Wisconsin football: 10 players whose stock rose in Luke Fickell’s first spring

MADISON, Wis. –Wisconsin’s spring football training is over, and while the Badgers have yet to figure out how all the pieces fit together for next season, a lot has been learned in the past five weeks.

Several individuals produced strong springs and put themselves in a much better position to contribute. Let’s take a look at 10 badgers whose stock is on the rise after spring practices.

WR Will Pauling

No offensive player surprised more than Pauling, who may have been lost in all the offseason transfer excitement that affected quarterbacks and other wide receivers. Pauling has been Wisconsin’s most consistent wide this spring and passed Skyler Bell for the No. 1 slot receiver role, although both are expected to be part of the rotation. If practice is any indication, offensive coordinator Phil Longo plans to use his slot receivers significantly next season. Pauling could even become the Badgers’ best receiver. Longo’s last receiver at North Carolina, Josh Downs, has led the team in receptions for the past two seasons.

“I feel like I’ve just been working my tail, working with the playbook, trying to figure out what I need to do, where I need to be on certain concepts, certain routes, as well as trying just helping other guys out,” Pauling said. “Not just the lunge, but helping the quarterbacks understand what I’m seeing or what I need to do to get them the ball to me.”

Williams took a few practices to get started. But when he did, he showed a dynamic on-court playing ability that Wisconsin hasn’t often seen. During a practice Saturday, he torched the Badgers’ reserve defensive backs, catching passes for 37, 39 and 40 yards with an athletic range of motion. Williams, like Pauling, went from being a second-team attack to becoming a constant presence with the first-team group.

Of the four transfer receivers who arrived in January, Williams had the most to prove after being a four-star recruit in high school and playing just 58 snaps for USC last season. He achieved his original goal. The task is to take what he has done on the practice field under receivers coach Mike Brown and show the country his talent in next season’s games. He certainly shouldn’t run out of opportunities.

“I came out of high school. I was a pretty good road runner, in my opinion,” Williams said. “I sort of fell at the last school. Maybe I needed to focus on technique and detail, and that’s what Coach Brown is pushing for me. But I have a good sense of running for me. I’m a high IQ football player and I make games.

Locke was the third quarterback to announce his move to Wisconsin this offseason, following Nick Evers and Tanner Mordecai. While Mordecai, a sixth-year senior, was the starting quarterback on his first day on campus, there were many more questions about how the competition would play out between Locke and Evers for the position’s future at Wisconsin. It turned out, at least through 15 spring workouts, that Locke was by far the No. 2 quarterback.

Locke delivered many big plays on the field with the second-team offense and rarely fought. He jumped because of his knowledge of the playbook and his ability to execute on the pitch. Locke had an advantage because he played in a similar high school offense and led the air raid at Mississippi State last season. But he still took full advantage of his opportunities this spring.

“I constantly watch the tape,” Locke said. “It’s not one of those things that I really want to get noticed or talk to people about. But I have a curiosity. I like the game and I want to know, I want to learn and I want to be a smart player. That always gave me my edge. I’m not the biggest, strongest, fastest guy, so I think I have to do it with my mind. This has always been my advantage.

Pugh appeared in one game during his first two seasons at Wisconsin, but broke through this spring with a combination of size, athleticism and physique that tight ends coach Nate Latvian said was as good as n anybody on the team. Pugh has worked his way into a role with the first-team attack in a tight group that should play at least three or four next season.

During a mid-spring practice, he caught six passes in 11-on-11 teamwork all over the court – on the flat, for short wins on medium and deep passes across the court. He was also the most targeted tight end during the team’s open scrimmage to the public.

“He’s been tough the last few years,” Badgers tight end Hayden Rucci said. “Now he really has time to shine, and I think he’s done a great job. What he brings to the tight end room is a real double threat with blocking and road running. For his speed, he can still enter the trenches and block as well.

Wisconsin knows what it’s got in the 1-2 running back combination of Braelon Allen and Chez Mellusi. But the No. 3 stopper spot, which should be used to some extent next season, still seems to be up for grabs. Jackson Acker started nine games as a fullback last season and has the most experience in the rest of the squad. However, Yacamelli presents an intriguing option.

He looked particularly strong during the first half of spring training before Grover Bortolotti did no more reps. Yacamelli played safety for half of last season and then moved to the scout running back team, so there’s still a learning curve for him in that position. But he showed a combination of speed and power that could complement Allen and Mellusi.

“I think the reason I made plays is just because I don’t try too hard,” Yacamelli said this spring. “I feel like sometimes you try to try too hard or impress too much. One thing that (coach Jim) Leonhard taught me last year when I was safe helped me tremendously. His phrase was, ‘Let it go.’ When you let it go and play your game, obviously with minor tweaks, you start making plays.

There were six freshmen on the Wisconsin roster this spring. Two of them — Duclona and fellow cornerback Jace Arnold — got high in both depths at the end of practices. Both Duclona and Arnold worked with the second-team defense away, and both deserve huge credit for making big moves. But Duclona, ​​in particular, showed great playing ability.

Duclona was a star defensively during the team’s public scrimmage. He made an outstanding pass breakup to prevent a fourth touchdown pass from Locke to receiver Quincy Burroughs in the back of the end zone. He also intercepted a pass from Evers which was knocked down the right sideline. Duclona, ​​of Naples, Fla., is a ball hawk who intercepted seven passes during his high school career and was selected to play in the 2023 All-American Bowl.

“They can both run,” Wisconsin cornerbacks coach Paul Haynes said of Duclona and Arnold. “They both have good feet. They are competitors. They give energy. They put in the effort. So they have the skills.

At some point, Hallman’s name will no longer be tied to a disappointing performance in a double-overtime loss to Michigan State last season, because he has a bright future ahead of him. Hallman, who started Wisconsin’s first seven games, fell out of the regular rotation after the Michigan State game before starting in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl.

Hallman was exceptional in spring training to solidify a starting cornerback spot. He intercepted three passes in the team’s open scrimmage, earning him six picks in two practices. He certainly seems to have put what happened last season behind him.

“I think his playing experience can definitely help,” Haynes said. “He’s starting to see things a lot better. The more vision you have as DB, the more you can play and play. So I think his vision exploded this spring.

Perhaps no defensive player will benefit more from Mike Tressel’s new scheme than Wohler, whose versatility makes him an all-court threat. When Wisconsin ran its dollar defense, Wohler played linebacker depth. This allows him to be a hybrid defender who can use his physicality to stop the run or rush the passer while moving to cover.

Leonhard, the Badgers’ former defensive coordinator, used those same traits with Wohler last season. According to Pro Football Focus, Wohler lined up for 20 snaps on the defensive line, 76 snaps in the box, 19 snaps as a cornerback and 98 snaps as a free safety. Wohler, who was limited to six games and one start last season due to an ankle injury, looks set for a breakout junior season.

“The fact that he has really good football instincts allows him to play a bit closer, always see it coming and react really quickly,” Tressel said. “You’ve also seen in the past that he’s comfortable being up there near the core and taking blocks. He is a physical and strong tackler.

Maitre, who played 43 games with 30 starts at Boston College, fits right into Wisconsin’s roster as the No. 1 slots corner in spring training. He wasn’t afraid to fill a hole with Allen falling on him. He also delivered punishing blows to receivers while reveling in mixing it up with them. Maitre’s veteran leadership is even more important due to the inexperience of the team cornerbacks behind him, Hallman and Alexander Smith.

“He’s a talker and great energy, which you love,” Haynes said of Maitre. “But when you come in new, you kind of feel your way. The easiest way to earn respect from guys is to work hard, and he did that even in our mat workouts. And then when he goes out on the field, he starts making plays.

Pietrowski missed eight spring practices while recovering from mononucleosis, but he came on very late and showed why he could be a vital addition to Michigan State’s transfer. In final training, he got snaps with the first-team defense with CJ Goetz out, and he’ll play a role in both depths. He played defensive end at Michigan State and has a knack for stopping plays at the line of scrimmage or using quickness to win battles off the rim. Two seasons ago, he ranked second on his team with 5½ sacks. He missed nine games last season with an ankle injury.

“I think I’ve shown some good things as a pass thrower and I would definitely like to build on this second season and get back to being a dominant pass thrower, play the running game and then come back to cover, learn that stuff. and be a five-tool player,” Pietrowski said. “But the main thing I hope to add to the room and just to the program is to be a culture guy, to be the hardest working guy, to be a guy who is responsible to his teammates and likes the program and is ready to do anything for the program.”

(Photo by Will Pauling: Katie Stratman/USA Today)

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