Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Player development

In the wake of the disappointing 2008 football season, I wrote that perhaps the most alarming trend in the UW program under Bret Bielema's stewardship was the lack of player development. After all, it is likely that our recruiting efforts will always yield more two- and three-star players than four- and five-star, so if we're going to compete in the Big Ten we need to coach our kids up.

With four regular season games and a bowl left this season, it is not premature to say that a number of Badgers have shown significant improvement this season. Two stick out in my mind, one on offense, one on defense.

O'Brien Schofield: Something of an afterthought in a linebacker class that included Travis Beckum, Elijah Hodge and DeAndre Levy, he became a serviceable defensive end, then the best defensive end in the Big Ten. Also the team's vocal and emotional leader. Other guys like Mike Taylor, J.J. Watt, Chris Maragos and Chris Borland have made big plays this season, but Schofield has lived in opponents' backfields from the first defensive possession of the season, and gave hope that a unit that figured to be a weakness might be an asset.

Scott Tolzien: He's regressed a little against better defenses, but his play this year has been a definite upgrade over what we had last year. With lesser quarterback play, we're probably 4-4 at best this season, maybe worse. What's interesting is that Tolzien wasn't ready to play extensively last year, when Dustin Sherer and Allan Evridge disappointed. What happened for Tolzien this offseason? Better coaching? Or did the proverbial light bulb just go on?

What other Badgers have been two-star recruits, per Scout?

Going back to that class of 2005, Jonathan Casillas and P.J. Hill were both two-star recruits who are now on NFL rosters. Jae McFadden and Jeff Stehle were two-star recruits who are starting on a pretty good front seven. Garrett Graham was another two-star guy from that class, but it's hard to say he has developed in his time here since he was pretty good from the minute he started playing. The recruiting experts just missed on that one.

In the class of 2006, Gabe Carimi was a two-star recruit, and he's a future NFL left tackle. Mickey Turner, Isaac Anderson, John Moffitt, Jay Valai, Maurice Moore, Culmer St. Jean -- all two-star guys who have become big contributors to a team that has a chance to win 10 games.

A number of two-star guys who are contributing in their first and second years: Brad Nortman, Antonio Fenelus, Travis Frederick and Borland. That doesn't count Maragos, a walk-on.

Going through the lists, there aren't many guys who stick out like Schofield and Tolzien, who toiled in obscurity for several years before emerging as team leaders. The rest of these guys have just improved enough to play important roles on an above-average team. And that, not statistics or individual honors, is really the only way we will be able to gauge player development under Bielema: wins and losses.

No comments: