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ESPN Wisconsin Blogs - Zach Heilprin

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Badgers football: Miami LB commits

Jul 29, 2014 -- 7:56pm
The University of Wisconsin went into South Florida to pickup their 17th verbal commitment in the class of 2015.
Miami (Gulliver Prep), Florida linebacker Dominic Sheppard tweeted the news on Tuesday night.
The 6-foot-2, 225-pound, Sheppard is a 3-star recruit according to He had 90 tackles and one interception during his junior season.
He claimed offers from Alabama, Miami, Clemson, Mississippi State and many others.
Sheppard is the fourth linebacker committed for the class of 2015.

Badgers football: UW picked to win the West Division

Jul 25, 2014 -- 12:28pm
MADISON - Seemingly every conference in the country organizes a preseason media poll to predict who will win their league. The Big Ten does not. So for a fourth straight year the Cleveland Plain Dealer and organized a poll made up of 29 media members that cover the conference, and on Friday morning unveiled their choices.
The University of Wisconsin is the favorite to win the new West Division. They picked up 15 first-place votes, followed by nine for Iowa, five for Nebraska and one for Northwestern.
In the loaded East Division, Ohio State garnered 23 first-place votes, with Michigan State grabbing 10 to finish second.
In the Big Ten Championship game, the Buckeyes were picked 19 times, the Spartans nine times and Nebraska was chosen as the winner once.
Meanwhile, the voters also picked their preseason Offensive Player of the Year. Ohio State’s Braxton Miller has won the award the past two seasons, and is an overwhelming favorite to win it for a third time. He got 21 votes, with Badgers’ running back Melvin Gordon garnering five votes, Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah bringing in two votes and Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg getting one.
The group also voted on who will be the Defensive Player of the Year, with Michigan State defensive end Shilique Calhoun getting the nod with 13 votes. Nebraska defensive end was second with 10 votes, followed by Ohio State defensive tackle Michael Bennett with four, Buckeyes defensive end Joey Bosa with one and Michigan linebacker Jake Ryan also getting one.
The full breakdown of voting comes directly from
*note: There are more than 29 first-place votes due to ties
1. Ohio State, 195 points (23 first-place votes)
2. Michigan State, 180 points (10)
3. Michigan, 136 points
4. Penn State, 105.5 points
5. Maryland, 84 points
6. Indiana, 78.5 points
7. Rutgers, 33 points
1. Wisconsin, 183.5 points (15 first-place votes)
2. Iowa, 173 points (11)
3. Nebraska, 157.5 points (5)
4. Northwestern, 112 points (1)
5. Minnesota, 96.5 points
6. Illinois, 58 points
7. Purdue, 31.5 points
Picks to win Big Ten Championship
Ohio State 19
Michigan State 9
Nebraska 1
Big Ten title game matchup predictions
Ohio State over Wisconsin, 12
Michigan State over Iowa, 5
Ohio State over Iowa, 4
Ohio State over Nebraska, 3
Michigan State over Wisconsin, 2
Michigan State over Nebraska, 1
Michigan State over Northwestern, 1
Nebraska over Ohio State, 1
Big Ten Preseason Offensive Player of the Year Award
1. Braxton Miller, Ohio State QB (21)
2. Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin RB (5)
3. Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska RB (2)
4. Christian Hackenberg, Penn State QB (1)
Preseason vote for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year
1. Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State (13)
2. Randy Gregory, Nebraska (10)
3. Michael Bennett, Ohio State (4)
4. Joey Bosa, Ohio State (1)
4. Jake Ryan, Michigan (1)

Most Important Badgers: No. 1 Melvin Gordon

Jul 25, 2014 -- 8:04am
MADISON - “This is your team, kid. Put’em on your back.”
Those were the words Gary Andersen relayed to Melvin Gordon prior to summer workouts. It was early June, and the entire team was in attendance for a cookout at the home of the University of Wisconsin coach. It was there that he pulled his star running back aside.
“You’ve got to make sure you’re not just doing what you do,” Andersen said of what he told Gordon. “Because Melvin is going to work hard. Melvin is going to take care of his business. He has high expectations for himself. That’s very clear and very easy to see if you’re around him for any period of time. The challenge is now for him to be a leader. I thought he accepted it well in the spring, and it’s done nothing but grow since then.”
Gordon is now the face of Wisconsin football, and his credentials on the field make him easy to follow. Over the last 15 games the Kenosha native has rushed for 1,876 yards (8.3 yards per carry) and 13 touchdowns. Those numbers are the reason his name is the first out of an analyst’s mouth when asked about the Badgers and their chances for a successful season.
His 1,609 yards last season were the most by a sophomore in UW history, and with a similar season in 2014, he could move into the school’s top 5 all-time in career rushing yards.
For his career, Gordon is averaging 8.1 yards per carry and sits just 12 rushing attempts shy of the 300 needed to qualify for career records. When he hits that mark, he will almost certainly takeover the top spot at UW (James White, 6.24) and in the Big Ten (Penn State’s Ki-Jana Carter, 7.27). Add in the fact that his 16 career rushing touchdowns have covered an average of 29.8 yards, and it’s easy to see why the 6-foot-1, 213-pound, Gordon is being touted as one of the most explosive backs in the country, and he finds himself on the watch lists for nearly every national award possible.
Despite that success, Gordon continues to be one of the hardest workers on the team. In January and February, when a lot backs that got hit as much as Gordon did are still recovering, the unanimous second-team All-Big Ten performer was inside the Dave McClain Center running route trees in an effort to improve his ability as a receiver. And after nearly every practice in the spring, Gordon and his backfield mate, Corey Clement, would spend extra time going through conditioning and strength training drills.
“These kids on this team look at him in a different way,” Andersen said. “Not just as a great player now, but as somebody that is very driven. Melvin is driven. I’ve said it many times, and I’ll continue to say it, it’s important to Melvin Gordon that (before he leaves UW) he wants to be the feature back on a great football team. That’s important and it’s a driving force.”
Most expect Gordon to leave for the NFL after this season – a season that the 2010 high school Gatorade Player of the Year in Wisconsin hopes ends with his third Big Ten title and a berth in the first College Football Playoff. Had he left after last season, he likely would have been the first running back of the board. But before he even got his grade back from the NFL’s Draft Advisory Committee, he announced his intentions to return. He cited team success and becoming a better player among the reasons he returned, though individual awards are there for the taking as well.
“He kind of said it best,” new running backs coach Thomas Brown said of Gordon. “The reasons he came back were not for his own selfish ambition or trying to put up more yards or improve his draft stock. From what I was told, he was going to be one of the top backs in the country if he came out this past year. Thankfully he’s back with us, but he wants to be able to help this team as much as possible and be a leader, be at the forefront and help us be as successful as possible.”
To make them as successful as possible Gordon must be better in pass protection. Former running backs coach Thomas Hammock said on multiple occastions last year that Gordon would become a third-down option when he could trust him to protect the Badgers’ quarterback. It was something that James White did extremely well and Hammock had the utmost trust in him getting it done. For Brown, helping Gordon improve in that respect is one of the few things he needs to do better.
“My biggest thing is just to try to teach him to learn how to use his body better for himself, from a protection standpoint,” Brown said. “Also with finishing runs better behind his pads. He’s an explosive player, (is elusive), can make you miss, can do everything you want him to do for a running back position, but being more physical (could) add more (yards). But more importantly, pass protection, is really the biggest step in my opinion (for him) to be an every down, all-around back.”
In his first three years on campus, Gordon has been able to sit back and watch guys like Russell Wilson, Montee Ball, Jared Abbrederis and others lead the team. For UW to go where Gordon wants them to, he’ll need to become that same type of leader on and off the field.
“I think it’s impossible to be a championship football team if you’re not player driven,” Brown said. “As coaches, we can do as much as we can do from a preparation standpoint and pushing guys, but when you have to have a play made in the fourth quarter we’re not the ones on the field making it. You have to have guys that are able to step up and take some ownership and be leaders.”
Most Important Badgers
1) RB Melvin Gordon
About the 2014 Most Important Badgers:
This is not a list of the best players on this year’s squad. Instead, we asked a number of ESPN Wisconsin personalities to rank the 15 players that are most vital to the Badgers success in 2014. They were told their rankings should be based on what players hold the key to UW competing for a Big Ten title or more in Gary Andersen's second year as coach. Factors that came into play were past success, what was said about them by their coaches this offseason and what type of season could be expected from that particular player.
The list does not include any incoming freshmen, because we have yet to see them on the field as college players.

Most Important Badgers: No. 2 Sojourn Shelton

Jul 24, 2014 -- 8:02am
Photo/Getty Images
MADISON - Sojourn Shelton had lofty expectations for himself heading into his first season as a college player. If you ask him, he didn’t meet them. Never mind that he led the University of Wisconsin in interceptions, and became the first true freshman cornerback since Scott Starks in 2001 to start a majority of the Badgers’ games.
“I didn’t meet a lot of my personal goals that I wanted to meet as far as me getting better,” Shelton said late last year. “Not to be too hard on myself. I am satisfied, as a freshman, it is kind of nice, but I just want to continue to improve. I want to have the same goals going into next season, and I want to accomplish those goals. They’re pretty big goals.”
They were and they are. His interception total of four was half of what he had set out for prior to the season, and despite earning All-Big Ten honorable mention from the media, he’s still motivated by something that he didn’t do right.
Against Ohio State the Badgers were trailing by three with less than a minute left in the first half. Buckeyes’ quarterback Braxton Miller tried going to the end zone from 40 yards out but underthrew the ball. Shelton was in position to make him pay but dropped the interception. On the next play, Miller once again went deep and found Philly Brown for a ‘punch-in-the-gut’ touchdown. Wisconsin would go on to lose the game 31-24, making the drop all the more relevant.
Shelton tweeted this summer that a day doesn’t go by that he doesn’t think about the drop. That he hasn’t forgotten his failures shows what type of player he is. One with a lot of confidence, but a guy that also knows there is plenty of room to grow.
“The opportunities were there (for more big plays),” he said. “I think it’s just a matter of growing. A lot of those plays, where I went for the pass breakup, they could have been picks. I think that’s just part of growing.”
He’s continuing to grow physically as well. When he arrived in Madison in January of 2013, Shelton was carrying 152 pounds on his 5-foot-9, frame. He played at 172 last year, and is now listed at 178. The increased weight should help in the press man-to-man coverage that UW wants to play.
The coaching staff is also counting on Shelton to grow as a leader. Despite being on campus for just a year, only fellow cornerback Darius Hillary and safety Michael Caputo have started more games on defense than the 11 Shelton did last season.
“It’s important for one of us to step up,” Shelton said. “Whether it’s me or (Darius Hilary) or Peniel Jean. Somebody in the secondary.”
 Most Important Badgers
1) July 25
2) CB Sojourn Shelton
About the 2014 Most Important Badgers:
This is not a list of the best players on this year’s squad. Instead, we asked a number of ESPN Wisconsin personalities to rank the 15 players that are most vital to the Badgers success in 2014. They were told their rankings should be based on what players hold the key to UW competing for a Big Ten title or more in Gary Andersen's second year as coach. Factors that came into play were past success, what was said about them by their coaches this offseason and what type of season could be expected from that particular player.
The list does not include any incoming freshmen, because we have yet to see them on the field as college players.

Most Important Badgers: No. 3 Tanner McEvoy

Jul 23, 2014 -- 8:03am
MADISON - We don’t know where Tanner McEvoy will lineup for the University of Wisconsin this season. It could be as their starting quarterback or one of their starting safeties. That remains to be seen. But what we do know is McEvoy will play a significant role in 2014 no matter where he lands.
The Hillsdale, New Jersey, product was seemingly everywhere for the Badgers a year ago. He battled for the starting quarterback job with Joel Stave and Curt Phillips after transferring in from Arizona Western College. He was never a true challenger due to a lack of knowledge of the offense and was moved to wide receiver. He played there in the opener against Massachusetts, but a hand injury forced another move – this time to safety. Playing defense for the first time since his junior year of high school, McEvoy adapted quickly and ended up starting three games. He finished with 27 tackles, one interception and five passes defended.
Some might think that McEvoy’s year playing safety impacted his development as a quarterback. UW coach Gary Andersen disagrees. 
“I would say it’s an invaluable experience,” the second-year coach said. “To get to play (on) those big stages and big moments and make plays. You watched him get better as the year went on. He became more of a leader. His comfort zone was there. It doesn’t matter what position you’re playing, the fact you’ve jogged out of the tunnel, and you’ve played (under) the bright lights, it helps you. So because of that, he’ll definitely be a better player.”
Despite spending the year at safety, McEvoy maintained throughout the season that he came to Wisconsin to play quarterback, and that’s where he wanted to play. Andersen and offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig assured him he’d be given an opportunity at quarterback in the spring, and that materialized in March. McEvoy was back under center, and with Stave sidelined by an injury, ended the spring as the No. 1 quarterback.
“It was a tough transition as a young quarterback coming here in the fall and getting moved into that,” Andersen said. “It’s a complicated offense that we run. We all know that. There is so much that goes into the run game and so on and so forth. He’s done a nice job continuing to work hard.
“As we go through the offseason him and Joel are competing. D.J. Gillins is excited to compete also. It’s great to have competition. At the end of the day, any good football team has competition.”
McEvoy holds a significant advantage over Stave when it comes to taking off and running when the play breaks down – something UW’s offensive staff desperately wants in their quarterback. But if McEvoy doesn’t win the job, and he ends up back on defense, there might still be times where he could help Wisconsin under center.
“There is an opportunity for an athletic quarterback to possibly walk into those scenarios, if he wasn’t the starter, to be able to play and do some things in a package,” Andersen said.  “It’s not a whole new offense. It’s a package, a set period of plays.
“(UW offensive coordinator) Andy (Ludwig) did that with Eric Weddle when we were at Utah. Eric was obviously a defensive player, but he came in and had a package at the quarterback spot that he did very well at. We’ll see who the starting quarterback (is) and then we’ll make those decisions as we go forward.”
Most Important Badgers
1) July 25
2) July 24
3) QB Tanner McEvoy
About the 2014 Most Important Badgers:
This is not a list of the best players on this year’s squad. Instead, we asked a number of ESPN Wisconsin personalities to rank the 15 players that are most vital to the Badgers success in 2014. They were told their rankings should be based on what players hold the key to UW competing for a Big Ten title or more in Gary Andersen's second year as coach. Factors that came into play were past success, what was said about them by their coaches this offseason and what type of season could be expected from that particular player.
The list does not include any incoming freshmen, because we have yet to see them on the field as college players.

Badgers football: An update to the updated roster

Jul 23, 2014 -- 2:28am
Nose guard Jeremy Patterson is a freshman but he certainly doesn't look like one.
MADISON – The University of Wisconsin released an updated roster late last week that included new players coming in and removed the players with eligibility that wouldn’t be returning. What it didn’t have were all of the position changes, updated weights and what players had changed numbers. On Tuesday, UW made the 2014 Fact Book available, and it has those last three items up to date.
A couple notes after looking through it:
Jeremy Patterson is a big man and not just for a freshman. The nose guard weighed in at 326 pounds – 36 pounds more than the next heaviest defensive lineman. The coaching staff was extremely high on the Screven, Georgia, native and optimistic that he could help them this year. While his size does not gel with UW’s offseason of going smaller but quicker in the front seven, the 6-foot-3, Patterson could be valuable against teams, like LSU, that want to play power football.
While Patterson was up, senior Warren Herring was down. He was listed last year at 295 pounds, but was 12 pounds lighter this time around. If sophomore Arthur Goldberg (290) and Patterson can handle more playing time, it would allow Herring to move from his nose guard spot to end in certain packages.
A couple other notables that dropped weight were senior tight end Sam Arneson, who went from 254 to 244, and senior inside linebacker Marcus Trotter, who is now listed at 226 after playing at 233 a year ago.
Junior quarterback Joel Stave was also lighter, coming in at 220 pounds – 5 less than in 2013.
It was also an offseason full of adding weight for players, especially for guys in the front seven.
Redshirt freshman Chikwe Obasih, who is currently penciled in as the starter at one of the defensive end spots, put on 23 pounds, and is now listed at 268. His fellow Brookfield native, redshirt freshman Alec James, made the transition from outside linebacker to defensive end in the offseason and added 20 pounds to his frame, leaving him at 259.
Both of Wisconsin’s starting outside linebackers, sophomore Vince Biegel (244) and junior Joe Schobert (240), added more than 10 pounds.
While Marcus Trotter dropped weight, his brother Michael is up to 220 after putting on 15 pounds, as the senior made the move from safety to inside linebacker.
Sophomore Keelon Brookins, who moved from safety to outside linebacker, was up 16 pounds to 209.
On the offensive side of the ball, true freshman quarterback D.J. Gillins is now listed at 201, which makes him 16 pounds heavier than on the spring roster. UW’s offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig said on Signing Day that adding weight to Gillins' frame would be a priority.
Junior tight end Austin Maly put on 10 pounds and sits at 250, while redshirt freshman tight end Troy Fumagalli added 13 pounds to his 6-foot-5, frame and now tips the scales at 246.
Redshirt freshman tight end T.J. Watt, who missed most of spring practice with a leg injury, put on 12 pounds to get to 247.
A few more:
- Junior running back Melvin Gordon is up 6 pounds to 213. His backfield mate, sophomore Corey Clement, came in at 217, which was up 7 pounds.
- Taiwan Deal, one of the two freshmen running backs UW signed in the class of 2014, was lighter than expected at 216 pounds.
- D’Cota Dixon, another true freshman, weighed in at 206 pounds, which makes him by far the biggest cornerback on the roster.
- Junior cornerback Darius Hillary came in at 188, just a pound more than last year. And sophomore Sojourn Shelton is now 178, up from 172 in his freshman season.
Position changes:
Note: The changes listed below are based on what the spring roster had the players labeled as. Most of the moves happened prior to spring practice starting.
Old Pos.
New Pos.
Matt Austin (FR)
Inside linebacker
Outside linebacker
Keelon Brookins (RS FR)
Outside linebacker
Jack Cichy (SO)
Inside linebacker
Outside linebacker
Leon Jacobs (SO)
Outside linebacker
Inside linebacker
Peniel Jean (SR)
A.J. Jordan (JR)
Wide receiver/Safety
Carl Miller (RS FR)
Inside linebacker
Outside linebacker
Joe Schobert (JR)
Inside linebacker
Outside linebacker
Michael Trotter (SR)
Inside linebacker
Number changes:
Old No.
New No.
Devin Gaulden (JR)
No. 10
No. 4
Rob Wheelwright (SO)
No. 4
No. 15
Austin Ramesh (RS FR)
No. 30
No. 20
T.J. Watt (RS FR)
No. 85
No. 42
Troy Fumagalli (RS FR)
No. 41
No. 48
Logan Schmidt (RS SO)
No. 79
No. 76


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