Big Ten Media Days are done, Wisconsin got its media day out of the way on Friday and that means all that’s left is to talk actual football. Today we begin our preseason look at the 2014 Wisconsin Badgers, and we start it off with arguably one of the most important positions heading in to the season — wide receiver.
At times, OK, all of last season it was a one man game at wide receiver thanks to the talented Jared Abbrederis. He’s gone off to the NFL (where he’s apparently sustained a season-ending ACL tear), and that means his massive production leaves a massive hole to be filled.
Who, or which players will fill his big shoes? Let’s take a look at where things stand heading in to fall camp.
What We Know:
– The Badgers have one of the two starters back from last season, but that’s not saying much. Junior Jordan Fredrick was nearly non-existent most of last season, catching just 10 passes for 106 yards and no touchdowns. That won’t cut it this season, and after speaking to head coach Gary Andersen this week it’s clear that Fredrick is moving down the pecking order a bit.
– Senior Kenzel Doe will be counted on to make a major step up. Doe is a return game nightmare for opposing teams, and he proved it last season in the Capital One Bowl once again. However, he hasn’t really been a huge threat in the pass game. That said, he’s the unquestioned leader of this team in the locker room. Now it’s time to step up the production on the field as well — and Andersen has high hopes of that happening.
What We Need to Find Out:
– Who will be the go-to guy:
The Badgers have a lot of intriguing young options at wide receiver, but none of them have stepped up in a game before. Rob Wheelwright was a name that kept coming out of the mouth of Andersen during this past week, and there’s a reason for it. He sees the same talent we’ve seen and the team clearly needs him to be productive.
– Are there more reliable options:
Last season, part of the issue in the passing game was that there weren’t any reliable options next to Abbrederis. If Wisconsin wants to take the next step in the pass game it can’t be one wide receiver and the tight ends making the difference. The Badgers need a second threat on the outside, or it may not matter who is back at quarterback.
– Who’s ready as a freshman:
Yes, two of the better options at receiver in the 2014 class are no longer with the Badgers, but you damn well better believe there was plenty of talent outside of Chris Jones and Dareian Watkins. In fact, the best of the bunch is still here in Krenwick Sanders, who had a monster playoffs for his high school team in Georgia. So much so that SEC teams tried to steal his commitment late in the process (looking at you Florida).
The departures of Jones and Watkins also gives more looks to guys like Derrick Tindall and George Rushing. If the Badgers want some depth at the position, they need one or two of this trio to step up and be ready from day one. Watching the progression of these three is going to be a major focus of camp.
Player to Watch:
Alex Erickson, Soph. – The story of Erickson is eerily familiar to that of the just-departed Abbrederis. Both were walk-ons who found their way on to the field as true freshmen. That doesn’t happen very often considering the usual scholarship talent the wide receiver position has. Erickson managed nine catches for 127 yards (14.1 yards per catch) in his freshman season. While that may not seem terribly significant, consider this — he’s the second leading returning receiver from last season — and that should tell you all you need to know about the state of UW’s receiving corp heading in to camp.
Additionally, Erickson was mentioned as one of the players Andersen expects to be a go-to guy for Wisconsin this season. One thing I’ve learned about Andersen in the media is that when he singles out a player it’s usually for a good reason. In the case of Erickson, it’s clear Andersen and the coaching staff have high hopes for the sophomore and he may be poised to be the next breakout star for the Badgers.