Sure, the pick was bad. Really bad. The throw was late, but the pass was never open and Brown -- presumably the earlier read -- was, right over the middle for an easy 5-7 yards. Ok, so bad, bad throw. But outside of that throw, he was solid and had one or two throws that no one else on the team can make, and it's not close. Not right now. So Sherer, please.
Could Phillips challenge in the fall? Yes, but I wouldn't count on it. Could Chyrst install something to try to make Phillips Tim Tebow, circa 2006? Sure. Maybe that's even likely (except the Tim Tebow part). I think the more interesting quarterback battle will be next Spring when it's Budmayr and Phillips. I think this statement Potrykus wrote pretty much sums up this fall: "If [Phillips] makes similar progress in the summer it is conceivable he could push Sherer in camp." If, conceivable, could . . . Phillips is your starter.
Ok, so on to a few other things I noted:
(1) Turner at fullback. I'm not excited about it. I'd rather see two tight ends and two wide receivers. But I'm not in charge and Chryst knows a lot more about this stuff than I do.
(2) Where was Isaac Anderson? He emerged towards the end of last season, but we didn't see much from him on Saturday. Is Jefferson really ahead of him on the depth chart? I didn't think so, but after the game, maybe. Gilreath appears no higher than third on the depth chart. I think that's a good call.
(3) Still pretty confident we'll see Clay starting, but Brown with about 40% of the snaps.
(4) I'm scared stiff of injuries to the offensive line. There is no quality depth. As with Phillips, nothing against the freshman on the depth chart, it's just not a position freshman should have to play.
(5) Linebacker isn't looking good. There's no depth, and Sorenson didn't look like he was playing at full speed.
(6) Glad not to see any fumbles.
(7) Penalties weren't bad, but the holding needs to go.
Two keys that the Badgers were bad at last year, Bielema has identified as major areas of concern, and they need to be better at this coming season:
(1) penalties: the offense, particularly, has to stop hurting itself with penalties. Unfortunately, the news out of practice hasn't been great. What better place to see if there's been any improvement than a scrimmage?
(2) ball security: the receivers need to make their catches and the running backs and quarterback need to hang onto the ball. The quarterbacking wasn't great last year, but the receivers hurt the guy under center far too often. And fumbles? The main difference in the bowl game and hurt us all year. They need to stop. The quarterback needs to feel the rush better and the running backs need to cover up as they approach contact.
This is it, folks: the last big football event until the fall . . .
Thinking about all those guys who are stars in Madison, few make NFL rosters, fewer start, and the number of stars in "the League?" Minimal.
I've played a lot of sports [badly] over the years. I've played basketball with Division 1 scholarship players who are head and shoulders above anyone else I've seen. Nowhere close to NBA talent. The pitcher with the 88-mph cannon for an arm? 3-4 mph too slow. The best kid on my little league baseball team, the best my old coach said he's ever had in now 30 years, made it up to triple A and plataued. That's pretty darned good. But it's not the show. Of all the people I ever played with and against, there's been one legit pro athlete. He is a hockey player who projected as a journeyman in the NHL. Decided he'd do better if he finished school. He was right (he did better). I played with him many years after he'd abandoned serious hockey. Now approaching 50, he's still leaps and bounds better than anyone I've ever seen skate with or against him.
Anyway, I think the lesson here is stay in school and take it seriously. Even the freaks only make a living at it for a few years.
In yesterday's practice report, two items that warmed my heart. The offensive play of the day?
Zach Brown took the handoff on the counter play, following
guard Jake Bscherer and Kendricks. Bscherer wiped out one defender and both
Kendricks and Brown ran downfield untouched for about 25 yards.
Effectively playing with three tackles (Bscherer at guard) could have its advantages . . .
And spotlighting the tight ends:
Whoever ends up being the quarterback will be able to take solace in the fact
that they will be throwing to a very talented group of tight ends. As a group
they haven’t gotten a whole lot of pub this spring. Part of the reason for that
is the headliner in the group, senior Garrett Graham, is an unassuming star.
However, it doesn’t seem like offensive coordinator Paul Chryst will be taking
them for granted.
It seems as though every practice each of UW’s four tight ends come up with multiple catches. There were two that stood out today. One by Lance Kendricks, who absorbed a hit from Niles Brinkley to come up with a reception for about a 20-yard gain. Graham also picked up about 20 yards by jumping in front of safety Aubrey Pleasant, making the catch and coming down with Pleasant on his back.
The biggest item from Bielema's post-practice interview with the media:
If the season started tomorrow, Sherer would start. He's considering packages to get Phillips in the game to take advantage of his running ability, but folks, the smart money is on Sherer.
A couple of days ago, Bielema said the defense is going back to a Strong Safety, Free Safety model rather than the right side/left side idea. No word on the linebackers, but given the personnel at safety, this seems like a good idea (Valai doesn't play much like a free safety).
I think Dustin (Sherer) is probably playing as well as he’s ever played since he’s been here at Wisconsin. All the other guys too, Curt Phillips, Scott Tolzien and Jon Budmayr, have all made progress and they have a better understanding and feel for what they’re doing when they’re under center.-- Bret Bielema, April 9, 2009.
No offense to Jones, Spitz, and Ewing, but based on the talent we have, I think you're looking at fewer downs with a fullback in the backfield. I think the sets we'll see the most from Chryst will be two tight ends, two wide receivers, or three wide receivers, 1 tight end, only one tailback. See 2005 (3/1 sets) and 2006 (no healthy fullbacks, lots of 2/2 sets). I'm also thinking that we'll see a Moss/Fletcher circa '93 type split of backfield duties. Brown is the better all-around back, but Clay just brings too much to the table for him not to get the majority of the carries. It's not going to be a feature back system, though. I think we'll see about a 60/40 Clay to Brown split in snaps.
From what we're hearing Toon must be locking down a starting spot on the outside. Maybe the bigger question is who is the #1 receiver, Anderson or Gilreath. I'm sticking with Anderson, and keeping Gilreath as #3, which means lots of playing time. You have to like the flexibility you get with Graham and Kendricks (or Turner) in there. Two tight ends with traditional size and blocking ability, plus Toon's size for downfield blocking. Clay and Brown should love the opportunities they get on the ground. And with Brown in there, you're looking at a formation (the 2/2) that could run a power dive, or send 5 solid receivers into pass patterns. That can happen with both tight ends in, or Chryst can send Kendricks wide, as he has before, effectively giving the Badgers a 3/1 set with 2/2 personnel. Chryst obviously knows way more about all of this than I ever will, but I'm salivating at the possibilities.
P.S. Konz practicing with the 1st team looks more and more like a ploy to get Oglesby practicing harder. Oglesby is your starting right tackle.And then there's the quarterback issue. So anyway, here's how I see the starting lineup, depending on whether we're 3/1 or 2/2 WRs to TEs:
Penn State (Black Shoe Diaries): Defense looking nasty (shocking, right?); concern about the wide receivers and the backup quarterback. http://www.blackshoediaries.com/2009/4/5/823475/nitt-picks-is-running-like-hell
Ohio State (Buckeye Commentary and Our Honor Defend): Defense lacking stars, but under Tressel will be solid; Pryor needs to develop his passing game, needs the line to provide extra protection. http://buckeyecommentary.com/; http://www.ourhonordefend.com/2009/04/observations-from-sundays-practice.php
Iowa (Black Heart, Gold Pants): Ferentz's kid got arrested for drinking. Is there anything else?[Ed. note: Whatever, I'm sure they'll be no worse than 10-2, right?]
Northwestern (Lake the Posts): Kafka looks good at QB. Who will surround him is an open question. http://www.laketheposts.com/2009/04/eyes-wide-open.html
Illinois (Hail to the Orange): with Juice back for his hudredth year, Benn and some other speedy guys, let's throw deep. Every down. Nothing on the defense, which may be appropriate. http://www.hailtotheorange.com/2009/3/30/814407/run-fast-catch-ball-win-il
Indiana (Crimson Quarry): This is a basketball school; someone else can talk about football (like our friends at Rivals, Esq). http://www.crimsonquarry.com/2009/3/30/815836/2009-indiana-football-spri
Minnesota (GoperHole): New coaches (Bad-ger Re-jects clap, clap, clap clap clap -- insert smiley here), new system; defense is in good shape if they can get a pass-rusher to replace VandeSteeg, wondering who will step up to help out Decker on the offense. http://www.gopherhole.com/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=973
Purdue (Boiled Sports, Hammer & Rails): quarterback dismissed for cheating, and PS we're a basketball school, too . . . at least for now. http://www.boiledsports.com/2009/04/justin-siller-we-hardly-knew-ye.html, http://www.hammerandrails.com/
Heck, while I'm at it, our other 2009 opponents:
Fresno State (Bulldog Bounce): We're a baseball school. But it fully sucks that their defensive coordinator passed away last month, only 50 years old. Also, the offense will look different than it did last year (personnel wise), and they aren't likely to be ranked when we play them. http://www.BulldogBounce.blogspot.com/
Northern Illinois (Red and Black Attack): I'm not sure what it means, but it looks like NIU will be more comfortable running than passing. http://www.redandblackattack.com/
Hawaii (uhfootball): they're fast, which is good because they run and they shoot. And they need to replace some guys on their offense. http://uhfootball.blogspot.com/
Wofford (shocking: I can't find a current blog, but they've had one at wordpress): last year they were a pretty solid FCS team. http://disembedded.wordpress.com/2008/10/12/tiny-wofford-college-smashes-the-university-of-tennessee-chattanooga-56-7/; also this: They have two starting quarterbacks . . . seriously. http://goupstate.us/index.php/2009/03/25/wofford-football-depth-chart-after-sprin?blog=16
At linebacker, Bielema said he plans to move Kevin Rouse to the outside to Prather's spot on the two-deep (behind McFadden), and move Leonard Hubbard, a redshirt freshman, into Rouse's spot at middle linebacker. That means that of the 6 linebackers in the two-deep, only four have played a down at the collegiate level. While the Badgers will have enough bodies with the true freshman coming in, we will be very short on experience.
Likewise, on the defensive line we were already looking at a nearly brand new crew. With Nzegwu' knee injury, Anthony Mains and Tyler Westphal need to step up. While Nzegwu should be back in the fall, the Badgers can't afford to be thin at end. Like the linebacking corps, the incoming freshman will provide the bodies, but not the experience we need.
Here's how I project the two-deep on defense for the Spring (number corresponds to year eligibility, 4 is max; * is a 4-star recruit):
I have said before that Wisconsin's offense (under Chryst) resembles Notre Dame's offense (under Weis), but with key personnel differences. Whereas Notre Dame has top-end quarterback talent, the Badgers have relied on a punishing rushing attack. Or at least so goes the theory. The Blue-Gray Sky, an excellent Notre Dame football blog, just published an expose of at least one of the problems with the Notre Dame offense, here.
You'll note their discussion of the packages Notre Dame runs; they look a lot like the ones we run. The three biggest under Weis have been: (1) 3 WR, 1 TE, 1 RB; (2) 2 WR, 2 TE, 1 RB; and (3) 2 WR, 1 TE, 1 RB, 1 FB. Same as us. Now this is no great revelation; those are your traditional pro sets.
The big problem BGS identifies with Notre Dame's offensive production is predictability. Sound familiar? In their case, losing the ability to field two-tight end sets made them much more predictable. Especially because no one respected their run game. That should sound familiar, too, if an inverse of our problem last year. Injuries limited our ability to field the two-tight end set, no one respected our passing game. As a result we were very predictable. The key isn’t necessarily the two-tight end set; it’s flexibility, but the two-tight end set helps create flexibility.
Oddly, 2005 may have been the panacea for both teams' offenses. The Irish had Quinn going to Stovall and Samardzija, along with Fasano at tight end and Darius Walker as the running back. All of those guys are pro athletes now (Samardzija is a Cub, but the rest are in the League, as are several of their lineman). It was a good year for the Badgers, too, with Stocco, Williams and Orr, Daniels, and Calhoun. A step down in talent at QB and WR, but pretty solid players. And what did both offenses have? Flexibility. Quality receiving threats, including at TE, quality running backs, and quality quarterbacks running the show. Just like Notre Dame, in 2005 we were versatile. Stocco threw the ball 46% of the time on first down.[i] When Stocco was dealing with 9 new starters on the offense, in 2006,[ii] he was down to passing only 40% of the time on first down.
There's another piece, hinted at above: other than the quarterback, who's on the field? From '05 to '06, Stocco lost all of his "skill position" players. Not surprisingly, even with a quality quarterback, Chryst got a little more conservative, and went to the running game a little more often, and in the passing game, it was all tight ends, all the time. Well, almost. Of the 53 passing plays I could identify the receiver, 51% were to tight ends (Beckum and Crooks), 47% to WRs (Hubbard and Swan; only 3 to backs). Contrast that with '05, when Stocco went to his receivers 57% of the time, and his other throws were evenly divided between his backs (mostly Calhoun) and his tight ends (mostly Daniels).
Moving on to 2007, Donovan is under center, and the other skill players are the same: Hubbard, Swan, Beckum, Graham (Crooks was injured most of the season) and Hill. On first down?[iii] Passing 41% of the time; about the same as Stocco with the same lineup. And Donovan's targets overall? 49% tight ends, only 41% to the receivers. The remaining 10% went to backs. Not surprising that Chryst would have a first year starter throwing more to check downs than Stocco, a three-year starter.
And then we get to 2008. Not unlike the Irish in 2008, there was only one thing we could do well: run the ball (ND couldn’t do that; they passed the ball well). Our tight ends were dinged up and our down field threat was, let’s say . . . limited. So, on first down Evridge passes only 25% of the time, and Sherer only passed 23% of the time.[iv] That’s awfully one-dimensional.
Where did the 2008 passing plays go? Evridge threw to his tight ends (54%) and his backs (9%), with just 37% of his throws to wide receivers. Sherer, in contrast, found his receivers (53%) and his tight ends 43%, with only two throws to his backs (4%). For both, a tight end was the leading receiver (Beckum, then Graham, respectively; injuries to both playing a role), but Sherer spread the ball around more to his receivers.[v] Regardless of who was catching the ball, the Badgers relied too much on the run. The lack of flexibility translated to predictability.
Which leads us to Spring 2009. Coming back to the offense may be a better set of weapons than we had in 2005. At tailback we have the punishing Clay (more fleet of foot than Hill, by a fair margin), “all-around” Zach Brown, and either Erik Smith or Montee Ball (when he matriculates in the Fall). The wide receivers are likely led by Isaac Anderson, but Nick Toon has been flashing his skills of late, David Gilreath is a big-play threat, and Kyle Jefferson isn’t far behind Toon. With Garrett Graham back along with Mickey Turner and H-backish Lance Kendricks, we’re well stocked at tight end. That’s a lot of skill on the offense by Badger football standards.
That leaves the same gaping question: the quarterback.
And that leads me back to Sherer vs. Phillips and Budmayr. We need someone who can manage a complex offense. As much as Budmayr may be a future star, a true freshman with one Spring camp under his belt, isn’t likely to do it. Not unless we want a repeat of last year’s single dimensional offense. So, Phillips and Sherer.[vi] It doesn’t come down to who throws the better spiral or who has the bigger cannon for an arm. It’s the guy that can best spread it around. He needs to understand the variety in the offense, and he needs to get the ball there.
As Bielema said the other day, Sherer has a clear advantage in understanding the offense. 2009 will be his 5th season with the Chyrst playbook vs. Phillips’s second (and last season Phillips was mostly running the scout team). That means Phillips has to be that much better than Sherer at getting the ball to his receivers.[vii] Can he be? I’d say it’s a tough hill to climb.
At this point, I’d say the odds should be on Sherer, and the fans should be happy about it. He’s already shown that he’s capable of spreading the ball around. If he can lock down a little more throwing consistency, he could be a solid game manager. And that’s all we really need to return flexibility to the Badger offense.
And two-tight end sets.
[i] Evaluating three competitive games in ’05:
[iv] When not in the 2-minute drill. Evridge is against
[v] Keeping in mind that these statistics are just from two competitive games, it’s tough to extrapolate too much, but in those games Sherer found Graham 14 times,
This isn’t entirely fair to Evridge. With two healthy tight ends, against
[vi] It’s unfair that I’m not including Tolzien, but I have yet to see a report that indicates he’s a serious contender to start.
[vii] Phillips’ running ability is nice, but we have capable backs and we don’t run a spread option.
(1) Sherer is in the lead. He says so specifically. Something I noticed about the quarterback discussion in 2007 and 2008? Bielema and Chryst both gave direct answers that were prescient about who would start. With Donovan, he had an understanding of the playbook and toughness, whereas Evridge needed more consistency. Then with Evridge it was experience, but everyone needed to be more consistent (then experience wasn't getting it done). All of that was absolutely true.
Bielema's doing the same things. (1) Sherer has the "upper hand" and has taken a big step forward this Spring. (2) Notice the paucity of remarks about Phillips. The only thing he says is that the Spring start last year helped him; nothing about what he's doing right. (3) Tolzein does certain things well, but isn't flexible: i.e., doesn't read defenses, breakdowns well. (4) Budmayr? Looks good. Seriously, we aren't starting a true freshman.
Bielema tells us what he's thinking, really. I'll be moderately surprised if Sherer isn't the starter in the fall.
Some other things? He was more positive about Clay than Settle was a week ago. Still, expect Brown to get around 40% of the carries. He's more versatile, and Clay's size won't allow him to take many more than 60% of the carries.
Oglesby vs. Konz? This is the big battle that's suprising folks (Bscherer is firmly planted at guard). A by-line in an article in the Journal Sentinel, and now Bielema's comments to BTN? Ok, maybe. Taking a wild guess, the coaches think Oglesby isn't working hard enough and they're pushing him to work harder. As long as he responds, he's still the right tackle.
There's been a lot of emphasis on the change in the conditioning program. I like big, strong football players. What I'm hoping is that we have a defense that isn't gassed in the second half. That's been a consistent theme over the years under Bielema. It needs to end.
The team is practicing turnovers. That's a good thing. It was a major problem last season, so I'm happy to hear the coaching staff is addressing it.
Finally, no more weakside or strongside linebackers. Like the safeties and also the ends, the defense will be playing left and right, not strong and weak. Apparently this is part of the recognition of how things need to change to defend the spread.
Here's the interview:
In other news, it sounds like we're going to see a lot of JJ Watt on the defensive line over the next few years. He's getting rave review after rave review. Here's UW's introduction to him. I'm a hockey player, myself, so his stock just soared in my book. More important than a sport he gave up when he was 13, let's hope he causes as much havoc in our opponents backfield as he seems to do in our practices.
On the substantive side of things, here's what the UW editors thought to put in Spring Pratice Report #3 about JJ:
Defensive Play of the Day
With the pads finally on, it was a chance for both the offensive and defensive lines to go live and the first chance for observers to catch a glimpse of the new faces on both sides of the ball going at full speed. One of those faces, one that the coaches have talked about a lot, was sophomore J.J. Watt. He wasted little time showing why the coaches are excited about him.
A portion of practice was reserved for “inside drills,” basically offense vs. defense without wide receivers and defensive backs. It consists of both lines, linebackers and running backs and features exclusively running plays. On each of the first two plays, Watt came off his block to make the play either at or behind the line of scrimmage. Then, on the first play of full team drills (11-on-11), Watt again beat his blocker to make the stop on running back John Clay behind the line of scrimmage.
Everyone has been waiting with baited breath to learn more about the quarterback situation, and the answer has leaked out. Curt Phillips is your new starter. But that's not all. One of the last vestiges of the Big Ten's three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust reputation is going by the wayside. After a hush-hush meeting with the coaching staff, we've learned that Paul Chryst is stepping down as offensive coordinator to pursue other options outside of the program. The new offensive coordinator appears to be Nevada's Chris Klenakis, who Bielema is bringing in to institute his version of the spread option, the Pistol offense that Nevada has used to light up the scoreboard for the last few years.
Although there isn't yet an official announcement, it is expected soon. The spread option, especially one that makes use of running back dives the way the Pistol does, looks like a solid move for the Badgers. Phillips came in a touted "athletic" quarterback who can make plays with his legs. Lining up behind him with Clay turns the Pistol into a Colt .45, as it were. Likewise, the spread may make better use of Gilreath's speed and compensate some for his shorter stature, and with high caliber tight ends, Phillips could have some great options to work with. With less experience than year's past on the offensive line, and a little less weight, this appears to be the perfect opportunity to bring in the new system, taking advantage of Moffitt's athleticism at center, and effectively playing with three tackles (Oglesby, Bscherer, and Carimi).
Presumably message boards the Badger nation round will rejoice at the news: a highly touted quarterback recruit running an exciting new offense? The "Colt .45" -- a spread packing a serious kick (Clay and the Big Uglies) -- could give the Badgers the most potent offense Madison has seen since Ron Vanderkellen roamed the backfield with Pat Richter at "split end."
And yes . . . April Fool's.