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Wisconsin Football Offseason Questions: Offense



Wisconsin Badgers Football QB Graham Mertz under center.
Oct 22, 2022; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers quarterback Graham Mertz (5) during the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Madison, Wis. – Wisconsin football begins spring practice at the end of March, and when they take the field, things are going to look mighty different, especially as it pertains to the offense.

After taking over in late November, Luke Fickell made a splash hire, bringing in Mike Leach disciple—Phil Longo from North Carolina to overhaul the Badger offense.

UW also went portaling and came out with notable talents this offseason that should help kickstart the implementation of its new offensive system.

However, Wisconsin football still has multiple question marks ahead of spring practice.

How will the WR pecking order shake out?

Wisconsin has never run a wide receiver-friendly offense. UW typically runs the ball on 60% of its plays, so its pass-catchers get asked to do a lot of blocking.

However, in a Phil Longo-led offense, you can bet your ass things will look quite a bit different.

He and WR coach Mike Brown have already discussed wanting to rotate in six pass-catchers throughout the game to keep fresh legs on the field. And for once, I actually believe Wisconsin football has six players that’ll be deserving of snaps.

UW returns its top three pass-catchers Chimere Dike, Skyler Bell, and Keontez Lewis—who accounted for 97 total catches for 1,446 yards last season and 14 touchdowns. Now, add in transfer portal additions Bryson Green, CJ Williams, Will Pauling, and Quincy Burroughs – and depth is seemingly no longer an issue.

Markus Allen is also back in the fold after testing the transfer portal waters (and briefly joining Minnesota), joining Vinny Anthony and Chris Brooks Jr. as other young options that could work their way into the mix.

It’s hard to imagine this many scholarship WRs on the roster when fall camp opens, but spring practice should help Wisconsin football establish a pecking order.

Can the offensive line play up to the Wisconsin football standard?

When you think of Wisconsin football—you think of a dominant offensive line. Well, at least you used to.

The past couple of seasons, UW’s offensive line play has been good—but not great. The underwhelming play is disappointing, especially when you consider the plethora of blue-chip talents the Badgers have landed in the past 3-4 recruiting cycles.

According to Pro Football Focus, Wisconsin football finished as the No. 28 best run-blocking unit and the No. 15 pass-blocking team last season. Which on paper looks pretty good, but the eye test didn’t reflect a unit that dominated the trenches.

In 2023, UW returns Jack Nelson, Trey Wedig, Tanor Bortolini, Michael Furtney, and Riley Mahlman, all of which made starts last season—along with countless other high-pedigree talents such as Nolan Rucci and Joe Brunner waiting in the wings.

Then, add in transfer portal additions Jake Renfro and Joe Huber, who enter the Wisconsin football program with considerable experience under their belts from their time at Cincinnati.

On paper, Wisconsin’s offensive line should be better next season despite losing Joe Tippmann to the NFL.

However, Wisconsin football has a new offensive scheme and philosophy, so watching how the o-line groupings shake out once practice begins will be interesting. Because if this group can return to the gold standard, there’s no telling how high the ceiling could be for the offense next season.

Who steps up at TE?

Wisconsin football has deployed multiple tight end sets for the past couple of decades. Being an in-line blocking TE often helped create a path for early playing time – but those days are probably long gone.

In Phil Longo’s offense, it’s unlikely we’ll see a ton of two tight end sets. UW didn’t add any TEs through the transfer portal, although they kicked the tires on a few options. Meaning the Badgers will need a few in-house options to establish themselves as go-to options.

Clay Cundiff is back after a second season-ending injury, and if healthy, he could be a nice pass-catching option—but health will always be a question mark.

UW also returns its top four snap-getters at the position, like Jack Eschenbach (401) back for a sixth season and Hayden Rucci (331) and Cole Dakovich (70)—although they’re mainly blocking TEs.

Coach Fickell will need a couple of young players that are more dynamic to flash in spring ball to help gauge where the TE room’s depth truly lies. JT Seagreaves and Jack Pugh are two talented, high-upside options worth keeping an eye on.

If spring ball doesn’t go as planned, don’t be surprised to see Wisconsin football go portaling again in search of a plug-and-play TE should the right one become available.

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