The University of Wisconsin football team has two weeks left until the spring game and is coming off a major scrimmage on Saturday of more than 120 snaps. Here are some thoughts on the offensive side of the ball. I'll have more on the defense later.
Quarterback battle: It's going to take a rapid recovery from junior quarterback Curt Phillips from a second ACL surgery for anybody to put any pressure on sophomore Jon Budmayr. Joe Brennan seems to have hit a wall, which is not uncommon for redshirt freshman quarterbacks during spring practices. With everything he has had to process in the last year, he seems to be grinding a bit.
Budmayr's mobility will definitely be a plus during the season and he'll need it. At a shade less than 6 feet, the coaches will have to do things to get him out of the pocket and see downfield. Getting balls batted down at the line of scrimmage remains an issue.
Phillips seems to be throwing better than he did earlier in his career, but he only participates in pass-skeleton drills with no rush. He had his second surgery to his right knee on Nov. 19. He said this one was more extensive than the first and involved a longer rehabilitation. While he continues to amaze coaches with his recovery, he will be less than nine months removed from surgery when camp opens.
Tailback depth: Any team that has senior Zach Brown as its third tailback is in pretty good shape.
Junior Montee Ball and sophomore James White both look good. The only job left for them this spring is to stay healthy.
Redshirt freshman speedster Jeff Lewis has shown promise. With Ball dropping weight and looking quicker, this will be the first time in my 13 years covering the team, the Badgers will have three breakaway threats in the backfield.
Brown looks like a good option as the team's power back, to be used either in short-yardage situations or to wear down opposing defenses. And if injuries hit the position and the Badgers need more from Brown to get through a game or two, they will be happy he redshirted last season and stuck around for another year.
Right tackle open: Right tackle might be the only remaining open position on offense and it will probably stay that way into camp. Rob Havenstein, a 350-pound redshirt freshman, is intriguing, given his size. Sophomore Casey Dehn started one game last season due to injuries and is another option.
The coaches seem to be holding out hope that senior Josh Oglesby, who is also returning from ACL surgery, will get back in time to make it a three-way fight in camp.
Offensive line depth: UW coach Bret Bielema praised sophomore Ryan Groy, who filled in last week for starting center Peter Konz, who will miss the rest of the spring with a high ankle sprain.
Groy is still getting comfortable at the new position and has occasional problems with snaps -- including a high shotgun snap that was fumbled by Budmayr in the scrimmage -- but should provide depth at both center and guard.
Junior Ricky Wagner has done a good job moving from right tackle to left tackle and sophomore Travis Frederick is solid at left guard. But the Badgers need some young players to come along, like sophomore Zac Matthias and redshirt freshman Dallas Lewallen, to provide depth at guard.
Finding a backup left tackle could also be an issue. Walk-on Robert Burge currently works at that spot and whoever loses out on the right tackle spot is also an option.
Catching a break: Where would the Badgers be without sophomore walk-on Jared Abbrederis at wide receiver? The coaches wouldn't even want to consider that question.
Abbrederis had to fight to get a preferred walk-on spot coming out of Wautoma in 2009. He started making a name for himself during spring practices a year ago and now, with senior Nick Toon sidelined for the spring with a broken foot, Abbrederis is clearly the top receiver among the players who are practicing.
The offense did little at the start of the scrimmage on Saturday, other than a couple big plays by Abbrederis.
On a third-and-10, Abbrederis was blanketed by cornerback Devin Smith on a deep sideline route. Budmayr threw the ball anyway and Abbrederis somehow came down with it for a 50-yard completion.
Later, Budmayr found Abbrederis for a 12-yard completion on third-and-8 during a third-down drill. That was one of only two conversions during six third-down plays during that session by the first offense.
The Badgers should be fine at receiver with Toon and Abbrederis, provided they don't get hit with injuries. Expect even more two-tight-end formations, unless a third receiver finally emerges. Sophomore Jeff Duckworth currently is next in line, but keep an eye on redshirt freshman Isaiah Williams, once he gets more comfortable in the offense.
Replacing Lance Kendricks: Minor injuries have been an issue at tight end. The coaches keep waiting for sophomore Brian Wozniak to take advantage of his opportunities, but he keeps getting injured. He was supposed to be out at least four weeks with a medial collateral ligament injury to one knee. But he returned to do some individual drills on Saturday.
Tight end Sherard Cadogan has been playing with an ankle injury and senior Jake Byrne was still feeling the effects of a hit on his side last week, according to Bielema.
While it's clear Budmayr and Abbrederis have a strong connection, it looks like sophomore tight end Jacob Pedersen could also catch a lot of balls this season. He has probably been Budmayr's second-favorite target.
Sophomore Manasseh Garner is a good athlete and will also be a factor but he's still learning the position after splitting time last year between wide receiver and defensive end.
Fullback find: With senior Bradie Ewing limited last week due to a shoulder injury, redshirt freshman walk-on Jason Hengel, from La Crosse Central, showed he could be a capable backup. Hengel is listed at 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, but looks even bigger.
The Badgers are expecting big things out of Ewing, but finding a competent backup will also be important.