April 12, 2014
BY MIKE LUCAS
MADISON, Wis. -- Most offensive coordinators are creatures of habit; they will spend most of their working and/or waking hours in their “man cave.” But it’s not a refuge or a sanctuary for leisurely or recreational activities as much as it is a cave, a darkened film room in the football complex.
Wisconsin’s Andy Ludwig is closing in on his second decade as a member of the OC fraternity at the Division I level. Earlier this week, Ludwig was in the bunker, the man cave, the offensive film and meeting room. During the regular season, he will usually script about a dozen plays to open a game.
For Saturday’s scrimmage/game, Ludwig was putting together a list of plays more so than a conventional script that might be designed to probe a defense. A priority was to make sure tailback Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement get their touches in the “first half” even though they won’t be tackled.
“You want to see the players play fast,” Ludwig was saying of his overall goal for the offense. “We want to put a clean product on the field, that’s the biggest thing. Execute the scheme and have some fun doing it. I feel good with the progress we’ve made.
“I’ve always said spring football is about being productive and laying a foundation and the foundation is being built for the summer when the players have to take over the program. So we’ve provided exposure to every scheme we have, and sometimes it has not been real clean.”
In sum, the Badgers have installed a lot of offense, ready or not. “We know that’s the way it was designed,” Ludwig said, “to get them exposed to it, to let them refine it and detail it through the course of the summer. Then when we come back in the fall, it’s practice No. 16, not practice No. 1.”
Saturday’s scrimmage/game will mark the 15th practice of the spring.
It has been choppy, at times, because of accumulated injuries within position groups.
“It’s always a challenge, but that’s spring football,” Ludwig reasoned. “We’re paper-thin at some spots, but you work your way around it. And what it does is provide other players a unique opportunity to either play more or play positions that may not be in their comfort zone.
“That builds versatility and makes us a better football team in the long run,” said Ludwig, turning his focus to the big picture. “We have to get all of our parts in place. We’re counting on some new players to produce and it will be a big summer for those newcomers (incoming freshmen).
“We’re just scratching the surface on where we need to be.”
He could have been talking about the development of 6-foot-6, 223-pound Tanner McEvoy as a quarterback. He was a talking point prior to spring practice when Ludwig had this to say about No. 5, McEvoy, who finished out last season as a starting centerfielder, a free safety on defense.
“He’s a little different now -- a good different -- different than when we had him in the fall camp (after transferring from an Arizona junior college),” Ludwig said. “He’s growing up. He’s used to being at Wisconsin. He’s used to the Badger football way. He’s carrying himself a little different.”
Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen had some early concerns this spring about cornerback Sojourn Shelton, who burst on to the scene as a true freshman and started 11 games.
“Just before spring break, about four or five practices in, I was worried about a sophomore slump there a little bit,” Andersen admitted. “It was kind of the ‘I’ve arrived’ mindset.
“But we talked about it and we did address it and I sure haven’t seen any (further) signs from Sojourn. He battled right through it. Sojourn and Darius (Hillary) have had tremendous springs.
“I feel very good about our three corners.”
Besides Shelton and Hillary, who had 12 starts, Andersen is counting on No. 10 Devin Gaulden to be the third man in -- thus giving the Badgers much more flexibility in the secondary by allowing them to line up with a third corner, not a safety, in their nickel package.
Gaulden, a junior form Miramar, Fla., has overcome numerous injury setbacks as a collegian. When healthy, he played well enough at University High School to attract a scholarship offer from Auburn. In fact, he verbally committed to the Tigers before having a change of heart.
“Devin has had a tremendous spring,” Andersen said.
A number of players are vying to be the No. 4 cornerback, including Dare Ogunbowale, Terrance Floyd and T.J. Reynard. Freshman Derrick Tindal could join the fray in the fall. “He’s got a great chance to come in and compete because he can really run and he’s a smart kid,” Andersen said.
Junior college transfer Serge Trezy could also be in the secondary mix because of his speed. “Serge just ran a 10.4 100 meters last week and that’s blazing fast, and I don’t care if it was wind-aided or not,” said Andersen, knowing Trezy has also been timed at 4.29 in the 40-yard dash.
“You look and say, ‘OK, where is Serge going to play?’ He could play safety, he could potentially play corner. The challenge is bringing him in and getting him where he needs to be to handle it mentally. The summer prep is going to be very important for a kid like that and we’ll just see where Serge fits.”
RAY HAS SOMETHING ON THE BALL
In addition to the graduation loss of left guard Ryan Groy, a mainstay on the offensive line, the Badgers have had to juggle personnel this spring because of injuries to Dallas Lewallen and Dan Voltz. One of the beneficiaries has been No. 71 Ray Ball, a redshirt sophomore from Columbus, Ohio.
“This is Ray’s time to prove to everybody what he can do and to let us know that we can count on him,” said UW offensive line coach T.J. Woods. “In our last scrimmage, he had no missed assignments in 40 snaps. He’s understanding the scheme, which is important.”
The 6-7, 321-pound Ball has plugged a hole at left guard. Sizing up the starting tackles -- Tyler Marz and Rob Havenstein -- Andersen said, “We wanted to get them better at pass protection and we accomplished that goal. They’re stronger, better athletically and their body composition is better.”
The Badgers are still trying to improve their numbers. “It’s going to be great to get those two back,” Andersen said of Lewallen and Voltz. “But we need at least one of the freshmen to come in and be the No. 9 or No. 10 offensive linemen. Then we’ll be where we need to be compete in the Big Ten.”
One of the candidates might be freshman Jaden Gault, who has been sidelined this spring while recovering from some knee surgery. Gault was one of the early enrollees, along with center Michael Deiter, quarterback D.J. Gillins and safety Austin Hudson.
No. 63 Deiter has drawn the most scrutiny because he has taken most of the starting snaps.
“He’s done a great job from the mental side of the game as far as picking up what we’re trying to do,” Woods said. “And what we do on offense is not easy. There’s a lot that goes into it. Michael is very poised and composed. There are things that he needs to get better at and improve.”
And that’s what he has been doing this spring, Woods said. What about the fall? Will Deiter play another position? Will he redshirt? “You always go in hoping you can redshirt guys (freshmen) if you can,” Woods said. “But if you can’t, and he’s ready, we’ll play him.”
Woods already has something in mind for Deiter. “We’ll see how he does over the summer and we’ll evaluate him in the fall,” he said. “But Michael has put himself in a position in the spring to being a guy that we’re going to take a long, hard look at in the fall.”
The twins, Marcus and Michael Trotter, have had productive springs at inside linebacker. Marcus Trotter is No. 59; he started against Iowa last season for the injured Chris Borland. Michael Trotter is No. 43; he started three games at safety in 2012, his first start coming against Andersen’s Utah State team.
“They’re not really competing against each other,” Andersen said of the Trotters. “One is a Mac (comparable to a MIKE linebacker), the other is a Rover. Derek Landisch is interchangeable at both spots. They’ve all done some nice things; they give us some athleticism in there.”
Upon further review, Andersen laughed and said, “As much as you say they’re aren’t competing against each other, they still sort of are. And Landisch has done a very nice job of understanding the defense and kind of becoming a leader out there.”
Converted outside linebacker Leon Jacobs has been going to school at inside linebacker, too. “We said, ‘Leon, you’re going to spend the rest of the spring inside. Let’s get you to where you can function and understand what we want there,”’ Andersen related.
“Safety and inside linebacker are the most difficult spots to learn; they have the most adjustments and it happens even quicker at insider ‘backer than it does at safety. So Leon needs the reps, but when we get into our sub-packages in the fall, he’ll definitely be involved in the pass rush.”
COMING TOGETHER AS ONE
Andersen feels good about the team chemistry. “When you walk through the locker room after practice, there are no cliques,” he said. “There are no guy guys walking around and pounding their chest and telling everyone how great they are.
“Our experienced players, our highlighted players, have done a nice job of demanding performance on the football field,” he continued. “During the offseason, Melvin Gordon has really become a leader in a positive way.
“On the field, he’s a leader by example. But he can’t be this spring because he hasn’t practiced as much. But he has learned how to lead (off the field). The chemistry is good but we’re still a work in progress because we’re such a young team.”
During this week’s Big Ten spring teleconference, Gordon didn’t pull any punches.
“I want to help take Wisconsin to greater heights,” he said. “I want to get our team to the (national) playoffs. That’s my goal. I didn’t come back to win this or that -- to win the Heisman.
“I don’t feel like that is important. The goal right now is really a national championship. Wisconsin has never had one before. So that is my goal and that is our team goal.”
Where have we heard this before? In early October, Traevon Jackson addressed the expectations for the Wisconsin basketball program by raising the bar.
“I know what the expectation we have as a team,” Jackson said then, “and how we’re going to change the culture here and how we’re going to win and how we want to do things that have never been done here before. So I’m just excited for it to come true.”
Faith, not wishing, is believing. And there are plenty of believers today after a Final Four run.