MADISON – Wisconsin is scheduled to conclude spring football practice with a scrimmage at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Camp Randall Stadium.
With several starters and key reserves held out or limited this spring while recovering from off-season surgery, head coach Paul Chryst and his staff have been able to evaluate a larger pool of young players on offense and defense.
Following is an assessment of UW’s depth entering the final practice of the spring:
QUARTERBACK: Alex Hornibrook, who started nine games as a redshirt freshman in 2016, appears to be processing plays more quickly. His confidence is palpable and barring injury, he will open the 2017 season as the starter.
So who will be the primary backup?
Kare’ Lyles, who will be a redshirt freshman, is more familiar with the offense than freshman Jack Coan. Yet Coan, who enrolled at UW in January, has shown he is capable of pushing for the No. 2 job.
That battle will be intriguing when camp opens in July.
“We talk to them,” Chryst said, referring to Lyles and Coan. “You guys aren’t competing yet for a spot. You’re just trying to learn. They can screw up, come back at it. I think they both have progressed.
“Jack has done a really good job of learning the playbook to where he doesn’t have an ultra-limited selection of plays.”
OFFENSIVE LINE: With potential starters Jon Dietzen (left guard) and Jacob Maxwell (right tackle) out all spring while recovering from surgery, the staff was able to evaluate several young players and different combinations.
The two young players who have stood out this spring are center Tyler Biadasz and right tackle Patrick Kasl. Both should be ready to contribute if needed next season.
The return of Dietzen and Maxwell, both of whom have starting experience, should give line coach Joe Rudolph nine options next season.
When camp opens in July expect David Edwards to be at left tackle, Michael Deiter at center, Beau Benzschawel at right guard and Maxwell at right tackle.
Dietzen and Micah Kapoi likely will battle for the No. 1 spot at left guard and Kasl could push Maxwell at right tackle.
Deiter has worked at center and left guard for most of the spring but this week took reps at left tackle with Edwards out because of a left-ankle injury. Deiter joked he gets to flash his athleticism on the outside.
RUNNING BACK: Tailback Taiwan Deal has been out all spring recovering from off-season ankle surgery. When he returns for camp, UW should have three legitimate tailback options.
Chris James, who sat out last season after transferring from Pittsburgh, and Bradrick Shaw have gotten the bulk of the work this spring.
James can use his speed and quickness to make big plays in the open field but at 220 pounds is sturdy enough to run between the tackles. He projects to be the starter but Shaw appears to have a fuller understanding of the offense than he did last season as a redshirt freshman.
Running backs coach John Settle will find ways to use all three players.
Alec Ingold and Austin Ramesh should offer a nice combo at fullback. Ramesh has been out all spring but is expected back for summer workouts.
WIDE RECEIVER: Jazz Peavy, who last season led the unit in catches (43), receiving yards (635) and touchdown catches (five), appears capable of posting bigger numbers as a senior. He is by far the best wide receiver on the team.
Wide receivers coach Ted Gilmore would like at least five options each week. George Rushing, Quintez Cephus and A.J. Taylor have shown flashes this spring. Cephus was off to a strong start but missed time because of the death of his father. Kendric Pryor is playing catch-up after redshirting last season but shouldn’t be counted out.
TIGHT END: Troy Fumagalli, who dominated Western Michigan in the Cotton Bowl, has looked fabulous this spring.
Kyle Penniston and Zander Neuville, a devastating blocker who moved to tight end from defensive end last August, should give the team three versatile options. Chryst is going to have fun using this trio in a variety of ways.
DEFENSIVE LINE: When camp opens in July, line coach Inoke Breckterfield should have six experienced players — four ends and two nose tackles.
Freshman Isaiahh Loudermilk appears capable of providing a fifth option at end. Jeremy Patterson, 6-foot-3 and 352 pounds, could provide help at nose tackle but needs to shed weight. Breckterfield has made this clear to Patterson.
Chikwe Obasih, who has been held out this spring to recover from an unspecified injury, and Alec James are interchangeable at end. Conor Sheehy is invaluable because he can play end or nose tackle. Garrett Rand, a reserve nose tackle as a freshman, has been moved full-time to end.
Olive Sagapolu appears to be a difference-maker at nose tackle. Billy Hirschfeld, who started out at end, is the No. 2 nose tackle.
LINEBACKER: New inside linebackers coach Bob Bostad worked mostly with unproven reserves this spring because T.J. Edwards (foot) and Ryan Connelly (shoulder) are out and Jack Cichy (pectoral) and Chris Orr (knee) have been limited.
UW will have a glut of talent at the inside spots next season.
The staff moved Leon Jacobs to outside linebacker because he likely would have been buried on the depth chart on the inside and Vince Biegel and T.J. Watt, who manned the outside spots last season, are gone.
The top four outside linebackers this spring have been Garret Dooley, who should fill one of the starting spots in the fall; Zack Baun; junior-college transfer Andrew Van Ginkel, and Jacobs.
With so much proven talent on the inside and a lack of experience on the outside, it will be interesting to see if the staff feels it needs to move Cichy outside. That would leave three players with starting experience for the two inside spots and Cichy played well on the outside in 2015. If enough playmakers develop on the outside Cichy should be able to remain at inside linebacker.
SECONARY: Jim Leonhard had to find three new starters in his first season as secondary coach. With safety D’Cota Dixon and cornerback Derrick Tindal back, Leonhard had to make just two moves this spring. Leonhard switched Natrell Jamerson from cornerback to safety to replace Leo Musso and paired Nick Nelson with Tindal to replace cornerback Sojourn Shelton.
Nelson, who started 21 games at Hawaii before transferring to UW, is the real deal. If Jamerson can handle the switch to safety UW will have a solid starting quartet.
Lubern Figaro has experience as the third cornerback but he’ll likely be pushed hard by Dontye Carriere-Williams.
Kicker Rafael Gaglianone is still working back into shape after missing the final 11 games because of a back injury. He should be in shape and ready to go by the fall.
Special teams coach Chris Haering wants both punters – Anthony Lotti and P.J. Rosowski – to improve their hang time. That was an area of concern in 2016.
The staff has begun looking at a large pool of players to handle punt and kickoff returns but no decisions will be made until camp. UW finished ninth in the Big Ten in both categories last season.