A little over two months from now, the Wisconsin Badgers will hopefully be kicking off the season at Camp Randall vs Indiana. With no spring practice, Paul Chryst will rely heavily on his ensemble of veterans to lead the team. However, that’s not to say there won’t be new faces emerging this season. While the defense returns all but two starters, the offense loses it’s three best players. Replacing most notably Jonathan Taylor and Quintez Cephus will be at the forefront of coach Chryst’s mind.
Obviously, that’s a tall ask of anyone. The production of both players will likely not be replicated. However, who will take their spots? Will an individual player emerge? Or will it be a collection of guys. While there are some indicators of who may step up, nothing is certain.
Defensively, new leaders will have to step up. Who’s the new edge presence? Does the secondary have an alpha dog to lead an experienced group?
The remainder of this article will take a look at which key players are ready for an elevated role, and what new faces may come onto the scene right away. Recently, we took a look at some other returning players that may factor in to Wisconsin’s season as well. You can find that article here.
Second on the team in catches and yards, the rising junior is set up for a big season in Madison. With the aforementioned Cephus departing, Coan will look to Ferguson as his safety blanket often. Wisconsin has had a great tradition this century of NFL Caliber tight ends, and Ferguson no doubt will join that group. He won’t be alone in working to maintain a strong passing game, but he will be at the center of the play action passing game.
After a flurry of early departures, it was a huge lift for this iteration of the Badgers when Van Lanen announced his return. Coming into his senior season, the left tackle has seen action in 40 games, and was recently announced as a Walter Camp pre-season All American. He will be the unquestioned leader of the offensive line, and will anchor the group. With a strong season, Van Lanen could see him go in the first round come next years NFL Draft.
Pearson, who served as the strong safety for defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard, will be entering his redshirt sophomore season. The hard hitting safety is 2nd on the team in tackles for returnees, and brings a layer of swagger to the team that is necessary for any good defense. With Pearson and Burrell anchoring an already strong defensive backfield, this group should be the strength of the Badger defense.
Benton, the rising sophomore, appeared in all but one game as a nose tackle up front. To begin, his best two games came against Ohio State. Big time players show up in big time games. In the Wisconsin defense, the nose tackle position is of extreme importance. They might not garner all the stats, but they must be a disruptive force. Benton certainly fits that description and has the physical traits to wreck opposing offense’s run games from the start.
New Impact Players
The four star running back comes into Madison with lofty expectations to say the least. Berger chose the Badgers over essentially every top school in the country. He continues a lineage of Badger running backs hailing from the Garden State, following Taylor and Corey Clement. Though Nakia Watson has the first crack, Berger will certainly have an opportunity to make his mark offensively. He’ll have to put on some more weight to withstand a grueling Big Ten season, but you can expect to see him early and often on the field in Madison.
The redshirt freshman’s lone start of the season last year came in none other than the most pivotal game of the regular season, at Minnesota. Melvin had quite the audacious start, being beat badly and giving up a touchdown on his very first play. However, he rebounded tremendously and played big in the Badgers beat down of the Gophers. Defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard is known for getting the best of his defensive backs, and it looks like he may have a gem in Melvin. He’ll have to work his way into a crowded group, but if the end of the season is any indication, he will play a factor on defense in 2020 and beyond.
This is a shot in the dark. Abbott saw no time on offense last season in a talented wide receiver group. With that being said, gone are the likes of three of the top five wide receivers. However, only Danny Davis III and Kendric Pryor returning with legitimate play making experience. Someone new will have to step up. Abbott can be that guy if given the chance. He has the height to make plays on the outside similar to that of a Cephus or former Badger wide out Nick Toon. If not him, look for the Badgers to keep searching through their young stable of newly recruited wide receivers.