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Wisconsin's offensive line will be one of the team's strongest position groups next season.

Wisconsin mailbag: Deepest football position groups, basketball future, QB Ben Bryant’s de-commitment

Jesse Temple

Have Wisconsin football, basketball or recruiting questions? We’ve got answers. Join us every Wednesday for the Land of 10 Wisconsin mailbag to talk all things Badgers. This week, we discuss offensive line depth, why the basketball team will be better next season, the de-commitment of quarterback Ben Bryant, Paul Chryst’s recruitment of lacrosse players, whether point guard D’Mitrik Trice returns and a look at the two-deep in the Badgers’ secondary.

Question 1

Answer: Wisconsin’s offensive line has to be as deep as any position group in the Big Ten. You can take the backups and plug them in as starters at a lot of college programs. It’s almost ridiculous to consider that Wisconsin has three All-America offensive linemen returning in Michael Deiter, Beau Benzschawel and David Edwards. I believe Deiter will likely move inside after he spent one season playing left tackle. That means one of the team’s starters off a 13-1 Orange Bowl-winning squad would lose his starting spot.

If Deiter indeed moves to left guard, that would open up an opportunity for Patrick Kasl and Cole Van Lanen to play left tackle. Kasl was solid when he replaced an injured Edwards at right tackle during the Orange Bowl. Jon Dietzen is an excellent left guard, but that’s only if he is healthy enough to play. Backups Jason Erdmann, Brett Connors and Micah Kapoi have plenty of experience as well.

As for the cornerbacks, that position group certainly is the most inexperienced. Redshirt sophomore Dontye Carriere-Williams has the most playing time after serving as the No. 3 cornerback last season. He played in all 14 games, made 5 starts and recorded 30 tackles with 7 pass breakups and 1 interception. Madison Cone is likely the other starting cornerback, even though he appeared in 9 games and registered only 1 tackle and 1 pass breakup.

Faion Hicks and Caesar Williams enter spring camp as the presumed backup cornerbacks. Hicks redshirted last season and Williams appeared in 1 game. That position group will have as much to prove as any on the Badgers’ roster.

Question 2

Answer: I wrote a column on Thursday that attempted to address why Wisconsin’s program wasn’t “in trouble” long term, as national college basketball analyst Doug Gottlieb asserted on Twitter. A big part of my rationale involved the Badgers’ returning personnel. The only rotation player who won’t be back is senior forward Aaron Moesch. And if Ethan Happ returns, he would be the anchor on a team capable of helping him out much more than it has this season.

I say that because Wisconsin will have at least six guards ready to contribute. Kobe King and D’Mitrik Trice would be healthy, and Green Bay transfer Trevor Anderson would be eligible to play. I don’t think you can overstate the importance of not having King and Trice in the lineup for most of this season. Brad Davison has been forced to play point guard with essentially no backup help. And he has done all this despite playing with only one healthy shoulder.

Of course, more experience doesn’t guarantee success. If that were the case, we’d be seeing production from Alex Illikainen, Charles Thomas and Andy Van Vliet. But with Happ and Nate Reuvers, that’s a pretty good place to start in the frontcourt. Just how good will Wisconsin be next season? That remains to be seen. But I wouldn’t expect another season like the one we’re witnessing right now.

Question 3

Answer: Quarterback Ben Bryant was one of the more controversial de-commitments in recent memory for the Badgers program, and I actually wrote about what happened on Monday. But here’s the synopsis:

Bryant said his Wisconsin scholarship offer was pulled in May, one day after tweeting about an offer he received from Georgia. He provided an update via Twitter and said he “had no intention of ever committing” to Georgia but appreciated the attention the school was showing him.

Bryant said he called Wisconsin quality-control coach Jon Budmayr and left a message to alert him of the offer but reminded him he was “still 100 percent committed to the Badgers.”

“The next morning we spoke on the phone and I was informed that I was no longer a good fit for Wisconsin and I was encouraged to continue looking for a fit,” Bryant wrote. “The implication that my loyalty to UW had been compromised was not true and is what saddens me the most.”

Bryant went on to express that communication on Wisconsin’s part had been “subpar at times and during several visits.” He said he still wanted to be a student and a football player at Wisconsin.

If that’s really the whole story, it seems like a curious thing for Wisconsin to do, particularly considering how many other players tweet about scholarship offers. Just look at 2019 Wisconsin quarterback commit Graham Mertz, who has tweeted or retweeted about scholarship offers from Michigan, Ohio State, Ole Miss, Missouri, Georgia and most recently Arizona State since he committed to the Badgers on Oct. 8. Safety Bryson Shaw, a 2019 Wisconsin commit, subsequently tweeted about an Ohio State scholarship offer as well.

The timing of Bryant’s departure took place about a week after Wisconsin received a commitment from quarterback Chase Wolf (Cincinnati) in the 2018 class. I don’t know if having another quarterback committed made a difference in the process because the Badgers could have used two signal callers given the depth issues at the position. Bryant is now signed with Cincinnati.

Question 4

Answer: The fact Wisconsin has recruited football players who also happen to play lacrosse isn’t some master plan from the Badgers coaching staff. It’s not unusual for high school stars to be multi-sport athletes, and some of the regions in which Wisconsin recruits also happen to offer lacrosse as a team sport.

Quarterback Jack Coan once committed to play lacrosse at Notre Dame, receiver Cade Green committed to the Air Force lacrosse team and 2019 Badgers football commit Bryson Shaw pledged to the Maryland lacrosse team as a high school freshman. I don’t buy the notion that top-flight lacrosse players want to attend a school that allows them an opportunity to play both sports. Every person is different. And in the case of Shaw, he had several colleges that offered him a chance to play both sports: Ohio State, Notre Dame, Virginia and Syracuse.

Although Ohio State didn’t offer Shaw a football scholarship until after he committed to Wisconsin, he knew the Buckeyes were close to offering. Shaw told me that before he committed, he was planning to set up another visit with Ohio State because new Buckeyes defensive coordinator Alex Grinch had been recruiting him hard.

“When I committed to Wisconsin, he said, ‘I’ve been at Ohio State two weeks and I’ve been to your school both of those weeks. I think I deserved a chance,’ ” Shaw told me. “I let him know that Wisconsin was the place for me and I’m sorry it didn’t work out. But Madison is the place I want to be.”

Bryson’s father, Bryn, said that one of the reasons Bryson may have picked Wisconsin was for the very fact that the Badgers don’t offer lacrosse.

“Maybe in the back of his mind, he said, ‘Wisconsin is the perfect place for me. I won’t get pressured to play lacrosse.’” Bryn said. “He’s always said he wanted to focus on football. He didn’t want to miss spring football because that might jeopardize his position, and he wanted to get there and compete.”

Question 5

Answer: At this stage of the season, there is little reason to believe Badgers point guard D’Mitrik Trice returns from December surgery on his right foot. Trice practiced on Jan. 17, two days before Wisconsin played at home against Illinois. It appeared Trice was beginning to gear up to play this season. But that’s the last time we saw Trice on the floor for the Badgers. Either he didn’t progress as hoped, coaches decided they wanted to keep his redshirt opportunity open or both.

Trice played in Wisconsin’s first 10 games and should be eligible for a medical redshirt, making him a redshirt sophomore next season. Wisconsin’s team just isn’t very good this season, and it would have been a shame to give up that potential redshirt by having Trice play in just a handful of relatively meaningless February games. On the other hand, Brad Davison could use a break, and Trice would have been able to spell him.

I know some Badgers fans haven’t been all that impressed with Trice, but he put up solid numbers in the games he played. Trice averaged 9.4 points and played 31.5 minutes. He also was capable of creating his own shot late in the shot clock — something that has been lacking in his absence. Trice’s presence will allow Davison to move back to the off-guard spot and create competition for playing time there with Kobe King and Brevin Pritzl. Those four guards can carry Wisconsin a long way next season, particularly with Khalil Iverson, Ethan Happ, Nate Reuvers and Aleem Ford also in the playing rotation.

Question 6

Answer: My two-deep before spring practice begins looks like this: Dontye Carriere-Williams and Madison Cone as starting cornerbacks, with Faion Hicks and Caesar Williams as backups. D’Cota Dixon and Patrick Johnson as starting safeties, with Eric Burrell, Scott Nelson and Seth Currens as backups. If there is an incoming freshman who could contribute immediately, I would take cornerback Donte Burton. Burton is one of five early enrollees, and he was a true lockdown corner, and teams didn’t want to throw his direction in high school.

How Wisconsin’s defensive backs will perform next season is perhaps the biggest question about the team. No matter who the Badgers have out there, the secondary will be young and inexperienced other than Dixon. But there’s no coach Wisconsin would rather have teaching that group than Jim Leonhard. I’d expect what is considered to be a perceived weakness entering the season to turn into a strength.

Have a question about Wisconsin football, basketball or recruiting? Tweet us @Landof10Badgers and we’ll try to answer your question in a future mailbag. Check to see if your question already was answered by reading previous Wisconsin mailbags here.