Andersen addresses needs
Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen and his staff identified three areas of critical need for the 2014 freshman class:
Offensive line, wide receiver and secondary.
Of the 25 players UW signed Wednesday, 16 spots were dedicated to those three units.
“If you take the class in general and you break it down—a big number,” Andersen said.
UW signed six offensive linemen, including four in-state prospects. The Badgers added a walk-on, Brett Connors of New Berlin West.
“It is a good number,” Andersen said. “The goal is to get that to 16 scholarship players.”
UW expects to enter preseason camp with 14 scholarship linemen. Andersen hopes to hit the 16-player mark with the 2015 class.
“We made good progress in that area,” he said. “Some tremendous young men.”
UW signed five defensive backs. Two are listed at cornerback and three at safety.
“We needed to bring in some athletes there,” Andersen said. “We weren't so much looking for corners or safeties there. We were looking for young men that are highly competitive, that love the game of football and can run.
“That was the stamp that we put on that. I think we made some good strides there.”
In addition to the signees, safeties coach Bill Busch noted Vonte Jackson is moving to safety from tailback. A.J. Jordan, who moved to the secondary from wide receiver during Capital One Bowl prep, will start out at safety.
UW signed five wide receivers.
“We want to create competition and the young men in our program are working very hard to get on the field,” Andersen said. “They are making strides.
“But we needed to get that solidified with some good numbers there, with some young men that are going to expect themselves to come in and compete at a high level.”
With Jared Abbrederis gone, UW has no proven playmaker at wide receiver.
Wide receiver coach Chris Beatty was asked if any of the returning players will be guaranteed anything in the fall.
“The opportunity to compete,” Beatty said. “That's it. Those guys know it. …
“At the end of the day it's going to be about competition and when those young guys come in they're going to get the same amount, or more reps, than the guys that are here.
“We'll play the best guys.”
Four of UW's 25 signees are already enrolled at UW: offensive linemen Jaden Gault and Michael Deiter, safety Austin Hudson and quarterback D.J. Gillins.
Busch plans to give Hudson a long look during spring practice, which opens March 7.
“He'll be thrown into the fire right away,” Busch said.
Andersen acknowledged Gault, 6-foot-6 and 310 pounds, could play as a freshman.
Deiter likely will get work with the No. 1 and No. 2 lines at center in the spring because the staff plans to rest Dallas Lewallen (knee) and Dan Voltz (upper-body injury). Deiter should split time with Trent Denlinger, who can play guard or center.
“That will be good for those young kids to get reps,” offensive line coach T.J. Woods said. “That's what spring ball is about—struggling and getting better.”
Andersen reiterated Joel Stave will enter spring ball as the No. 1 quarterback. And although Bart Houston, Tanner McEvoy and walk-on Connor Senger are expected to get work, the staff wants to evaluate Gillins, a dual-threat quarterback from Jacksonville, Fla.
“It's going to be very important that we give the quarterbacks an opportunity to compete in spring ball,” Andersen said. “When I say that, there's only so many reps to go around. So we have got to construct practices in a way for D.J. to be able to compete and have an opportunity to be able to play and highlight what he brings to the table.”
Extra points: Mukwonago linebacker Dominic Cizauskas was not listed among UW's signees. He was recently suspended from the boys basketball team after violating the athletic code. His status with UW is to be determined.
Four players have been forced to quit playing because of medical issues. They are: offensive linemen Matt Miller (head) and Jackson Keeler (head), safety Matt Hubley (unspecified) and wide receiver Marquis Mason (knee). They are expected to remain in school at UW. Andersen declined to name the players but said UW would issue a release.
Ula Toluta, a running back from Glendale (Utah), will be delaying his enrollment until after he goes on his mission.
Joe Schobert, who will be a junior next season, has been moved to inside linebacker from outside linebacker.