On a mild day in front of just over 9,000 fans, the Paul Chryst era got underway. It started with a nod to the Wisconsin Badgersâ€™ basketball team, as Josh Gasser and Duje Dukan were guest coaches.
It ended with Gasser getting a Badger Max bath following his teamâ€™s 35-7 drubbing of Dukanâ€™s bunch. Along the way there was plenty to be intrigued by, worried about and happy to see.
Still, it was just a spring football game and that means everything must be taken with a grain of salt. What did we end up learning about the Badgers and Paul Chrystâ€™s first year at the helm?
Letâ€™s take a look at the five biggest things we learned.
Offensive Line is a Big Concern
Itâ€™s been nearly a decade since the Wisconsin Badgers have had major question marks on the offensive line. After Saturdayâ€™s youthful performance in the spring game itâ€™s hard to not look towards the fall and be concerned.
Injuries to Dan Voltz and other potential starters this spring are partly to blame, but so is the fact that those with opportunities didnâ€™t take advantage of them in a positive way on Saturday. There were plenty of opportunities to step up in the absence of others, yet many of the younger guys along the offensive line looked the part of young players and not what many expect from Wisconsin offensive linemen.
Letâ€™s just say itâ€™s very clear just how important and how good of a player center Dan Voltz is. Heâ€™s the lynchpin to an offensive line in clear transition, and as long as heâ€™s healthy this group should be just fine.
Thatâ€™s been the issue though, as Voltz hasnâ€™t been able to go a few months without a minor or major lower leg injury during his career. If he is 100 percent healthy heading in to the fall, look for this group to be fine. Should he not be healthy, the 2015 season could test a lot of coaches, players and fansâ€™ patience.
Chikwe Obasih Has Grown Up
3 sacks, 2 forced fumbles â€” thatâ€™s just a snapshot of Badgers defensive end Chikwe Obasihâ€™s day during the spring game. Letâ€™s just say that might have been the most unexpected stat line of the day coming in to the game.
After a redshirt freshman season that lacked explosive plays, Obasih appears to have not only grown up physically, but also mentally. That can only mean good things ahead, and his new-found confidence is something this defense could really use. It wasnâ€™t as if that group was known as a turnover machine a season ago, finishing third-worst in the Big Ten with just 17 turnovers in 14 games.
One of the question marks on defense was where the turnovers would come from. Obasih gave hope that growing up along the defensive line will be one answer to that question.
If Obasih can carry that kind of disruptive presence over to the fall, opposing offenses are going to be in some serious trouble. Add that to a secondary that is clearly going to be impressive and Dave Arandaâ€™s defense is going to be very difficult to beat this fall.
Â T.J. Edwards Is For Real
Not only was Chikwe Obasih playing well on Saturday, but the man most have been talking about this past week on the defensive side of the ball showed up with the cameras and crowd in attendance too.
With both starters gone at inside linebacker, the position was easily the most worrisome coming in to spring camp. After seeing Edwards produce on Saturday like he has all spring long, the position is no longer a question mark.
Not only is Edwards producing, but you can see a true chemistry building between fellow starter Leon Jacobs and him.
Whether or not all or any of this spring translates to production this fall remains to be seen, but playing consistent football is usually a good sign of things to come. If Edwards continues this kind of progression, the Badgers could have their next star at linebacker â€” and not a moment too soon.
Bart Houston, D.J. Gillins Battle Far From Over
If you like your quarterback to be a traditional drop back passer, then likely Bart Houston should be the odds-on favorite to be the Badgersâ€™ backup quarterback this season. He was easily the most impressive passer on the day, going 9-of-16 for 103 yards and one touchdown.
Still, it was equally hard to ignore the dynamic nature of Wisconsinâ€™s offense when D.J. Gillins was in the mix. While his 5-of-10 passing day (with just 50 yards) doesnâ€™t look that good on the stat sheet, it was hard to notice Gillins was making the smart plays and taking care of the football.
For a redshirt freshman thatâ€™s usually the hardest part of the game to understand. It was also easy to understand Gillinsâ€™ potential to change the Badgersâ€™ offense when in. His scrambling ability not only opens up the rest of the run game, it also happens to come with a purpose to open up the rest of the pass game.
While it appears Houston may be poised to be the No. 2 quarterback for the Badgers this fall, if Gillins keeps up the improvement it could be a really interesting battle for the starting job come next spring.
Wheelwright Can Be Game Changer…When Healthy
There may not be a more frustrating and/or frustrated player on this Badgers roster than junior wide receiver Rob Wheelwright. He came to the Badgers as a big-bodied receiver with a ton of potential under Bret Bielema, but has yet to live up to the potential.
A lot of that has had to do with numerous nagging injuries that have kept Wheelwright from being available for long stretches of time. It even kept him out for a period this spring too.
So while it was great to see him catching deep touchdown passes (17 and 20 yards each) and leading the team in receiving overall, it is hard to feel like that wasnâ€™t more of a tease than actually what we can expect to see this fall.
Call us crazy, but weâ€™ll believe this is what we can hope for when we actually see it for more than one game this fall.
Still, as long as Wheelwright stays healthy then it appears Paul Chrystâ€™s offense has found the deep weapon it has always been looking for.
Photo courtesy Badger247