Badgers found on cover of Sports Illustrated

With football season right around the corner and fall camp underway many outlets have started previewing the season and making predictions.

Sports Illustrated is no stranger to both those things and they’ve given high honors to the Wisconsin Badgers. Not only did the magazine select Wisconsin as one of the four teams expected to make the College Football Playoffs at the end of the year, but they’re also one of four schools gracing a cover of the magazine.

Featured on the cover for Wisconsin are offensive linemen Michael Deiter, Beau Benzchawel, Tyler Biadasz, David Edwards, and Jon Dietzen. Those are the five returning starters from last season, although there may be shuffling amongst them this year with Deiter moving from tackle to guard.

The other covers for this edition of Sports Illustrated feature Clemson, Houston, and Arizona.

The magazine picked the Badgers to be the No. 3 seed in the College Football Playoffs with Clemson and Alabama finishing first and second while Washington was picked fourth.

Wisconsin lands 2019 linebacker commitment

The 2019 recruiting class for the Wisconsin Badgers grew to 13 members on Saturday afternoon as Spencer Lytle, a three-star linebacker, pledged to the Badgers.

Lytle had 41 offers from schools such as Arizona, Nebraska, Notre Dame and others. He ultimately picked the Badgers over Clemson after setting those as his top two schools.

The California native is on the Butkus Watch List as one of the top linebackers in the country. He becomes the first linebacker in the 2019 class as well as the first player from the state of California.

The earliest that members of the class of 2019 can sign a National Letter of Intent is on Dec. 19.

Wisconsin’s youthful secondary can thrive with Dixon’s leadership

CHICAGO – Continuity in college football is something that can be hard to find, for a number of reasons. Whether it’s coaches getting fired or moving on to greener pastures, players transferring or exhausting eligibility, it’s rare to see in today’s game. And that’s true for Wisconsin as well. Because while the offense returns nearly intact from 2017, the defensive side of the ball is a different story.

The Badgers bring back just four starters — linebackers T.J. Edwards and Ryan Connelly, nose tackle Olive Sagapolu, and safety D’Cota Dixon — from a unit that ranked third in the country in points allowed per game — its third-straight year of finishing in the top-5.

Wisconsin’s secondary took an especially hard hit, as defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard lost starting cornerbacks Nick Nelson and Derrick Tindal, as well as starting safety Natrell Jamerson. Tindal and Jamerson exhausted their eligibility, while Nelson chose to forego his final season of college to enter the 2018 NFL Draft where he was selected in the fourth round by the Oakland Raiders.

Dixon is the lone returning starter on the back end, leading a group that is sure to be tested often through the air by opposing offenses.

“Our secondary is kind of like our wide receivers was last year,” coach Paul Chryst said Tuesday at Big Ten Media Days. “[They are] young and they’ve got to grow, but there’s talent there and you can go across the board on that.”

Last season the wide receiving corps entered with a few unproven guys behind Jazz Peavy, who left the team mid-season. The group of Quintez Cephus, A.J. Taylor, Danny Davis, and Kendric Pryor stepped up and heads into 2018 as one of the most explosive on the team, and the best group Wisconsin has had in quite some time.

The defensive backs will hope to replicate that formula of success.

Throughout his time in with the Badgers, Dixon has been a defensive leader, both vocally and emotionally. His biggest fault has been his ability to stay on the field due to injuries. Dixon suffered a season-ending injury in his freshman season and has missed time due to both leg and shoulder issues since then. Last year he played in 12 games for the Badgers, starting nine of them.

“I need to stay healthy. That’s my goal. That’s my biggest goal,” Dixon said Tuesday. “That is my objective for 2018. I want to be there for my teammates. I’m going to always be there to support them, but I want to also support them on the field.”

The secondary certainly has potential, just as the wide receivers did prior to last season, but much of it is unproven. Dontye Carriere-Williams and Madison Cone will both be entering their sophomore seasons, with Carriere-Williams being in his third-year on campus. Each of them played at times during 2017, including five starts for Carriere-Williams.

The other starting safety position is up in the air, although there is a strong possibility that Scott Nelson is opposite of Dixon. Those two are close friends and Dixon has taken Nelson under his wing. During the 2017 season, Nelson redshirted, but whenever Dixon was not on the field, Nelson could be found not far behind.

“Scott is like a brother [to me],” Dixon said. “I think he will be a leader here…As far as [the media], you guys will get to know him once you see him make a few plays. He’ll get some acknowledgement off of that, I think. You’ll start to see his personality and the character he really has as a person.”

Nelson figures to fight with redshirt sophomore Patrick Johnson, and Dixon would be just fine with that. But he also believes in Nelson’s talent.

“I would like to see him on the field with me,” Dixon said. “Obviously, as a player, there’s a lot of things you bring to the table and to the field as an individual. There’s a lot of attributes you can bring. But I think what makes me a better player is the guy next to me. I don’t make plays on my own. It’s the communication, it’s the pre-play recognition. Can you disguise? Can you talk coverage? Things of that nature. I would love to be on the field with him and compete with him more on a consistent basis.”

Dixon isn’t solely the leader of the secondary. He’s also one of the leaders of the team. He has an even-keeled demeanor but has always been the heartbeat of the back end.

His leadership has been best shown in his ability to bond with other players. The relationship with Nelson is one that the Badgers will need to see translate to the field.

“I think he knows that Scott Nelson is going to have to be a big part of what we do this year,” Edwards said of Dixon. “Literally, those two are inseparable. He’s with him all the time. They’re talking film, talking just off the field stuff.”

Obviously, Nelson won’t be the only fresh face in the mix for playing time in the secondary. Carriere-Williams saw extensive action as the third cornerback last year and that will expand. Cone was the fourth cornerback for much of the season, but he’s now in position to earn a starting spot. Injuries led Faion Hicks to redshirt in his first year and will almost certainly factor in as well.

Spring practice saw those players and a number of others get a massive number of snaps, especially with Dixon forced to sit out while recovering injuries that limited him as a junior.

“It was fun and cool to watch them actually communicate and create chemistry,” Dixon said. “I think it was actually easier because they all [were] kind of new in it together, as far as not starting in a game or anything like that. They approached it well. I think they handled it well. They’re growing [fast].”

Wisconsin is counting on that to be the case. If Dixon is proven right, and the young guys come along quickly, then the Badgers will have a great chance to show that even a lack of continuity can’t disrupt the standard the secondary has set in what have become the glory days for defense in Madison.

Pair of Badgers given preseason honors

CHICAGO — With the start of football season just around the corner and the 2018 Big Ten Football Media Days underway the conference announced the preseason All-Big Ten team on Monday morning.

The team of ten returning players features three returning All-Americans and nine former All-Big Ten selections. The Wisconsin Badgers were one of only two teams to feature two players. Running back Jonathan Taylor and linebacker T.J. Edwards were both honored as two of the five players from the Big Ten West to make the list.

Last season Taylor had a stellar freshman campaign finishing just shy of 2,000 yards. He totaled 299 carries for 1,977 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground. He broke the FBS record for most yards in a season by a freshman which was previously held by Oklahoma’s Adrian Peterson and was named an All-American by numerous outlets (AP, FWAA, Sporting News, Walter Camp).

Edwards returns for his final season of eligibility after declining to enter his name into the 2018 NFL Draft following last season. In 2017 he started all 14 games for the Badgers totaling 73 tackles, including 11 for loss and a pair of sacks.

Ohio State was the other program that had two players honored, with running back J.K. Dobbins and defensive end Nick Bosa being named.

Seven Badgers honored as preseason All-Americans

Athlon Sports released its 2018 preseason All-America team this week and Wisconsin was heavily represented.

The Badgers placed seven players on either the first, second, third, or fourth teams according to Athlon. That number was more than any other school in the country.

Running back Jonathan Taylor and offensive tackle David Edwards both were named to the first-team, offensive lineman Beau Benzschawel, linebacker T.J. Edwards, and safety D’Cota Dixon were all recognized on the second-team, and offensive lineman Michael Deiter was placed on the third-team, and kicker Rafael Gaglianone was selected to the fourth-team.

The Big Ten had the most selections as a conference with 22. Thirteen of those selections were from either Wisconsin or Ohio State, as those two schools had the two highest number of selections in the country. Michigan was next with five selections, and Penn State, Nebraska, Michigan State, and Iowa all had one player selected.

The full list of Athlon 2018 preseason All-Americans can be found here.

Former Wisconsin All-American Joe Thomas on post-retirement life

CLEVELAND – On March 14, the Wisconsin football program held its annual pro day in Madison. It was a day for players with NFL aspirations to showcase their skills in front of scouts and team personnel from all 32 teams in hopes of helping their chances of being selected in the 2018 NFL Draft.

But the biggest story of the day had nothing to do with anyone inside the McClain Center. No, that came courtesy of a guy that had been on that same field 11 years earlier going through his own pre-draft workout. Joe Thomas, an All-American and Outland Trophy award winner for the Badgers, announced he was retiring after 11 seasons with the Cleveland Browns. The No. 3 pick in the 2007 NFL Draft was done after 167 games — 167 starts, to be clear. And it wasn’t all the losing Thomas did with the Browns that sent him into retirement. It was the injuries.

The Brookfield, Wis., native set an NFL record with 10,363 offensive snaps played for before tearing the tricep in his left arm. That snap would be the last one Thomas played in his career.

“It was an easy decision. My joints and my body is not in good enough shape any more to play with all these young 20-year-olds,” Thomas told The Zone on Tuesday. “I get around pretty well. But the game is so violent and so physical. When your joints start to deteriorate the way mine have, you just can’t keep up. It’s just untenable. I pretty much didn’t practice the last couple of years because I couldn’t. I had to save everything I had for Sunday.”

He did receive some positive news regarding his post-career honors earlier this week when Thomas was officially placed on the ballot for induction to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2019.

Thomas is one of 76 players and six coaches to be placed on the ballot. The announcement on the Class of 2019 will come in early January.

“I heard maybe a few months ago that I might be nominated. Then I woke up (Tuesday) and I think I saw it on Twitter,” Thomas said with a laugh. “I was very humbled. When you start to look at the names of the other guys that are nominees, it’s like ‘wow, how is that guy not already in?’ There are some unbelievable names that are on [the ballot].”

Thomas also said he has many aspirations for his post-playing career that include being involved in football both near and far. One of them is becoming a super-fan of the Badgers once again.

“I’m really excited now that I’ve got so much more time in the fall to be a die-hard Badgers fan again, to be able to watch every game and follow the team really closely,” Thomas said.

“I think they’re building on the things [former coach and current athletic director] Barry Alvarez built back in the [1990s]. [Current coach] Paul Chryst is a good friend of mine, and I think he’s such a great shepherd of what this program has become. He just does such a good job teaching the game, teaching young men, developing them into grown men and productive members of society. It’s great just watching the way that the handle everybody within that university and that program.”

One potential avenue for Thomas is getting into the sports media industry. He currently hosts The TomaHawk show with former NFL wide receiver Andrew Hawkins and did have some auditions with various companies after his retirement. In fact, that’s why Thomas was in attendance on Tuesday evening. The Cleveland Indians were honoring him, Hawkins, and The TomaHawk podcast as they were slated to throw out the first pitch.

“Just trying to figure out what’s next in life. I’ve done some auditions and some interviews for some different media broadcasting jobs. Now I’m just trying to figure out what that next chapter looks like,” Thomas said.

“For 11 years in the NFL I’ve been formulating opinions on things and the only person that was unlucky enough to hear them was my wife. So now I feel like people should be able to hear my opinions on things, so they can be mad at me just like my wife is when I lecture her on things.”

As his podcast continues to be successful, there’s little doubt by many that Thomas will be able to find success in the media landscape should he desire.

And when he heard that the news of his retirement caused quite a buzz at Wisconsin’s pro day back in March he had a chuckle.

“I didn’t even know it was pro day,” he said. “I feel bad about that. I’ll have to repay them somehow, take them out to dinner or something.”

Wisconsin Badgers to host NC State in ACC/Big Ten Challenge

The schedule for the 2018-19 Wisconsin basketball season became a little more clear, according to a report on Thursday afternoon.

Jon Rothstein of FanRagSports.com reported the matchup between Wisconsin and NC State which will take place at the Kohl Center at a date yet to be determined.

Rothstein also had the complete schedule for ACC/Big Ten Challenge which can be found here.

The ACC/Big Ten Challenge has been in existence since 1999 and the Badgers have a 9-10 record, including 49-37 loss to the University of Virginia last season.

NFL Scouting Combine: Day 5 observations

Indianapolis – Sunday was the fifth and final day of media availability at the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. The linebackers and defensive line took part in the on-field testing while the defensive backs met with the media and took part in the bench press.

Here are three takeaways from Day 5 of the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine.

Linebackers workout

Sunday was the chance for the linebackers to work out on the field at Lucas oil Stadium. Of the three Wisconsin linebackers invited to the combine, two of them took part in Leon Jacobs and Garret Dooley. Jack Cichy did not participate as he continues rehab from surgery after tearing the ACL in his right knee in August.

Jacobs continued to test well, as expected. His first 40-yard dash time was 4.48 seconds, officially. His second attempt was slightly slower than that at 4.55 seconds. Jacobs mentioned to me on Saturday afternoon that he expected to run a 4.5.

Dooley didn’t run as fast as Jacobs did, nor was he expected to. His first attempt at the 40-yard dash was 4.92 seconds. He was able to improve on his second attempt clocking in at 4.81 seconds.

The show was stolen by UCF linebacker Shaquem Griffin for the second consecutive day. On Saturday, he bench pressed 225lbs 20 times despite only having one hand and having to use a prosthetic device in order to grasp the bar with his left arm. On Sunday, Griffin ran the fastest 40-yard dash for a linebacker in the past 15 years at the combine. He clocked a 4.38 in his first attempt, the third-fastest time of anyone at the combine so far, this year.

Defensive backs speak

The defensive backs were the final position group of the media to speak at the combine. This is an area where the Packers could potentially be interested. The top player in the group is Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick, although it is more likely he is drafted far before the Packers are slated to select at No. 14 overall.

A couple of prospects that could make sense for Green Bay are Florida State safety Derwin James and Iowa corner Josh Jackson.

James is a physical safety that could play both in the box and on the back end of the defense. Fitzpatrick, on the other hand, is a defensive back that is more versatile in the sense that he can play either safety position or corner.

James also said that he has met formally with the Packers already.

Jackson was one of the best corners in the Big Ten at Iowa. Fans might remember him having three interceptions against Ohio State and following it up with two interceptions returned for touchdowns against Wisconsin the very next week at Camp Randall.

Lastly, Denzel Ward is regarded as the other top defensive back in the draft. The Ohio State product is a sure-fire first round pick that will be able to come in and make an impact from day one.

Any of them would make sense at No. 14 overall for the Packers.

More Badgers

While Saturday had a trio of Wisconsin linebackers speak to the media – Jacobs, Cichy, and Dooley – Sunday featured a pair of defensive backs from the Badgers.

First, Natrell Jamerson met with the media. Jamerson began his career at Wisconsin as a wide receiver before moving to corner and ultimately safety in his final year. He is at the combine as just that, but does believe that he could play anywhere in the defensive backfield in the NFL.

Jamerson tested on the bench press after meeting with the media where he posted 25 reps of 225lbs. He out-performed four of the five other Badgers there, trailing only Jacobs by a single rep. Jamerson tied with Arizona’s Dane Cruickshank to lead the defensive backs.

Later in the afternoon corner Nick Nelson met with the media and said that he expects to run his 40-yard dash faster than Jamerson, and hopes to be sub-4.4. Nelson was not quite as impressive as Jamerson in the bench press as he finished with 17 reps, tying him for 12th among defensive backs.

NFL Scouting Combine: Day 3 observations

Indianapolis – The 2018 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis continued on Friday with the quarterbacks, wide receivers, tight ends, and specialists meeting with the media.

Here are three takeaways from the day:

Help in the wide receiver room

Friday is when all of the wide receivers met with the media. This class doesn’t have a sure-fire top receiver in it. Calvin Ridley, who played college at the University of Alabama, is expected to be the first receiver taken off of the board. With that being said, it would come as a surprise to no one if he stuck around until the middle of the first round.

The other receivers in this class that could find themselves in Green Bay include James Washington of Oklahoma State, Equanimeous St. Brown from Notre Dame, Christian Kirk from Texas A&M, or Maryland’s D.J. Moore.

Those four all said that they have met with the Green Bay Packers – either formally or informally – while in Indianapolis.

Indiana wide receiver Simmie Cobbs also said that he met with the Packers informally with no plans for a formal visit as of Friday afternoon.

It’s common for teams to take meetings with as many prospects as possible at the combine, but this position is certainly worth watching with the looming contract situations of current wide receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb.

If one, or both, of Cobb and Nelson are gone next fall when the Packers hit the field, drafting one of these four receivers certainly could help to lessen the impact.

Wisconsin on the scene

After the first day of player availability, no players from the University of Wisconsin had spoken yet. That changed on Friday when tight end Troy Fumagalli met with the media.

Expectedly, the first few questions that Fumagalli fielded from members of the media were about the fact that he only has four fingers on his left hand. This was something that happened when Fumagalli was exposed to national media during his time at Wisconsin, but did not come up on a day-to-day basis.

“Woodshop class, I guess that was my best one,” Fumagalli joked when asked what his best fake story about losing his finger was. “No, I’m pretty serious about it. I just tell people how it happened at birth. At serious events like this I don’t mess around with that stuff.

“I know it’s part of the process. [Teams] invest a lot of money in people and they need to know everything so that doesn’t bother me,” he said when asked if the questions about his missing finger annoyed him.

Fumagalli also said that he did meet with the Packers while at the combine already.

“I love the Packers. I love what they do with the offense and things like that. Yeah, I’d love to stay at home in Wisconsin.”

Saquon Barkley impresses

The Packers won’t be drafting Saquon Barkley in the draft this year. That needs to be said before the rest of this is written.

Barkley, however, has been one of the stars of the combine to this point.

In the bench press on Thursday, Barkley benched 225lbs 29 times, tied for most among the running backs with Nick Chubb from Georgia. For a point of reference, Barkley beat all but five offensive linemen at the combine.

On Friday, Barkley took part in on-field drills at Lucas Oil Stadium. He tested extremely well in both the 40-yard dash and vertical leap. The Penn State product had the second fastest time in the 40-yard dash at 4.41, two hundredths of a second slower than Nyheim Hines from NC State.

Barkley was the leader at the running back positon in the vertical jump with 41 inches.

Whether or not these things will translate on to the field in the NFL remains to be seen, but his athleticism is certainly undeniable.

Badgers snap losing skid against Illinois

The Wisconsin Badgers entered Illinois with a five-game losing streak and losers of its last seven road games. They ended both of those streaks with a 78-69 win on Thursday night over the Illini. Not only did the win end those streaks, it simultaneously extended Wisconsin’s winning streak over Illinois on the hardwood to 13 games. The last Illinois win over Wisconsin came on January 2, 2011.

Ethan Happ was dominant when his team needed him to be. He finished with 27 points, six rebounds, and eight assists in the win. Brevin Pritzl snapped out of his funk, after finishing a combined 0-for-10 from behind the 3-point line in the previous two losses. He was 3-for-3 shooting from behind the arc and had 15 points off the bench for Wisconsin.

Trent Frazier was outstanding in the loss for Illinois. He finished with a career-high 32 points to lead the way for the Illini.

Wisconsin’s win puts them at 10th place in the Big Ten heading into the weekend. The teams that finish in the top 10 receive a first round bye in the Big Ten tournament that starts later this month. The Badgers have not played in the first round of the conference tournament since 2000.

The Badger return to the hardwood on Sunday afternoon at the Kohl Center against No. 20 Michigan. Tip-off is at noon.