Monday, December 1, 2008

Bowl practice goals

As the Badgers' season turned into a struggle just to become bowl-eligible, much was made of the importance of the extra practices that come with playing in a bowl game. "It's like another spring practice" they say, although I find that hard to believe it's as effective.

Coaches give guys off for awhile after the last regular season game. Then practice attendance is spotty during finals time. So it's not like the kids are getting solid, uninterrupted practice time.

But it's better than not getting any additional time, and given what we're staring at next season, the practices are imperative for keeping our bowl streak alive in 2009. Here's what I'd like to see addressed in December:

Dustin Sherer played much better as time wore on, seemingly shaking off the rust. Outside factors played a role. The schedule got easier; the wide receivers -- Isaac Anderson, Nick Toon, David Gilreath -- all grew up to an extent; Travis Beckum's season-ending injury forced him to look for other guys.

Still, I think we all want to see what Curt Phillips can do. From the little we've seen of him, he seems like a kid who can make plays with his feet, a skill that will come in handy behind an inexperienced offensive line next season.

Should Phillips be getting more work than Sherer in bowl practices? I say no. After such a disappointing season, we need to win the bowl game, and getting Sherer as prepared as possible is important. Phillips will benefit from the experience, and maybe you give him some of the backup reps, but at quarterback, prepare for the bowl game first, not 2009.

Offensive line
Kraig Urbik, Andy Kemp, and Eric Vanden Heuvel all depart after this season, leaving behind just Gabe Carimi and John Moffitt. Who will be the new starters at left guard, right guard, and right tackle next season?

There are plenty of good candidates. At tackle, Josh Oglesby got off to a good start but struggled later. Jake Bscherer has the credentials and spent this year redshirting so he could retain eligibility once EVH and Urbik left.

At guard, we've got Kevin Zeitler, Bill Nagy, and Jake Current. Nagy seems to have a leg up here, having played extensively this year when injuries hit. I could see Oglesby sliding inside to guard, as most of his struggles this year stemmed from dealing with speed edge rushers.

In any event, the path to sorting out which of these five guys ends up in those three spots starts now.

Defensive line
I am worried sick about our '09 prospects at this position. Who replaces Matt Shaughnessy, Jason Chapman, and Mike Newkirk? I feel OK about defensive end. Louis Nzegwu will be OK, sort of like O'Brien Schofield was this year.

It's tackle that looks bleaker. Right now the incumbents would be Patrick Butrum and Jeff Stehle. Neither one stood out in their playing time this season. Dan Moore needs to show he can play tackle, which is where he was recruited to play.

Someone from the group of Eriks Briedis, Anthony Mains, Brendan Kelly, J.J. Watt, and Tyler Westphal has to emerge as a contributor. I like Watt, seeing him at Family Day he looked the part. Briedis and Mains had nice frames for tackle as well, Kelly was drawing positive reviews in fall practice, and Westphal was the most highly-recruited of this bunch.

Unlike quarterback, where I feel Sherer needs all of the work to get ready for the bowl game, on the D-Line the focus on the future needs to start now.

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