Preview: Wisconsin spring football – Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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What: Wisconsin’s 2016 spring football practice.

When: The first of 15 practices is set for Saturday. The annual spring game is set for noon April 23.


REPLACING STAVE: Coach Paul Chryst will have just two healthy scholarship quarterbacks — Bart Houston, who played in seven games last season, and Alex Hornibrook, who will be a redshirt freshman in the fall. Freshman Kare’ Lyles graduated early from high school and is enrolled at UW but will be held out of spring because of a hip injury.

Chryst and offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph will use the 15 practices to test the limits of the trio. Lyles is gifted but it is unlikely a freshman will be able to come in and win the starting job.

The battle to replace Joel Stave should come down to Houston and Hornibrook.

Houston’s most extensive action last year came at Illinois after Stave suffered a concussion. Houston completed 22 of 33 passes for 232 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

Hornibrook, who graduated early from high school and participated in 2015 spring practice, impressed the staff with his throwing ability, poise and decision-making. He is a threat to win the starting job in camp in August.

“I really do like the three that we have,” Chryst said. “I’m excited to work with them….Bart has played a lot of football, been around the program. I liked (what) he did when he came in against Illinois and I liked his growth this year and I’m excited about Alex and how he took advantage of this past year. I think he’s got a chance to be a really good football player.”

SAFETY NET: Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox and secondary coach Jim Leonhard, both in their first season on the UW staff, must replace both starting safeties (Michael Caputo and Tanner McEvoy) and cornerback Darius Hillary.

Spring will offer plenty of time to experiment because the task won’t be easy.

Caputo was the brains of the secondary. He finished fourth on the team in tackles (65) and led the team in passes broke up (eight).

McEvoy’s range in the back end gave then-defensive coordinator Dave Aranda the ability to use Caputo near the line of scrimmage and use his cornerbacks in tight coverage. McEvoy intercepted six passes, the No. 1 mark on the team, and became a willing tackler.

Hillary developed into a solid overall player who generally was assigned to shadow the opponent’s best receiver. More often than not he handled that assignment with aplomb and also developed into a solid tackler.

Reserves Derrick Tindal and Natrell Jamerson likely will battle to fill Hillary’s slot. Both Tindal and Jamerson served as the team’s No. 3 cornerback last season so they have a decent amount of experience.

The candidates at safety are more plentiful but greater question marks.

D’Cota Dixon, Leo Musso, Joe Ferguson and Arrington Farrar all got some playing time last season. Wilcox and Leonhard likely will eventually find the starting pair from that group, but it will take time to groom two new starting safeties and one starting cornerback.

CROWDED BACKFIELD: Limited to four games because of a sports hernia and a one-game suspension last season, Corey Clement should be ready for full-time work this spring.

Running backs coach John Settle believes Dare Ogunbowale, who blossomed with Clement hurt last season, is good enough to start. At a minimum, Ogunbowale should be a solid No. 2 back and a third-down threat because of his pass-catching skills.

Taiwan Deal showed promise as a freshman (4.3-yard average and six touchdowns) but battled ankle injuries. He needs to stay healthy this spring because he is still young and needs all the work he can handle.

Bradrick Shaw, who redshirted because he needed a year to learn the offense, is worth watching. According to Settle, he progressed while working on the scout team and showed some of the play-making ability that made him a touted recruit.

Alec Ingold, who shifted to tailback from linebacker last season because of the injuries to Clement and Deal, moves to fullback in the spring.

Former linebacker Leon Jacobs, limited to four games last season because of a toe injury that eventually required surgery, will get a look at tailback this spring.

UW has enough bodies at linebacker and Jacobs played tailback his senior season in high school and rushed for 847 yards and six touchdowns.

IN GOOD HANDS? Alex Erickson, who led UW in catches (77) and receiving yards (978) will have to be replaced.

Look for Robert Wheelwright and Jazz Peavy, who last season began making plays with more frequency, to lead the unit.

The key for receivers coach Ted Gilmore is to develop depth. Can he coax improvement from players such as Reggie Love, George Rushing and Krenwick Sanders?

IN SEARCH OF NO. 3: Chryst and Rudolph enjoy using multiple tight ends to create schematic mismatches.

They’ll have to develop depth in the spring to ensure that weapon will be available in the fall because with Austin Traylor gone the only experienced tight ends are Troy Fumagalli (28 catches, 313 yards last season) and Eric Steffes (three catches, 50 yards). Steffes is a better blocker than receiver and he battled injuries throughout last season.

Kyle Penniston and David Edwards, who redshirted last season, should get plenty of work throughout the spring.

Jeff Potrykus