Wisconsin’s football program has built enough depth at most positions that the Badgers rarely require the services of freshmen. Coaches would much prefer to redshirt those players in an effort to save a season of eligibility and allow them to gain strength and practice experience.
Still, that doesn’t mean some freshmen aren’t pushing for playing time this season, either as a starter or a legitimate backup. Here are five freshmen who stood out during the first two weeks of fall camp, which were open to the media.
QB Jack Coan
Jack Coan and redshirt freshman Kare Lyles continue to battle for Wisconsin’s backup quarterback job, but Coan appears to be in front. He has demonstrated more poise, mobility and accuracy, although both have had their youthful moments. Coan was impressive as an early enrollee in the spring and looked plenty capable in the spring game when he completed 10 of 17 passes for 121 yards and 1 touchdown.
If Coan earns the backup spot, coaches will have to decide how best to use him. It stands to reason that Lyles could still play late in blowouts to provide Coan with an opportunity to save his redshirt season. But if starting quarterback Alex Hornibrook sustains an injury and Wisconsin finds itself in “win now” mode, coaches won’t be hesitant to use Coan.
LS Adam Bay
Wisconsin doesn’t just hand out scholarship offers to long snappers, but Adam Bay is that good at his craft. In fact, he’ll likely contribute more than any other freshman for the Badgers this season. Bay, from Mesa, Ariz., ranked as the nation’s No. 1 long snapper by Kohl’s and was selected to the 2017 Under Armour All-America game. He successfully completed all 440 of his snaps in high school.
Jacob Cesear, a 2016 Wisconsin signee, was supposed to be the Badgers’ long snapper of the future, but he left the program last fall. That move allowed Bay to sign with Wisconsin after he committed to Missouri. Now, Bay is set to become Wisconsin’s starting long snapper for the next four seasons.
WR Danny Davis
Danny Davis provided a National Signing Day jolt to the Badgers when he picked Wisconsin over Kentucky and West Virginia. He was one of Wisconsin’s highest-ranked signees in the 2017 class, according to the 247Sports composite, and his inclusion created plenty of buzz around Madison. Whether he sees the field this season or redshirts remains unknown, but he has given himself a chance during fall camp.
The 6-foot, 186-pound Davis is a talented receiver who can make defenders miss in open space. He also has spent time during special teams sessions fielding punts. It will be tough for Davis to crack the receiver rotation given that Jazz Peavy, Quintez Cephus, A.J. Taylor, George Rushing and Kendric Pryor are ahead of him on the depth chart. But don’t rule out Davis, particularly if injuries creep up. Peavy, Rushing and Pryor all have missed at least some time during fall camp with injuries.
TE Jake Ferguson
Wisconsin is stacked at tight end with Troy Fumagalli, Kyle Penniston and Zander Neuville. Fumagalli is arguably the best tight end in the country, and Penniston is an excellent pass catcher himself. But Jake Ferguson has shown promise in practice, particularly when Neuville missed time with a right leg injury.
Ferguson caught a couple of tough passes in 11-on-11 work last week and seems comfortable in the offense. He came in as the No. 2 prospect in Wisconsin for the 2017 class, per 247Sports, and has lived up to that status early. Still, expect him to redshirt barring injury.
RB Jonathan Taylor
It seems unlikely that Jonathan Taylor will play given that four veteran tailbacks are ahead of him on the depth chart. But stranger things have happened. Remember when Dare Ogunbowale suddenly became a viable running back option after he moved from defensive back because of injuries?
Taylor has all the skills Wisconsin could want in a running back. He set the New Jersey single-season rushing record as a high school senior, breaking the mark previously held by former Badgers tailback Corey Clement. Taylor is powerful and fast and has picked up the offense in a short amount of time. Running back Taiwan Deal has been sidelined during part of fall camp with a right leg injury, which has allowed Taylor to earn important practice reps. Even if Taylor redshirts, don’t forget about what he can offer in the seasons to come.