Wisconsin held its media day at Camp Randall Stadium Wednesday night in advance of getting fall camp started on Thursday.
Here are a few things we learned in talking to the assistant coaches and players:
* At Big Ten media days in mid-July, linebacker Chris Orr made clear that what happened last season — going 8-5 after starting the year in the top-5 of the national polls — wasn’t acceptable for a Wisconsin team. He felt the team didn’t measure up to what the program had been in previous years. Turns out the senior wasn’t alone in that thinking.
“We’re coming for vengeance,” linebacker Zack Baun said. “There’s a standard that’s been set at Wisconsin. We all see it on the walls and the tunnel (at the stadium). Obviously, we all understand we didn’t meet that standard last year, so we’re coming for it this year.”
That anger wasn’t reserved for the defensive side of the ball.
“We had an eight win season last year and that’s not who we are,” left tackle Cole Van Lanen said. “All of us, we’ve been a part of really good teams. We know the standard and we know what we screwed up last year. That’s not going to happen again.
“It comes down to a mentality we all need to have. As a team, a lot of us don’t think we had it last year. This year, it’s definitely there.”
* The Badgers will spend the first five days of camp installing their offense. It will be the second time, having also done the same thing in the spring over the 15 sessions. If true freshman Graham Mertz is going to win the starting job, how he handles that process could go a long way.
“Like any of the guys, we’ve got to be able to trust them to put them on the field,” quarterbacks coach Jon Budmayr said. “I’m excited to see what he retained from the spring and just continue to see him grow within the offense. He’s got 15 practices under his belt. Now, every rep is valuable. With knowing that, how can he continue to grow as he gets those reps.”
How those reps will be handed out remains to be seen, though Budmayr tipped his hand a bit.
“The five days (to start camp) builds off the spring, but the foundation, right now, is from the spring,” Budmayr said. “The reps will be reflected from what that spring produced.”
That would suggest that junior Jack Coan will continue to see a healthy share of first-team reps, just like he did during the spring, with Mertz likely to be the next up, followed by redshirt sophomore Danny Vanden Boom and redshirt freshman Chase Wolf. That doesn’t mean it will stay that way.
“There’s always a chance with competition for the opportunity to earn more reps and the opportunity to lose reps at times. A lot of it is based off production. That’s what I love about this group. They are so competitive.”
* Danny Davis is looking slimmer than a year ago. The Badgers wide receiver dropped 10 pounds to 194 as he enters his third season.
“He changed his body, he’s in better shape and he’s stronger,” wide receivers coach Ted Gilmore said. “I think he finally cut off some of his baby fat. He looks good.”
Teammate Kendric Pryor said Davis wanted to be over 200 pounds in the past, but after an up-and-down 2018, he committed himself to being in better shape.
“I don’t think it was good weight,” Pryor said. “For him, I think he feels better and more comfortable at this weight where he can move more freely.”
* A critique of the wide receivers by some a year ago was an inability to separate from defensive backs. While Gilmore disagreed with that assessment, he did offer an area where they do need improvement.
“If someone said we had trouble at the line of scrimmage, I’d absolutely agree with that,” Gilmore said. “Our job, if we can get better (at anything), I think it’s at the initial stages and wining that first five (yards).”
* There will be competition along the offensive line during camp, but barring injury or something else unforeseen, there’s a good chance the starting unit will look like this:
LT Cole Van Lanen
LG Jason Erdmann
C Tyler Biadasz
RG Kayden Lyles
RT Logan Bruss
Offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Joe Rudolph is expecting a big jump from Bruss after he started the final three games of the year, but he also spoke highly of senior David Moorman and redshirt sophomore Tyler Beach, saying they will also be in the mix at tackle.
“(Beach), as a young guy, made some needed jumps and really did a nice job,” Rudolph said. “I (also) wouldn’t count (Moorman) out. I think he’s going to factor in at some point. Who knows, he might come out of the camp as a starter.”
One interesting note is that Moorman will be the backup at center and Lyles will concentrate solely on left and right guard. Rudolph said he didn’t want Lyles to be swimming mentally after spending all of last year on defense.
Redshirt sophomore Josh Seltzner will also battle for playing time at guard.
* Defensive line coach Inoke Breckterfield isn’t one to display a lot of emotion in talking to the media, but it was easy to see his happiness with having juniors Garrett Rand and Isaiahh Loudermilk back and healthy. Rand missed all of last year with a torn Achilles, while Loudermilk was never quite healthy with various ailments.
“With a healthy (Rand) and a healthy (Loudermilk), you definitely change the look of the defense,” Breckterfield said.
Rand hasn’t gone through a practice since spring of 2018 but expect him to hit the ground running when camp opens up.
“He’s full go and he’s hungry,” Breckterfield said. “He’s ready to be unleashed, so I’m excited to get him out there.”
Loudermilk looks different than a year ago, having cut 14 pounds from his 6-foot-7 frame and now weighing 293 pounds.
“I just told him, ‘300-plus (pounds) is a little too big for you,’” Breckterfield said. “For him to drop down to about 290 is going to help him. He’s strong enough and he’s got the length, but I just want him to be a little more athletic.”
Breckterfield’s rotation at defensive end will feature Rand, Loudermilk, redshirt sophomore Matt Henningsen, senior David Pfaff and redshirt freshman Isaiah Mullens. At nose tackle, sophomore Bryson Williams will run with the first-team, while senior Gunnar Roberge, along with true freshman Keeanu Benton and Gio Paez, battle for the backup job.
* One of the new faces on media day was linebacker Travis Wiltjer. Before transferring to Wisconsin, the Michigan native played three years at Northwood University, where he had 152 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss and five forced fumbles. How he got to Madison is an unlikely story.
“I was flying back from a business trip with my boss and we were watching March Madness at Chili’s (in Chicago) when (Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez) sat down next to me,” Wiltjer said. “We just talked because we both had layovers. He was like, ‘If you’re still looking to transfer, send your film over and if the coaches call you, they call you.’ I just played the waiting game a little bit and they made the call.”
Wiltjer doesn’t have any expectations coming in, saying his goal is just to help the team in anyway he can. How that comes about will be interesting to watch, as there is some depth at inside linebacker with Orr, sophomore Jack Sanborn, freshman Leo Chenal and junior Mike Mascalunas making up the two-deep on the depth chart.
“Coming in, I just want to make an impact,” Wiltjer said. “That’s anyone can do when coming out. Obviously, they see something in me. Whether that be scout team, special teams or defense, I’m just here to enjoy my senior year and go out on top.”
Wiltjer is the first player from his high school to be on a team in the Big Ten.
* Two years ago, defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard moved Natrell Jamerson from cornerback to safety and it paid off handsomely. Jamerson, now with the Green Bay Packers, started all 14 games, finishing with 51 tackles, two interceptions, 10 pass breakups and a touchdown while being named honorable mention All-Big Ten. Now, it’s junior Madison Cone’s turn to try his hand at safety after spending his first two years at cornerback, mostly as the nickel back in the slot.
“I’ll still be playing nickel back,” Cone said. “The safety thing, right now, is looking to be more situational. Coach will do that as he sees fit. The more comfortable I get, (Leonhard) said we could play it more. This camp is going to be huge for me getting comfortable back there and just finding where I fit in.”