After missing out on the Big Ten Championship Game last year, the Wisconsin Badgers are gearing up for a possible return to the top of the Big Ten West. In a fairly competitive division, Wisconsin looks to have everything in place to make a run if things go according to plan. Last year, they did not. But spring brings a sense of renewal and optimism for all around Madison, and Wisconsin's spring football practices will help put them on track for a big season.
Wisconsin was among the many schools that had no spring football practices a year ago. And they also got a late start after the Big Ten delayed its season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Wisconsin will make up for lost time with a number of things to watch as spring football practices are underway.
5 Storylines to Watch During Wisconsin's Spring Practices
1. Returning to the running game
For the first time since 2015, Wisconsin failed to have one of the top three running games in the Big Ten during the 2020 season. A drop-off was expected without Johnathan Taylor, but the Badgers would love to get going on the ground once again. Jalen Berger should be expected to take a step up in 2021 after narrowly leading the Badgers in rushing yards last season. But the bigger concern for Wisconsin may be the lack of depth at the position. Will anyone prove worthy of being a part of the ground attack to compliment the production of Berger?
2. Sustaining efficiency through the air
Graham Mertz had a brilliant debut for the Badgers in the 2020 season opener when he completed 95.2 percent of his passes with five touchdowns against Illinois. But the brilliant effectiveness of the passing game was quickly dismantled by the opposition and proved there is still some work to be done for Mertz and company. Getting wide receivers Danny Davis III and Kendric Pryor back from injury-plagued 2020 campaigns should help. Expect Mertz to find ways to improve his consistency this spring, so that the Badgers will have a multi-dimensional offense ready to challenge in the Big Ten in the fall.
3. If it's Wisconsin, we're talking offensive line
Perhaps some of the reasons for the struggles of the Badgers last year can be chalked up to last year being a relatively mediocre year for the offensive line. There are experienced pieces to work with, and there are some big names on the way later on. For now, getting Logan Brown more acclimated to a starting role is key. But there are some position battles across the line of scrimmage that should heat up for a program that prides itself on its offensive line play.
4. Linebacker stability is reassuring
Wisconsin has a number of positions to focus a bit on this spring, but linebacker is not among them. Jack Sanborn returns after a solid 2020 campaign to lock down the middle of the defense, but outside linebackers could be fun to watch. This is where the best defensive battles may be had this spring, but Wisconsin will have confidence in whoever fills those spots in the fall.
5. Preparing for high expectations
Wisconsin just turned in one of its best recruiting classes in recent memory, and the bar is being set high for the fall. Head coach Paul Chryst has just the right temperament to stay focused on what is in front of him though, and he will not allow this team to get too carried away with what others outside the program are saying. But if the goal is to beat Ohio State and win the Big Ten, the work begins now. Chryst has a game plan and it will be effective.
(Top photo by Darren Lee/Wisconsin Athletics, courtesy of uwbadgers.com)