What the future holds: Safety

With the 2017 season in the books, it’s time to look ahead to 2018 for Wisconsin. Over the next few weeks we’ll be going position-by-position to see what the future holds for the Badgers.

For the purposes of this article, we’ll refer to each player in terms of their class for 2018. If someone was a sophomore in 2017, they will be called a junior here.

Safety:

Returning: D’Cota Dixon (SR), Eric Burrell (RS SO), Patrick Johnson (RS SO), Seth Currens (RS SO), Scott Nelson (RS FR), Evan Bondoc (SR)

Leaving: Natrell Jamerson, Joe Ferguson

Arriving: Reggie Pearson Jr. (3-star)

Season grades

Biggest question: Who replaces Natrell Jamerson?

Natrell Jamerson was a revelation in his lone year at safety. Starting all 14 games, he finished sixth on the team in tackles, had 3.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and two interceptions, including one that he returned for a touchdown. Because of his background as a cornerback, the Badgers had flexibility and weren’t worried if Jamerson was forced to cover a receiver in the slot. All of the skills is showed last fall are going to give him a chance to stick with an NFL team.

So how does Wisconsin replace him? Well, it won’t be as simple as it was last year. As soon as the starter in 2016, Leo Musso, was gone, the Badgers pegged Jamerson as his replacement. He grabbed the job in the spring and never let go. That’s unlikely to be the case this time around.

The reason for that is there is little to no experience within the unit outside of senior D’Cota Dixon. Entering his third year as a starter, Dixon overcame injuries and missing two games to earn All-Big Ten honors in 2017. When he was out, Joe Ferguson filled in and largely played well, but he also graduated.

It leaves a bunch of young guys — sophomores Eric Burrell, Patrick Johnson and Seth Currens — that have had small roles to this point, along with redshirt freshman Scott Nelson, to battle for playing time.

“All guys that have contributed on special teams — outside of Scott [Nelson] — and know the speed of the game,” defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard said about the group. “Now it’s time to go push. It’s time to push. That to me is the No. 1 thing.”

And by push, he means compete. There doesn’t appear to be a spot on the roster more open to competition than safety. And that means even a guy like Reggie Pearson, a member of the 2018 recruiting class that enrolled early, will have a shot.

Other notes:

It seems likely that Nelson will have some kind of role on defense. He, along with two other true freshmen, tight end Jake Ferguson and offensive lineman Kayden Lyles, traveled with the team to Minnesota for the final game of the year. Even though there was zero chance they would play, it followed a pattern used in the past by Wisconsin to get guys it expects to have an impact as redshirt freshmen used to the experience of being on the road.

Predicted depth chart:

1st-team: D’Cota Dixon (SR), Eric Burrell (RS SO)
2nd-team: Patrick Johnson (RS SO), Scott Nelson (RS FR)

What the future holds:
Quarterback
Running back
Wide receiver
Tight end
Offensive line
Defensive line
Inside linebackers
Outside linebackers
Cornerbacks

(20) Michigan 83, Wisconsin 72: Last word

MADISON — Michigan jumped all over Wisconsin early and kept the Badgers at bay the rest of the game in an 83-72 victory Sunday at the Kohl Center.

Player of the Game: Duncan Robinson

The senior was a big part of Michigan’s quick start, as he scored 14 points in the first half. He was 4 of 5 from beyond the arc as the Wolverines built a 22-point halftime lead. Robinson had just two points after the break but his early efforts made the mountain too big for the Badgers to climb.

The good: The comeback

Wisconsin trailed by as many as 25 points in the second half, but a 12-0 run midway through the period made things much more interesting. The Badgers got the lead all the way down to eight with 2:15 left and were a defensive rebound off a missed free throw from having a chance to whittle the lead down further. That didn’t happen, but seeing fight from a team that is having its worst season in nearly 20 years is encouraging.

The not so good: The start

For the second straight home game, Wisconsin could do nothing right at the outset. Against Northwestern on Feb. 1, the Badgers fell behind 18-1. On Sunday, they fell behind 15-2. With as shorthanded and inexperienced as Wisconsin is, it can’t afford to fall into big holes like that and hope to pull the upset. The lulls in play have been a season-long issue that the Badgers haven’t found a way to avoid.

Stat of the game: 29

That’s how many points Ethan Happ had on Sunday. It’s a season-high and the most he’s scored in a non-overtime game in his career. Because of the big lead, Michigan didn’t double the junior nearly as much as some teams have this year and he took advantage of it.

What they said:

“First off, we gave up too many threes. When they start off seven for nine (from beyond the arc), that opens a lot of other stuff for them. Once we have to go out and defend them deeper at the 3-point line, then that gives up more stuff at the rim, and then drive and kick. We just have to do a better job to start.”

— Happ on the defensive struggles early in the game

In Case You Missed It:

— Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy sat behind the Wisconsin bench. He received a pretty good ovation when he was shown on the video board.

— It was alumni weekend and many former players were honored at halftime, including recent stars such as Josh Gasser, Ben Brust and Zak Showalter. All-time leading scorer Alando Tucker and All-Big Ten center Rashard Griffith were also recognized.

— Wisconsin celebrated the 10-year anniversary of winning the 2008 Big Ten regular season and tournament titles. Players from that team, including Keaton Nankivil, Brian Butch and Greg Stiemsma, were introduced during halftime.

— Junior Andy Van Vliet played just two minutes, but managed to hit a 3-pointer — his first points since Dec. 23.

What’s Next

Wisconsin (11-16, 4-10) hosts Purdue (23-4, 12-2) on Thursday night. The Boilermakers have lost two straight after starting out the Big Ten season 12-0.

Wisconsin hires new outside linebackers coach

Wisconsin has its new outside linebackers coach.

The school announced Wednesday it had hired Bobby April III to replace Tim Tibesar, who is now the defensive coordinator at Oregon State.

April comes to the Badgers after six seasons in the NFL, including most recently as the linebackers coach for the Buffalo Bills in 2015 and 2016.

“We’re excited to add Bobby to the staff,” coach Paul Chryst said in a press release. “He brings great knowledge and passion for the game of football. His experience will help our players grow and is a great fit for our defensive staff room.”

As has been the case with most of Chryst’s hires, April does have a connection to a current staff member. Defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard played under April’s father, Bobby Jr., when he was with the Bills in the late 2000s.

April’s collegiate experience came at Tulane as a graduate assistant, and then as an assistant at Portland State and Nicholls State before heading to the NFL in 2011.

“What’s always appealed to me about Wisconsin football is the way the players play with a chip on their shoulder and how tough mentally and physically they are,” April said in a press release. “The attitude of the program and the fans, the excitement of the city is incomparable.
 
“The defense speaks for itself over the last five seasons. It’s been dominant. I just want to come in here and help it get better. The players are young and hungry, which is exciting to see. With Coach Chryst, he’s an unbelievable coach but a more unbelievable person. He’s brought on guys that share his values and it’s a great thing to be a part of.”

April does have his work cut out for him. While the Badgers return a talented player in senior Andrew Van Ginkel, they must replace their two other starting outside linebackers — Garret Dooley and Leon Jacobs.

What the future holds: Cornerback

With the 2017 season in the books, it’s time to look ahead to 2018 for Wisconsin. Over the next few weeks we’ll be going position-by-position to see what the future holds for the Badgers.

For the purposes of this article, we’ll refer to each player in terms of their class for 2018. If someone was a sophomore in 2017, they will be called a junior here.

Cornerback:

Returning: Dontye Carriere-Williams (RS SO), Madison Cone (SO), Faion Hicks (RS FR), Caesar Williams (RS SO), Cristian Volpentesta (RS SO),

Leaving: Nick Nelson, Derrick Tindal, Lubern Figaro

Arriving: Travian Blaylock (3-star), Donte Burton (3-star), Alex Smith (3-star), Rachad Wildgoose Jr. (3-star)

Season grades

Biggest question: Who ends up as the No. 2 and No. 3 cornerbacks?

Wisconsin is losing playmakers up and down the depth chart on defense, but the cornerback spot took an especially big hit. Not only did the Badgers say goodbye to three-year starter Derrick Tindal, but they also lost Nick Nelson early to the NFL. Both were All-Big Ten selections in 2017 and their absence will be felt. But like the other open spots on defense, the coaching staff likes the possibilities with the guys that are still around.

That starts with redshirt sophomore Dontye Carriere-Williams. He played in all 14 games for Wisconsin, mostly as its third cornerback, finishing with 30 tackles, an interception and six pass breakups.

“Now he’s got to take the next step and become a leader in that room,” defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard said of Carriere-Williams, who becomes the Badgers’ No. 1 CB. “[And that’s] really on and off the field to me.”

That room Leonhard speaks of will be populated by guys like sophomore Madison Cone. He saw mostly special teams work in the nine games he played, though he did have a key pass breakup in crutch time against Miami in the Orange Bowl.

“[He’s] a guy that impressed me all year with his approach to the game,” Leonhard said of the former 3-star recruit. “He’s a very mature kid that understands football and wants to get better. Anytime you have that, it’s great.”

Cone was one of two CBs to enroll early among the 2017 recruiting class, with the other being Faion Hicks. He missed most of spring ball and fall camp with an injury, but when he’s feeling right, he’s got the talent to make an impact.

“Love what he’s done once he was able to get healthy,” Leonhard said. “He’s extremely athletic and he’s hungry. He had some injury issues early where he was fighting back…I think he’s got a chance to be very good in this program.”

The other holdover that could challenge for a spot in the rotation is redshirt sophomore Caesar Williams. He, like Hicks, has been hampered by injuries during his time in Madison, meaning he hasn’t necessarily gotten the number of reps he and the coaches would like in practice.

“I think [Williams] is figuring out who he is on the field,” Leonhard said. “He needs a big offseason to physically get where he needs to be to really help this team, but I think he’s close.”

The unknown at the position is the incoming freshmen. One of them, Donte Burton, is already on campus. The 6-foot, 175-pound, Burton chose Wisconsin after de-commiting from North Carolina. He also had offers from Oregon, Nebraska and Minnesota, among others. He’ll be looking to follow in the footsteps of Cincinnati Bengals CB Sojourn Shelton, who enrolled early at Wisconsin, earned a starting spot as a freshman in 2013 and never let it go.

Travian Blaylock was a big win for the Badgers, as they beat out 25 other schools for his services, including Stanford, which some considered to be his dream school. The son of former NFL running back Derrick Blaylock, the 6-foot, 180-pound cornerback could be in the mix right away.

Same goes for Alex Smith, who joins tight end Kyle Penniston as the only California products on Wisconsin’s roster. He, like his two classmates, brings size to the table at 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds.

The Badgers also added 3-star recruit Rachad Wildgoose Jr. to their incoming class on Wednesday.

Predicted depth chart:

1st-team CBs: Dontye Carriere-Williams (RS SO), Madison Cone (SO)
2nd-team CBs: Faion Hicks (RS FR), Donte Burton (FR)

What the future holds:
Quarterback
Running back
Wide receiver
Tight end
Offensive line
Defensive line
Inside linebackers
Outside linebackers

Wisconsin signs one more in 2018 recruiting class

Make it an even 20 scholarship members in Wisconsin’s 2018 recruiting class.

After signing 19 players during the early signing period in late December, the Badgers added one more on the traditional National Signing Day on Wednesday, grabbing a commitment from 3-star safety Rachad Wildgoose Jr.

First committed to Rutgers and then Georgia, the 5-foot-11, 190-pound Wildgoose chose Wisconsin over offers from Central Florida, Pittsburgh and N.C. State among others.

Rated the No. 65 safety in the country by the 247Sports composite, Wildgoose is the lone Florida product in the class and just the second safety. His signing means the Badgers will have at least one player from the state of Florida in their class for a 14th straight year.

Wisconsin’s class is ranked No. 40 in the country and No. 9 in the Big Ten by 247Sports.

Our special December signing day edition of our Badgers football podcast, “The Camp,” can be heard here.

Twitter reacts to Wisconsin’s impact on the Super Bowl

The Philadelphia Eagles won Super Bowl LII by beating the New England Patriots 41-33 on Sunday night. But the Wisconsin football program was also a big winner thanks to the performances of several former players.

A year after scoring three touchdowns in a Super Bowl win over the Atlanta Falcons, running back James White was back in the end zone for the Patriots. He led New England with 46 yards on the ground, including an impressive 26-yard touchdown in the second quarter. It was his eighth playoff touchdown in eight playoff games.

But he was overshadowed by a guy he shared a backfield with at Wisconsin — Eagles running back Corey Clement. The undrafted rookie free agent had four catches for 100 yards and a touchdown. It meant him and White make up two of the three running backs in Super Bowl history to have at least 100 yards receiving.

As you can imagine, the success of the two Wisconsin backs didn’t go unnoticed on social media. Here’s a sampling of what was being said.

Rehab continues for former Wisconsin LB Jack Cichy as he sets his sights on a new goal

When Jack Cichy was in high school, he had just one major goal when it came to the game of football, and it wasn’t playing in the NFL.

“I wanted to walk-on and play big-time college football,” Cichy said Friday when he joined “The Joe and Ebo Show” on the Wisconsin Sports Zone Network. “When you’re in a position like I was, the NFL really isn’t in your mindset. I wasn’t even thinking that far ahead.”

The thought of playing in the NFL is no longer considered too far ahead. It’s actually the former Wisconsin linebacker’s only focus. Well, that and rehabbing from the torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee that cost him his senior season. But the two are very much intertwined and have been almost since the day Cichy let out a scream that reverberated throughout a mostly empty Camp Randall Stadium last August as he crumpled to the ground holding his knee. It was in that moment, and in the following days, that he started to realize he’d played his last game for the Badgers.

Former Wisconsin linebacker Jack Cichy joins “The Joe & Ebo Show”

The feeling wasn’t unfamiliar as a torn pectoral muscle had brought his junior season to end after just seven games the previous October. That was excruciating for Cichy, who might have been playing the best of anyone on the Badgers’ defense at the time. So good, in fact, that he said if he had played the entire year, he might have considered leaving early for the NFL.

But the devastating injury last fall had a feeling of finality to it. A fifth-year senior, Cichy could have applied for another year of eligibility, though the chances of the NCAA actually granting it were slim. Instead, he turned his attention to something that seemed unfathomable when he arrived in Madison four and a half years earlier as a nondescript walk-on from Somerset, Wis., — playing in the NFL.

“My thought process [was], I need all my eggs in one basket, and I can’t have that if I’m stuck waiting for that decision,” Cichy said of a potential appeal to the NCAA. “At that point in my life, with the rollercoaster of emotions I’d gone through and was going through, I needed something concrete. I chose what I thought was the most concrete route.”

After a season of essentially rehabbing and serving as an extra defensive coach for the Badgers as they repeated as Big Ten West champions and won the Orange Bowl, that route has brought Cichy to Arizona and the EXOS training facility. It’s where NFL hopefuls like Cichy go to get themselves in the best shape for the annual NFL combine held in late February and early March.

Cichy got a coveted invite to the combine based largely on his outstanding production late in the 2015 season and what he put on tape early in 2016. He started just 11 games during that stretch but was off the charts productive, averaging 8.5 tackles per game, while racking up 14 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks and a pair of forced fumbles. It’s even more impressive when you consider he missed large stretches in three of those games thanks to being ejected from one, forced to miss the first half of another and getting injured in a third.

Those glimpses of excellent play has teams intrigued and they want to see more. But unlike his roommate and Wisconsin teammate Troy Fumagalli, who is also at EXOS and working on his 40-yard dash, vertical leap and every other on-field test NFL personnel will put players through at the combine, Cichy is still very much in rehab mode.

“At the combine, I’ll be able to bench and I’ll be able to go through all the medical evals,” said Cichy, who is right around six months clear from surgery. “I’ll keep working towards coming back fully and not rushing it.”

The 6-foot-2, 234-pound Cichy admits he’s not quite sure how the next few months will play out. That’s a change from his time at Wisconsin, where the calendar was structured and he always knew what was coming next. The hope, at least in his mind, is he’ll be able to show how far along he is in his rehab at Wisconsin’s pro day in March and in any private workouts with individual teams in the weeks that follow.

“As we get closer to the draft, hopefully my recovery process [remains] on schedule … and there are no hiccups along the way,” Cichy said. “And [then] come the end of April, [I] hear my name called in some way, shape or form. Be able to have another chance to earn a spot.”

Packers: Aaron Rodgers calls loss of QB coach ‘interesting decision’

Aaron Rodgers doesn’t sound overly enthused with at least one of the changes the Green Bay Packers made to their coaching staff.

Speaking on Golic and Wingo on ESPN Thursday morning on radio row at the Super Bowl, the quarterback called some of the decisions weird. When asked directly about which moves he found curious, Rodgers pointed toward the loss of quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt.

“My quarterback coach didn’t get retained,” Rodgers said. “I thought that was an interesting change [that was made] really without consulting me. There’s a close connection between quarterback and quarterback coach. And that was an interesting decision.”

Rodgers saying Van Pelt wasn’t retained is not exactly accurate, as his contract was up. Van Pelt didn’t sign an extension prior to the 2017 season, because he wanted the opportunity to interview with other teams about potential offensive coordinator positions. Had he been under contract, Packers coach Mike McCarthy could have denied him permission, something he had done with assistants in the past.

On Jan. 10, news broke that Green Bay had hired Frank Cignetti as its quarterback coach. Two days later, Van Pelt agreed to join the Cincinnati Bengals as their quarterbacks coach.

What the future holds: Outside linebacker

With the 2017 season in the books, it’s time to look ahead to 2018 for Wisconsin. Over the next few weeks we’ll be going position-by-position to see what the future holds for the Badgers.

For the purposes of this article, we’ll refer to each player in terms of their class for 2018. If someone was a sophomore in 2017, they will be called a junior here.

Outside linebackers:

Returning: Andrew Van Ginkel (SR), Zack Baun (JR), Tyler Johnson (JR), Christian Bell (RS SO), Noah Burks (RS SO), Izayah Green-May (RS FR)

Leaving: Garret Dooley, Leon Jacobs

Arriving: C.J. Goetz (3-star), Mason Platter (3-star)

Season grades

Biggest question: Who’s next? 

For the second straight year, Wisconsin needs to replace two players likely headed to NFL careers in Garret Dooley and Leon Jacobs. In total, the Badgers should have five former outside linebackers on league rosters this fall, as that duo joins Cleveland’s Joe Schobert, Pittsburgh’s T.J. Watt and Green Bay’s Vince Biegel.

“You’re losing some extremely valuable pieces to this defense,” defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard said of Dooley and Jacobs prior to the Orange Bowl in December. “You look at the guys we’ve lost at that position the last couple years, and to me, [the losses are] just as crucial this year.”

Finding suitable replacements will be a daunting task for whoever takes over coaching the outside linebackers in place of Tim Tibesar, who is now running Oregon State’s defense. But that person will have options.

What we know for sure is that Andrew Van Ginkel is the real deal. A rare junior college transfer for Wisconsin, the senior was a big-play machine down the stretch in 2017. He helped keep the Badgers in the Big Ten title game against Ohio State with his interception return for a touchdown and sparked Wisconsin in the Orange Bowl with another interception.

“Obviously, we feel very good with Andrew Van Ginkel,” Leonhard said. “He’s been a big time playmaker for us. He really brings something different to the table than those other guys.”

Who starts opposite Van Ginkel will be one of the key storylines to watch during spring practice and in fall camp. Among the candidates is Zack Baun. A member of the rotation in 2016, Baun suffered a season-ending injury last August.

“He would have been a contributor,” Leonhard said of Baun, who played quarterback in high school. “He flashes. He’s very athletic.

“Very similar to (inside linebacker) T.J. Edwards where experience on the defensive side of the ball was rather low, so he was learning a lot early on. You expected him to take a big jump, and all of a sudden he obviously hits a roadblock [with the injury].”

Another option will be walk-on Tyler Johnson. He essentially served as the fourth outside linebacker in 2017, managing a pair of tackles for loss, a sack and two forced fumbles.

“All he does when you put him on the field is make plays,” Leonhard said of Johnson.

Beyond that, redshirt sophomores Christian Bell and Noah Burks, along with redshirt freshman Izayah Green-May, will compete for snaps. Incoming recruits C.J. Goetz and Mason Platter will join them in the fall.

“Some of those young outside linebackers, it’s going to be their time,” Leonhard said. “They’ve got to have a big offseason in the weight room. They’ve got to have a big offseason just learning football and being more confident.”

Predicted depth chart:

1st-team OLB: Andrew Van Ginkel (SR), Zack Baun (JR)
2nd-team OLB: Tyler Johnson (JR), Christian Bell (RS SO)

What the future holds:
Quarterback
Running back
Wide receiver
Tight end
Offensive line
Defensive line
Inside linebackers

Nebraska 74, Wisconsin 63: Last word

MADISON — Wisconsin blew an 11-point second-half lead and fell 73-64 to Nebraska on Monday night at the Kohl Center.

Player of the Game: James Palmer Jr.

Palmer scored a game-high 28 points, including 10 in a 5-minute, 10-second stretch where Nebraska went from down 11 points to up two. Wisconsin contained him from beyond the arc (1 of 8), but he was near perfect at the free throw (11 of 12)

“Palmer, I thought, did what he wanted at certain points,” coach Greg Gard said. “Specifically when they needed it. Either they were drawing a foul from us or he was able to get to the rim. I know at one point in time he went right to the rim without any resistance.”

The good: Ethan Happ’s first half

Wisconsin’s big man scored 18 points in the first half and was extremely aggressive in doing so. Nebraska brought double teams on a regular basis and he largely ate them up in the first 20 minutes, dishing out three assists, including on a pair of 3-pointers. He added four rebounds and three blocks to close out what was a very good all around half.

The not so good: That last 10 minutes

The Badgers led 55-44 with 9:59 left following a ferocious dunk from Khalil Iverson, but the Cornhuskers would outscore them 30-8 the rest of the way in what turned into Wisconsin’s first home loss since Dec. 9.

What changed? Well, Nebraska coach Tim Miles said they spread things out and tried to get his guys to play off of each other as their normal sets weren’t working. It resulted in a lot of drives to the basket and the Badgers didn’t hold up.

On the other end, due to foul trouble, the Huskers went to a 1-3-1 zone that clearly disrupted Wisconsin offensively. Happ’s last field goal came at the 14:22 mark and the only Badgers player to score from the field in the final 9:59 was Iverson.

“Defensively, I thought we kind of left off the gas a little bit,” Happ said. “We played pretty well defensively for 30-ish minutes. As I said, we’ve just got to execute all 40.

“Offensively, once they went zone, it [created] some trouble for us. It’s not like we haven’t seen zone before.

“We just got to be better.”

Stat of the game: 16 of 31 from the free throw line

Few things are more irritating for fans than missed free throws, and Wisconsin had plenty of them on Monday. Ranked 189th in the country coming into the game at 70.8 percent, the Badgers made just 51.6 percent against the Huskers. That included a rough 8 of 19 effort from Happ.

What they said:

“From my standpoint, understanding that the ball will go in at times, and there’s times it’s not going to, but defensively, for us to be so good and then to have that impact us, have our offense — or lack thereof — impact how we were tuned in defensively, was disappointing.”

Coach Greg Gard on the final 10 minutes of the game

In Case You Missed It:

— Happ and senior Aaron Moesch each hit the first 3-pointers of their careers.

— Moesch played 17 minutes, tied for the second-most he’s seen this year. It was mainly in place of redshirt freshman Aleem Ford. Gard said he felt Moesch was a better matchup defensively against the Huskers.

— Wisconsin led for 31 minutes and 36 seconds of Monday’s game. It’s the longest the Badgers have led in a game this year that they didn’t win.

— Guard Brad Davison scored just five points, the fourth time in the last five games that the freshman has been held in the single digits. P

— Several members of Wisconsin’s Orange Bowl winning football team were introduced during a timeout. It included quarterback Alex Hornibrook, who earned the loudest ovation.

What’s Next

Wisconsin (10-13, 3-7) hosts Northwestern (13-10, 4-6) on Thursday night in Madison.