Gary Andersen's roster experiments continue through spring

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Jeff Potrykus, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Saturday, April 12, 2014

MADISON—Gary Andersen's second spring at Wisconsin, which culminates with the annual intrasquad game at 3 p.m. today at Camp Randall Stadium, has provided ample opportunity for the coaching staff to experiment with personnel.

With offensive linemen Dallas Lewallen and Dan Voltz held out all spring to recover from surgery, freshman Michael Deiter has worked with the No. 1 unit.

With the bulk of the front seven departed after the Capital One Bowl, the defensive coaches have shuffled players such as Alec James and Leon Jacobs into new positions.

Andersen hopes the first step toward a successful season in 2014 is taken Saturday.

“We need to compete,” he said when asked to assess his goals for the final practice of the spring. “We need to play football. So I want to see a productive offense and a productive defense.

“Like I always say, during practice or in games, you've got to earn your way. And that needs to happen. It can't be a big play because of a mistake.

“Administrative penalties are a premium right now for us. We've got to be able to execute and look like a big-time Division I football team.”

Andersen opened his first season at UW with a 45-0 home victory over an outmatched UMass team. Year 2 opens Aug. 30 in Houston against perennial power LSU.

“I'm looking for a team where we can walk off the field and say they're moving in the right direction,” Andersen added. “Ready to play LSU tomorrow? No. But they've definitely made strides from Day 1 to Day 15 and they should be substantial from the way we look on Saturday.”

The format for today—the game is to be televised by the Big Ten Network—offers a mix of a standard practice and a game.

The first two quarters will be a controlled scrimmage. Defenders will not be allowed to tackle the player with the ball but heavy “thudding” will be allowed.

The third and fourth quarters will be played under game rules, though not all projected starters will participate.

Tailbacks Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement will participate in the first half only.

In addition, there will not be live punting. Instead, the ball will be placed 35 yards from the line of scrimmage. Field goals will be live, however.

“The first half will feel like a game, minus the tackling,” Andersen said. “The second half will be a football game other than the special teams aspects.”

Quarterback play could be difficult to assess because UW's wide receiver corps has been thinned by injuries and because the No. 1 line won't be intact until the fall.

However, with returning starter Joel Stave (shoulder) sitting out, Tanner McEvoy, freshman D.J. Gillins and Bart Houston will be given an opportunity to make plays.

McEvoy, who is more comfortable running the offense than he was last August after he transferred from Arizona Western College, has a legitimate chance to unseat Stave as the starter.

Houston throws the ball well. Like Stave, he lacks the mobility the staff covets at the position. Unlike Stave, however, he doesn't have 19 college starts.

Gillins, 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds, graduated a semester early from Ribault High School in Jacksonville, Fla., and has impressed the staff with his athletic ability.

Andersen clearly has high expectations for Gillins.

“I would expect him to prepare in the summer to come in and be the starter,” he said. “That will be his mindset.

“He knows he's got a lot to work on and a long way to go to be a starter at this level but he also will be excited about expecting that responsibility and working hard.”

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