Wisconsin hit the field for the first padded practice of fall camp Wednesday morning. While reporters aren’t being allowed in to watch due to COVID-19, coach Paul Chryst did speak with the media afterwards and gave a small glimpse into some of the more interesting position battles going on.
The Badgers have 320 carries and more than 2,000 yards to replace with Jonathan Taylor now playing in Indianapolis and Chryst believes, at least right now, they will count on three guys — senior Garrett Groshek and sophomores Nakia Watson and Isaac Guerendo — to fill the void.
“Those three are the ones that the lean goes on right now to be productive,” Chryst said. “Certainly not trying to match what (Taylor) did, but we do have to get really good consistent production out of that group, and I think all three can bring something.”
Watson figures to be the early-down option after rushing for 331 yards and two touchdowns in relief of Taylor last season. Groshek has played as the third-down back a lot in the last three seasons and has 57 career catches, while Guerendo is the fastest of the three and could be used in a variety of ways.
Chryst also mentioned redshirt freshman Julius Davis and true freshman Jalen Berger, saying both are still new, suggesting they have not yet had the opportunity to show the staff what they are capable of.
“(Running backs) Coach (John) Settle has a great saying in there and I think guys have bought into it,” Chryst said. “The standard is the standard. We all know what (Taylor) brought to this team and this program. It can be different. It can look different. The names are different, but that’s why they are here. They know they can contribute in a big way.”
Chryst really likes what Noah Burks gave them last year even if he wasn’t as in your face as some of the big name guys that have played the position over the last five years. The senior fnished sixth on the team in tackles and fourth in tackles for loss.
“Noah was productive last year in a different way than Zack (Baun) was or maybe T.J. (Watt) and (Joe Schobert) and Vince (Biegel). Those guys were probably more flashy. You noticed them,” Chryst said. “But when you go back at look at it, Noah was consistently productive and did a lot of things. I think the first thing is to keep that and build off of that. He doesn’t have to be someone that he’s not. I think last year gave him genuine confidence. He played a lot of football and in some of our big games played very well. So make sure you’re at that level and then how do you find a way to take a step forward.”
While Burks is a known commodity, finding a partner on the other side is the biggest challenge at the position.
Chryst mentioned three different guys as potential fillers for Baun:
Junior Izayah Green-May
“Izayah is a legitimate guy. Izayah played and played a lot last year in different areas. He’s got to continue to grow. He’s no longer a young guy.”
Sophomore CJ Goetz
“CJ Goetz has done a nice job. Last year moved him, switching positions, but now I think he’s had enough time where he’s understanding what’s going on.”
Redshirt freshman Spencer Lytle
“Spencer Lytle is a guy we were excited about when he came in. He’s kind of always been fighting an injury. Just being able to be on the field consistently. He’s shown some natural instincts to the position and has the ability to help us.”
Wisconsin brought in three true freshmen that they are intrigued about in Nick Herbig, Aaron Witt and Kayden Johnson, but it sounds like Green-May, Goetz and Lytle will see the field the most, at least at this point.
“I like that group but it’s early,” Chryst said. “Who is it that’s going to impact it? We still have to find out.”
Chris Orr is now in the NFL, leaving a spot open next to junior Jack Sanborn. Chryst seems very comfortable with either sophomore Leo Chenal or senior Mike Maskalunas filling that spot.
“We’ve got three guys that have been around and played,” Chryst said. “Leo being the youngest but has played a lot of football. With Jack and Leo and Mikey, you’ve got three guys that certainly have a good sense of how to play and how to play in our defense.”
The fourth spot on the depth chart remains unclear, especially with redshirt freshman Maema Njongmeta not currently practicing. That leaves true freshmen Malik Reed, Jordan Turner and Preston Zachman to fill in.
“Kind of two different groups. You’ve got a group that’s got a real good understanding and then you’ve got a younger group that we like their talent,” Chryst said. “I think there’s some questions marks certainly after those top three.”