After a massive turnover in both players and coaches from one of the most productive offenses in Wisconsin football history, the 2012 Badgers’ offense will take their first step toward another Big Ten title this weekend in the annual Spring Game.
“The spring game is kind of a time for [the players] to enjoy themselves,” new offensive coordinator Matt Canada said. “They’ve put in an awful long spring, with the way we’ve done it.”
Canada took over the reins of the Badger offense from Paul Chryst, who left for the head coach job at Pittsburgh this past winter. Despite running different offenses at Indiana and Northern Illinois, Canada insists that he has no plans to change what the Badgers already do.
“There is only the Wisconsin system,” Canada said when asked if he planned on implementing his own offensive system at UW. “There was a great system already in place, and we certainly tweaked it terminology-wise, but all of this is the Wisconsin system.”
Redshirt junior tight end Jacob Pederson, who enjoyed a breakout season under Chryst last season, is one of the few returning offensive starters who will play in the spring game. Although the entire offense is not participating in practice yet, Pederson likes what he has seen so far.
“We’re getting there,” Pederson said about his team’s progress through the spring. “When we first put [the new offense] in, I had to think about what I was doing. I’m getting to that phase where I hear it and I can just go.”
With the team in such a transitional phase, Pederson says that the responsibility to lead falls on him and the team’s other returning starters.
“It’s on me to step up, get the younger guys going,” Pederson said. “We’ve got a lot of young potential on this team. Some of those guys just need a little extra push to get them out of their shell. Whatever I can do, and some of the older guys, we’re trying to do it.”
Sophomore tight end Sam Arneson, sophomore wide receiver Kenzel Doe, redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Rob Havenstein and junior wide receiver Manasseh Garner are all expected to step up and be key contributors on the new-look Badgers offense in 2012.
Wisconsin finds itself in a very similar position to where they were at this point last year, losing an established starting quarterback, only to be left with a pool of unproven signal-callers.
Russell Wilson was the savior last year, and incoming transfer Danny O’Brien may play that role in 2012, but for now the Badgers are left with just two healthy quarterbacks: redshirt sophomore Joe Brennan and redshirt freshman Joel Stave.
The two men have flip-flopped between first and second string this spring, but Canada has liked the strides he has seen each quarterback make so far.
“I think they’re both understanding the offense better and playing with a little more confidence,” Canada said. “There’s ups and downs in the spring, there’s good and bad plays, but they’re both doing a good job of progressing well.”
Canada did not go so far as to name a starter for the spring game, but he insisted that both quarterbacks would receive lots of reps in preparation for the upcoming season.
Senior running back Montee Ball and redshirt junior wide receiver Jared Abbrederis will sit out this weekend’s game due to injuries, giving previously unknown players the chance to make a name for themselves and possibly earn a starting spot heading into the fall.