The 3 biggest storylines for the Wisconsin football offense in spring practices | College Football

One of the battles the University of Wisconsin football team’s offense will have to fight this spring is against impatience.

With an almost entirely new coaching staff and new players assuming top spots on the depth chart, the offense is likely going to need some time to get things in order.

The Badgers, who finished second in the Big Ten West last season with a 9-4 record, needed to shake some things up after a second straight year of missing out on the conference championship game and a top-tier bowl. UW coach Paul Chryst has hired a new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, Bobby Engram, moved Bob Bostad back to the offensive line coaching spot, made Chris Haering the tight ends coach, and brought in former UW offensive lineman Al Johnson to coach running backs as Gary Brown deals with health issues.

Spring practices run March 22-April 22, with the Badgers slated to practice each Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday over those five weeks. The exception of the final week, when the schedule goes to Tuesday, Thursday, Friday. Those practices will be on the indoor field at the McClain Center while the renovations to Camp Randall Stadium’s south end zone seating area continue. As has become the norm under Chryst, UW will not have a spring game.

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Here are three key storylines to watch on offense during spring practices:

Engram’s tweaks to the offense

Engram was an interesting hire for Chryst and the Badgers for a number of reasons, but top among them is he doesn’t have experience as a coordinator. He’s spent the past eight years with the Baltimore Ravens as an assistant, coaching wide receivers for five seasons before taking over the franchise’s tight ends.

He’s seen how a team at the highest level can be built around the run and still create chances at plays in the pass game — a formula that has worked for UW in the past and is its best chance to compete for a Big Ten title, but has been lacking the last two seasons. What Engram will bring in terms of formations, motions, pace, passing concepts and more will start to show during spring practices, as how he views his talent on offense.

“I think fundamentally and philosophically, we see the game very similar,” Chryst said of his new coordinator.

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It will also be fascinating to watch the working balance between Chryst and Engram. Chryst was the team’s offensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach and play-caller last season, but Engram will be the play-caller this year after the staff collaborates on the game plan throughout the week.

Who’s at tackle?

Bostad’s move back to the offensive line ensures that position group has a high-level coach. But there are plenty of questions about the players filling out the starting lineup.

All-American left guard Josh Seltzner and All-Big Ten right tackle Logan Bruss are gone, leaving senior left tackle Tyler Beach, junior center Joe Tippmann and redshirt sophomore right guard Jack Nelson as the returning pieces.

Beach had a poor season as a pass blocker in 2021, allowing 24 pressures and earning a PFF pass-blocking grade of 32.2, fifth-worst among Power Five conference tackles who played at least 300 snaps. However, he was a strong run blocker and his PFF run-blocking grade of 81.2 was No. 24 among those same tackles. He’ll have a chance to start again, but it shouldn’t be set in stone that he’s the starter at left tackle.

Former five-star recruits Logan Brown and Nolan Rucci will compete for tackle spots, as will Tanor Bortolini and Riley Mahlman. Bortolini was solid filling in for Bruss when he missed time due to neck and foot injuries, including in the Las Vegas Bowl.

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Competition at quarterback

Unfortunately for two-year starting quarterback Graham Mertz, the questions about him can’t be answered this spring.

He’ll need to pick up the changes that Engram brings to the offense, but UW already knows he can look great in a controlled practice setting — he’ll have to perform in the fall to change the conversation around him that’s drifted into disappointment. However, one area he can show improvement is reading his progressions quicker and avoiding the moments in which he sticks on his first read too long.

There could be a battle brewing for the spots behind Mertz, and perhaps to challenge for that starting spot if one of his backups can exceed expectations. Senior Chase Wolf has also looked good in spring and training camp before, but failed to translate that to the game field. Redshirt freshman Deacon Hill and true freshman Myles Burkett will push for backup reps with Wolf, and Hill was one of the standout performers of the team’s bowl practices.

How quickly Hill and Burkett can adapt to Engram and the new offense and let their physical talents show will be fun to watch.

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