MADISON, WI - NOVEMBER 15:  Joel Stave #2 of the Wisconsin Badgers celebrates a touchdown against the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Camp Randall Stadium on November 15, 2014 in Madison, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

10 Wisconsin Badgers to Watch in the 2015 Spring Game

Spring camp is winding down, with just a few more days until the annual spring game for the Wisconsin Badgers. With new head coach Paul Chryst in the mix, spring sure has felt different this season.

No hyped up music, no real buzz around the entire camp from the media side of things and really just a quiet spring has emerged.

However, that doesn’t mean there haven’t been some interesting developments or surprising players that have popped up. So, as we head in to the game on Saturday afternoon, let’s take a look at 10 players who have made an impact on spring ball.

Oh, and the same 10 players whom we’ll be watching the most as individual players on Saturday.

 

10. Nick Thomas, LB — Wisconsin is thin on depth and experience in the middle of the linebacking corp., so getting Thomas in to the fold early has been vital. However, just how quickly is the early enrollee picking up the defense and life of college football?

He’ll be one of the players I’ll personally be keeping an eye out for on Saturday during the spring game. With little depth, Thomas and the other inside linebackers are going to get plenty of reps, and if Thomas can make the most of it, he’ll likely be in for major playing time come the fall.

9. Kyle Penninston, TE — Sticking with the early enrollee theme, another player to really keep an eye out for is perhaps my favorite prospect in the 2015 recruiting class — tight end Kyle Penninston. He comes in possessing a skill set that just doesn’t exist with most of the tight ends on UW’s depth chart.

Just how much of an impact can Penninston provide? According to media reports and contacts we have, Penninston had a slow start to camp, but has picked up his production as of late. It’s also clear he’s got the speed to be a matchup nightmare, but the route running and run blocking portion of his game is what needs fine-tuning.

Saturday will be our first chance to see him in person, and if he has a good day it could lead to bigger things for him come the fall.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 06:  Devin Smith #9 of the Ohio State Buckeyes tries to get around Sojourn Shelton #8 of the Wisconsin Badgers in the second quarter of the Big Ten Championship at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 6, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 06: Devin Smith #9 of the Ohio State Buckeyes tries to get around Sojourn Shelton #8 of the Wisconsin Badgers in the second quarter of the Big Ten Championship at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 6, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

8. Sojourn Shelton, CB — There wasn’t a more hyped player not named Melvin Gordon on the Badgers roster heading in to last season. Such is the case when you burst on the scene with four interceptions as a freshman starter. His sophomore season was nothing but a slump, as he came up empty in INT’s and also regressed a bit in coverage as well.

It appears that the Shelton of his freshman season is back, as many media reports have him as one of the top defensive players on the field this spring camp. A good performance in the annual spring game in front of a crowd will be the next step to getting his mojo back. With Alabama on the docket first, Shelton being on top of his game is going to be vital to success.

7. Walker Williams, OL — Where will Williams play in 2015? Many thought he’d be the one sliding out to the right tackle spot vacated by mammoth Rob Havenstein. However, the new coaching staff has had a few other ideas and Williams has been working in at both right tackle and right guard this spring camp.

It’s clear he’s likely to be a starter, but watching his performances at both guard and tackle this Saturday will be important. Can he solidify a starting spot at either position? A strong showing at guard may be the key to seeing the field as a starter in 2015 for Williams.

6. Reggie Love, WR — The guy many loved coming in to his college career seems to be the one finally coming on board for the Badgers in 2015. It couldn’t come at a better time either, as the Badgers need to develop a strong pass game under Paul Chryst and Joe Rudolph’s offense.

Love has become the go-to starter across from Alex Erickson in the past week or so, but there is clearly still a rotation going on opposite Erickson. A memorable performance from Love or really any other receiver in the spring game could go a long way to locking down a starting position against Alabama in the season opener.

5. Taiwan Deal, RB — Who will see carries to spell starter and potential mega-star Corey Clement? That’s been the question of spring ball at this position, and the answer may be the big, but deceptively fast redshirt freshman out of DeMatha Catholic in Maryland.

Deal and Dare Ogunbowale are locked in a pretty good fight for the No. 2 spot, and barring any unforeseen issues with injuries or what-not, Deal will see action with a live crowd in Camp Randall Stadium for the first time on Saturday.

I’ll be interested to see how he handles the opportunity in front of the crowd and to see just what he looks like with a full season of practice and conditioning to him. There have been leanings that perhaps Deal has gone ahead of Ogunbowale as of late, so Saturday’s performance could lock down that No. 2 running back spot.

4. Bart Houston, QB — There will never stop being curiousity about the former Elite 11 finalist and four-star quarterback out of the famed De La Salle high school in California. However, it’s also fair to say Houston has not lived up to the hype so far.

That seems to also be the case with a new, more pro-style orientated head coach in the mix as well. Houston hasn’t separated himself from his main competition, redshirt freshman D.J. Gillins, for the backup role behind Joel Stave.

It’s not to say Houston has been bad, he just has continued to lack the consistency needed to lock down the job. Let’s see how he performs on Satuday, perhaps the crowd and game-like atmosphere are what will flick the lightbulb on for the now junior QB.

3. T.J. Edwards, LB — When speaking to those in attendance at practices so far this spring, one name in the linebacker group keeps popping up, and that’s redshirt freshman T.J. Edwards at inside linebacker.

So much so that many believe he’s already put a lock on a starting spot come this fall. That may be a bit premature with D’Cota Dixon well in the mix and Nick Thomas just adjusting to life as a college football player. However, Edwards’ play has spoken volumes according to those we’ve spoken with.

What better way to continue holding on tight to a starting spot than by showing up big in the spring game? Look what standing out did for guys like Joel Stave, Alex Erickson and a host of others over the years.

Could Edwards be the next big name at linebacker for the Badgers? Tune in Saturday to find out.

EVANSTON, IL- OCTOBER 04: Tanner McEvoy #5 of the Wisconsin Badgers is knocked out of bounds by the Northwestern Wildcats during the first half on October 4, 2014 at Ryan Field in Evanston, Illinois.  (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)

EVANSTON, IL- OCTOBER 04: Tanner McEvoy #5 of the Wisconsin Badgers is knocked out of bounds by the Northwestern Wildcats during the first half on October 4, 2014 at Ryan Field in Evanston, Illinois. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)

2. Tanner McEvoy, WR/S — There is an indelible imprint of Tanner McEvoy the safety made on my mind, and that’s because the guy nearly crushed me on the sidelines while ranging from midfield to the sideline for a near interception against BYU two years ago. It was at that moment I understood the pure athletic ability McEvoy had.

It’s this spring that McEvoy has been fully unleashed as an athlete, likely solidifying a starting safety spot and showcasing a matchup nightmare as a wide receiver as spring camp as gone by.

If asked to predict the player most would be talking about after the spring game, McEvoy would be one of the two players first to mind. I’m personally looking forward to seeing him as a wide receiver, as we really haven’t seen him in that role as a healthy player ever before.

Wisconsin may have a big weapon on both sides of the ball this season in McEvoy, but he needs to show it in as close to live game action as possible.

1. D.J. Gillins, QB — Many thought Gillins was going to to be the odd man out at quarterback with the hire of Paul Chryst as UW’s head coach in December. Instead, Gillins has become a legit contender for the No. 2 quarterback spot and has taken easily to the transition to more of a drop-back passer.

That’s not to say Gillins isn’t using his feet, but it’s actually been his arm and decision making that have caught the eye of the coaching staff and those in the media whom have been in attendance all spring long.

He’s been good enough to give Houston all he can handle, and perhaps Saturday we’re all going to get a glimpse of the QB of the future for Wisconsin…just not who we all expected that one to be.

It will also likely be most Badger fans’ first look at Gillins as a quarterback, since most didn’t attend fall camp open scrimmages last season. Personally, I’m anxious to see if the QB that has come out in practice can show up with the cameras and fans in attendance. If he shows well, Gillins may lock down the No. 2 QB position by the end of the day.

Andrew Coppens

About Andrew Coppens

Andy is a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA). He is the Managing Editor of MadTownBadger and associate editor of Bloguin's World Cup site, 32flags.com as well as Publisher of Big Ten site talking10.com

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