win over Northwestern. Junior Hunter Wohler, a former four star recruit, played in six games, but missed time due to injury.

Wisconsin football safety Kamo'i Latu

Nov 5, 2022; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers safety Kamo’i Latu (13) celebrates a play during the fourth quarter against the Maryland Terrapins at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

One of the most notable returns from injury to the Wisconsin football roster is safety Travian Blaylock. The graduate student missed the entire 2022 season after tearing his ACL. The former three star recruit appeared in every game for the Badgers during the 2020 and 2021 seasons.

UW is also adding freshman Braedyn Moore at safety. The Hamilton, Ohio native was a high three star recruit that Fickell flipped from Cincinnati to Wisconsin. Moore will compete for playing time with sophomores and fellow former-three stars Austin Brown and Preston Zachman for playing time behind the likely starting three of Latu, Wohler, and Blaylock. Brown mostly saw the field on special teams last season. Zachman played in six games in 2022 before suffering a season ending injury.

What Personell Groupings Will Wisconsin Defensive Coordinator Mike Tressell Use?

Tressel has spoke numerous times about his goal to “mesh the elite” of the Cincinnati and Wisconsin defenses. Wisconsin has run a 3-4 defense in recent years, as opposed to Tressel’s 3-3-5. Regardless of that ideological difference, the newly minted UW defensive coordinator has expressed his desire to find out how to get the best out of his roster regardless of alignment.

Ideological flexibility on defense is nothing new for Wisconsin football. Although former defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard ran a 3-4 defense, that base setting changed situationally. Oftentimes, the Badgers would line-up in a nickel package bringing in an extra safety in a 2-4-5 alignment.

Tressel possesses that same flexibility. The 3-3-5 defense can be run with three cornerbacks or three safeties. On top of the 3-3-5, Tressel has used 4-3 and even 4-2-5 lineups at times. Wherever Tresell believes he can find the most talent, is likely where he will stock up his personnel on the field.

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Contact/Follow us @Badger_Notes on Twitter, Subscribe to the BadgerNotes Newsletter here, and like our page on Facebook to follow ongoing coverage of Wisconsin Badgers news, notes, opinion, and analysis. You can also follow Kedrick Stumbris on Twitter @KedrickStumbris.

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Wisconsin Football: 3 Questions for the Offense in Spring Practice



Wisconsin football New offensive coordinator Phil Longo

Wisconsin football begins its series of 15 spring practices this weekend. With transfers, departures, and offensive coordinator Phil Longo implementing a new scheme, there is no lack of things to watch for at spring practice. Fortunately for those interested in getting answers, every practice is open to the media. After much anticipation, fans will finally get a first look at Wisconsin football under head coach Luke Fickell.

What Role Will Wisconsin Football’s Tight Ends Play?

Following Jake Ferguson’s departure, 2022 Wisconsin’s tight ends were mostly an afterthought in the passing game. Ferguson led the Badgers with 46 catches and 3 touchdowns in 2021 (his 450 yards receiving were second to wide receiver Danny Davis). Clay Cundiff appeared to be the choice replacement for Ferguson, but he suffered a season-ending injury in just the fourth game of the season. Before the injury, Cundiff recorded nine catches, 142 receiving yards, and two touchdowns in four games.

Wisconsin football tight end Clay Cundiff

Wisconsin Badgers tight end Hayden Rucci (87) and Clay Cundiff (85) yell in excited at quarterback Graham Mertz (5) after throwing a touchdown pass in the second quarter of the game on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022, at Camp Randall in Madison, Wis. Samantha Madar/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
Gpg Badgers Vs Redbirds 10032022 0004

Longo’s offense plays with base personnel that includes just one tight end – a difference from some of the larger power-run packages Wisconsin football fans may be used to. The new scheme will include big changes to what the Badgers’ tight ends are asked to do in the offense too. Longo often has tight ends lined up out wide to create mismatches against defenders. Although Cundiff will be unavailable for spring practice as he continues to recover, others, including Jack Eschenbach, Cam Large, and Jack Pugh, will have to fight for their spot on the depth chart in a changing role.

How Will Wisconsin Football Quarterback Tanner Mordecai Perform?

Tanner Mordecai’s arrival in Madison immediately changed 2023 expectations for the Badgers. Spring practice will be the first opportunity for Mordecai to prove the hype is warranted. Although he will only be getting practice reps against a defense also learning a new system, Mordecai should be expected to excel early. He ran an Air Rad system at SMU and came to Wisconsin partly due to Longo’s system.

Wisconsin Football QB Tanner Mordecai

Oct 5, 2022; Orlando, Florida, USA; Southern Methodist Mustangs quarterback Tanner Mordecai (8) throws a pass as UCF Knights linebacker Walter Yates III (27) defends during the second half at FBC Mortgage Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

Mordecai was a star at SMU, but whether his talent translates to the Power 5 level is the elephant in the room. In his two years as a starter, Mordecai threw for 7,152 yards, 72 touchdowns, and 22 interceptions. Those would be unprecedented numbers for a Badgers quarterback. The competition level in the American Athletic Conference, however, is not the same as the Big Ten. In regular season play, the Big Ten had the best average defense of any FBS conference, according to Bill Connelly’s SP+ rankings. The AAC ranked seventh in that metric – only better than the Mid-American Conference and Conference-USA.

Who Is On the Offensive Line’s Starting Five?

A change in offensive philosophy could mean a shakeup on the offensive line. In recent years, Wisconsin’s offensive line has not performed at the elite level once assumed in Madison. With an increase in pass attempts, the makeup of the offensive line may be different than what was previously expected. The Badgers have historically had impeccable run-blocking linemen, but offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr. – who came to Wisconsin from North Carolina with Longo – will need to assemble a more versatile unit.

Cincinnati transfer Jake Renfro will serve as the anchor at center for that unit, but the remaining roles are unclear. UW returns its starting tackles Riley Mahlman and Jack Nelson, but a new coaching staff may be looking for something different. Fickell brought his starting right tackle, Joe Huber, from Cincinnati with him; it is hard to envision Huber not having a significant role.

Wisconsin football offensive lineman Riley Mahlman

Nov 5, 2022; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers offensive lineman Riley Mahlman (71) blocks Maryland Terrapins defensive lineman Tommy Akingbesote (99) during the second quarter at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via USA TODAY NETWORK

On the interior of the offensive line, Tanor Bortolini started games at all three positions. He also started a game at tight end last season. That kind of jumbo tight end package is likely not as useful in Longo’s system, but Bortolini’s versatility might be. Michael Furtney and Trey Wedig also return, who made nine and eight starts respectfully for Wisconsin last season.

There is an abundance of talent waiting to break out in the Badgers’ offensive line room as well. Redshirt sophomore JP Benzschawel and redshirt freshman Joe Brunner were four-star recruits. Redshirt sophomore Nolan Rucci was a five-star prospect coming out of high school. All three saw game action last season.

Contact Info

Contact/Follow us @Badger_Notes on Twitter, Subscribe to the BadgerNotes Newsletter here, and like our page on Facebook to follow ongoing coverage of Wisconsin Badgers news, notes, opinion, and analysis. You can also follow Kedrick Stumbris on Twitter @KedrickStumbris.

Join the Badger Notes watch party! Stream Wisconsin Badgers games and chat with fans by following this link.


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