Jeremy Birmingham/Land of 10
Wisconsin QB Alex Hornibrook can further is grip as a team leader this summer.

Wisconsin football returns to start summer workouts, ESPN likes the Badgers’ run defense and more

Zach Heilprin

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Today is Tuesday, May 30, and this is what’s for breakfast.

Back to business

After more than a month off, the Wisconsin football team will reconvene this week to begin summer workouts. It can be a transformative time for many as a lighter class load allows for an even sharper focus on football, while the limited interaction with coaches allows for leaders of the team to set the tone for fall camp and beyond.

Here’s five guys who could benefit most from a successful summer:

1) QB Alex Hornibrook

Already named the starting quarterback, Hornibrook needs to further develop his mastery of the offense and grow as a leader this summer. That means even more drill work on pocket presence, improved arm strength and taking charge of player-led practices. It’ll also be paramount for the sophomore to work with the younger wide receivers in an effort to make sure Wisconsin’s passing game consists of more than just WR Jazz Peavy and TE Troy Fumagalli.

2) RB Bradrick Shaw

Time with coaches in the summer is limited, but what they do get, at least in the past, is often used in the film room. That’s where Shaw could use some seasoning. While Wisconsin is more than comfortable using the sophomore on first and second down, there is less confidence when it comes to passing downs. Certainly some of that is physical, but it’s also running backs coach John Settle not being sure Shaw will be where he’s supposed to be every time. The more visuals he gets, and the more he studies, the better off he and the Badgers will be in the fall.

3) WR Danny Davis

One of two 4-star recruits in Wisconsin’s 2017 recruiting class, Davis arrives as the highest-ranked wide receiver the Badgers have signed since 2009. That lofty status has expectations very high for the Ohio product, and if he’s to have any kind of the immediate impact some are predicting, then getting up to speed on the offense and on the same page with Hornibrook will be paramount. In all likelihood, Davis won’t be a big contributor this fall, but his work in the summer will determine whether he’s got a shot or not during fall camp.

4) Injured inside linebackers

Juniors T.J. Edwards and Ryan Connelly missed all of spring practice while recovering from offseason surgery, while sophomore Chris Orr was limited as he comes off a torn ACL in his right knee suffered at the start of the 2016 season. That means all three will be playing catch-up with the rest of the team when it comes to being in football shape. Coach Paul Chryst has said in the past that his team doesn’t need to be ready the first day of fall camp to play the season opener, but they’ve got to be ready to take full advantage of fall camp. That will be the challenge this summer for the three inside linebackers.

5) CB Titus Booker

Another player who missed spring practice due to injury, the summer will be huge for the sophomore. Former secondary coach Daronte Jones could not speak more glowingly about Booker before he left, but none of that materialized in 2016. He’s got a lot of ground to make up, but the 5-foot-11, 190-pound Booker shouldn’t be totally dismissed from the fight for the No. 3 cornerback job that featured redshirt freshman Dontye Carriere-Williams and senior Lubern Figaro in the spring.

The Badgers are No. 1, when it comes to …

Wisconsin’s front seven, as it was the last two seasons, will be the strength of the defense in 2017. That’s what happens when you return every defensive lineman and inside linebacker from a unit that ranked seventh in the country in total defense in 2016. The unit was even better at stopping the run, allowing just 98.8 yards per game on the ground, third-best in the nation. And it’s why ESPN’s Dan Murphy believes the Badgers have the best run defense in the Big Ten. But there is a caveat:

The only questions about the Badgers’ ability to build on their run-stopping reputation come from having to replace stars at outside linebacker and defensive coordinator.

These are no doubt significant questions, but also ones that have solid answers at this point.

OLB Garret Dooley showed as a junior what type of player he could be when one of those “stars” — Vince Biegel — got injured. He’ll be just fine. At the other spot is another senior in Leon Jacobs, who is finally feeling at home at his most natural position. Add in the guys behind them — sophomore Zack Baun, junior Andrew Van Ginkel and freshman Christian Bell — and Wisconsin likes its options.

As for defensive coordinator, Jim Leonhard hit the ground running in the spring, and while there may be an adjustment period initially during the early part of the season, he’s been successful at everything he’s ever undertaken on a football field. It may have come earlier than expected, but the second-year coach’s ascension to a coordinator job feels and looks right.

Clutch Herro

Tyler Herro won’t arrive in Madison for another year, but the lone current commitment in coach Greg Gard’s 2018 recruiting class should already have Wisconsin fans excited. The 4-star shooting guard is the highest-ranked recruit the Badgers have pulled in since Sam Dekker in 2012, and he’s showing he’s got a little bit of the flair for the dramatic just like the former Badgers star.

On Sunday, in the Nike EYBL event in Los Angeles, Herro’s Playground Elite squad called on him for the game-winning bucket, and the Milwaukee Whitnall High School product delivered.

Herro struggled with a knee injury during the high school season in the spring and eventually had to shut things down. But his latest exploits suggest he’s nearing 100 percent, and everyone is seeing what the Badgers will get when he steps on campus next summer.

Catching up

  • From Former Badgers defenseman a key in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ drive for back-to-back Stanley Cup titles.
  • Former Wisconsin OLB T.J. Watt among three potential starters for the Pittsburgh Steelers who don’t have contracts for 2017, per ESPN.
  • Over at the Philadelphia Sunday Sun, they look at the Eagles’ running game and whether former Wisconsin RB Corey Clement could be a contributing member.