Injuries sap Wisconsin offense in spring practice
MADISON, Wis. (AP) It is down to a two-man race now for the starting quarterback job at Wisconsin, and one of the candidates didn’t even take a snap at the Badgers spring game.
Incumbent Joel Stave watched from the sideline Saturday after being shut down a week ago with a lingering shoulder injury from the Capital One Bowl in January. Backup Tanner McEvoy tried to make the most of the opportunity to shine, though the offense he led bared little resemblance to the first-string unit that coach Gary Andersen will likely use this fall.
It’s no surprise that defense dominated in a spring game with just two field goals.
”The defense is a little bit ahead right now. The biggest reason – there are a lot more injuries on the offensive side of the football,” Andersen said.
Injuries also deprived the Badgers of manpower at receiver and center this spring. Star running back Melvin Gordon and backup Corey Clement sat out the tackling portion of Saturday’s scrimmage just as a precaution.
But they did see snaps during a controlled scrimmage earlier Saturday. Though he was going against the second-string defense, Gordon in particular looked to be in midseason form.
At the very least, Gordon will likely be in the conversation as a potential Heisman Trophy candidate after running for 1,600 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. Gordon and Clement didn’t have much to prove in the spring.
Officially, the Cardinal squad comprised mainly of starters beat the White squad 6-0. Five takeaways as spring practice wrapped up in Madison:
SORE SHOULDER: Andersen said Stave ”fought like crazy” going into a spring practice in which he was still called the starter, even though Andersen made it known that there would be competition for the job. He wants improvement in the passing game to make defenses pay for stacking the box to stop Gordon and Clement.
In the end, Stave had to take in the spring game with a headset. Andersen said he thinks Stave will be ready once summer workouts begin in June.
BACK TO QB: McEvoy came to Wisconsin as a quarterback but moved to safety last season, where he had 27 tackles in 11 games. Now he’s back at his preferred position on offense.
McEvoy hit Kenzel Doe in stride in the end zone for a 30-yard touchdown pass during the controlled scrimmage, but his strength lies with his legs. McEvoy said the initial priority this spring was to get re-acclimated at quarterback.
Andersen said the offense didn’t work on many packages this spring that might be more suitable to McEvoy’s style of play.
”He walks up to the huddle, he looks more comfortable,” Andersen said.
50-50?: While he never gave odds, Andersen made it sound as if the race between Stave and McEvoy would be a nail-biter in fall camp.
At one point, Andersen said Stave had a great attitude about the competition and knows ”it will be fight.”
McEvoy wouldn’t broach the subject.
Stave ”is No. 1 right now, took the week off just precautionary for his shoulder injury,” McEvoy said. ”I just have to do whatever I can do.”
DEFENSE FIRST: The starting defense took heavy losses in the front seven, starting with linebacker Chris Borland. But there’s still experience across the field given the way Andersen rotated bodies in and out last season. Senior Marcus Trotter has the task of replacing Borland in the starting lineup.
RED HERRING: He’s a nose guard first, but at times Warren Herring may move to end in pass-rushing situations. The 6-foot-3, 294-pound senior will be one of Andersen’s go-to guys up front in the fall.
Herring’s move was one of the few new wrinkles unveiled Saturday.
”Warren gets a big smile on his face when you tell him he’s an end,” Andersen said. ”Keep him humble.”
Follow Genaro Armas at http://twitter.com/GArmasAP