Wisconsin Spring Football Practice Preview: 3 Storylines To Watch

    Wisconsin spring football practice preview for 2017. The Badgers are shooting to accomplish even bigger goals after winning the Cotton Bowl last season.

    March 10, 2017

    Wisconsin spring football practice preview for 2017. The Badgers are shooting to accomplish even bigger goals after winning the Cotton Bowl last season.


    It’s long been known Wisconsin teams rely on defense, and it was much of the same in 2016 as it ranked seventh in the nation in total yards allowed per game. Although the Badgers were exposed in a 38-31 loss to Penn State in the Big Ten Championship Game – their third loss of the season that came by exactly seven points – the architect of that unit will get his shot to run his own program.

    Justin Wilcox used his one season as Wisconsin’s defensive coordinator as a stepping stone to the head-coaching gig at Cal, which left Badgers coach Paul Chryst searching for his third defensive coordinator in three years since arriving in Madison.

    Plenty of key players are gone, too. Wisconsin heads into the spring with some position battles up for grabs as it prepares to defend its Big Ten West title. Here are three storylines to watch as the Badgers’ spring football practice starts Tuesday.

    Wisconsin Spring Football Practice Storylines

    1. The Departed

    Corey Clement. Vince Biegel. T.J. Watt. Bart Houston. You get the idea.

    Losing Biegel and Watt from the linebacker group could sting if the Badgers can’t get at least similar production from their replacements. Senior Garret Dooley is expected to nab one of those starter spots, but there’s an open battle for the other.

    Clement’s four-year career at Wisconsin ended with him rushing for 1,375 yards and 15 touchdowns. Primary backup Dare Ogunbowale is gone, too. That likely leaves the bulk of next season’s carries to Bradrick Shaw, who averaged 5.2 yards per carry and scored five touchdowns as a redshirt freshman.

    As for Houston? We’ll get to him in a minute.

    2. Jim Leonhard’s defense

    Chryst promoting the 34-year-old Leonhard to defensive coordinator came as a bit of a surprise. Leonhard has only one season of coaching experience at any level – last year as the Badgers’ defensive backs coach. Granted, Wisconsin tied for second in the nation with 22 interceptions and tied for sixth in passes defended under Leonhard’s tutelage.

    Running his own full unit will be more challenging, but Leonhard never has shied away from such a predicament. He rose from a walk-on at Wisconsin in 2001 to a three-time All-Big Ten performer at safety and didn’t get a scholarship until his senior year despite being the regular starter for the previous two seasons. Then when he went undrafted, Leonhard build an 11-year NFL career.

    If anyone has the drive to succeed in a difficult position, it’s Jim Leonhard.

    3. It’s Alex Hornibrook’s job to lose

    Houston entered last season as the starter and guided the Badgers to a season-opening win over LSU. But eventually his spotty play frustrated Chryst enough to give the redshirt freshman Hornibrook a shot. The finished the season splitting time.

    Now Hornibrook heads into the spring as the Badgers’ starter. It’s true that Wisconsin uses a run-heavy offense, but Hornibrook can build some trust in the preseason by improving his throwing skills after completing 58.6 percent of his limited pass attempts last season. That doesn’t mean he won’t have competition.

    True freshman Jack Coan, a 3-star pro-style quarterback from New York, will push Hornibrook plenty before the season opener Sept. 1 against Utah State.

    Wisconsin’s spring football practice concludes April 21 with the Badgers’ scrimmage.

    MORE: Big Ten Football Predictions, Storylines For 2017

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