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July 29, 2010

Fall camp preview: Seniors to step up

The trio of Kyle Jefferson, Isaac Anderson and David Gilreath arrived on campus as young wide receivers that needed to grow both physically and mentally. Now, as they are all about to embark on their senior season, that growth has an opportunity to be put on display.

Anderson, who emerged a season ago as a serviceable, albeit frustrating at times complement to Nick Toon, has an opportunity to utilize his electric speed to form a tangible twosome at the wide out spot.

Gilreath, who will continue his role as a speedster both out of the backfield and in the slot will remain a fixture in the Badger playbook. The real question mark at this position out of that trio is Jefferson.

After undergoing a brutal hit as a freshman against Michigan State and again against Minnesota as a sophomore, Jefferson has not been the same player that he showcased during the first half of his freshman year.

Now, as a more mature senior, Jefferson could be the fourth piece of the puzzle that needs to be pieced together after the unexpected dismissal of Kraig Appleton.

Needless to say, for an offense that is as loaded on paper as Wisconsin, it will only go as far as the wide receiver core takes them. They have an experienced quarterback throwing to them so chemistry shouldn't be an issue as the familiarity connecting the two units has already been established. Fall camp will be an opportunity for them to expand on that comfort level.

WHAT WE KNOW: Toon is determined to be great

Following the spring game, Toon made it clear that he was intent on becoming a national name during his junior year. Following a sophomore campaign where Toon led the team in both receptions and yards, the local prospect is hoping to become a legitimate Biletnikoff candidate.

We know he has all the physical skills needed-the size, speed and athleticism- and we know he has the determination to reel in every ball thrown his way. If the junior is able to expand those skills and add a step or two of quickness to his versatility, Toon will no longer be known just around Big Ten circles.

BIGGEST QUESTION: Can Anderson elevate his game and eliminate mental mistakes?

It didn't take long for Anderson to burst onto the scene a season ago. On the very first play from scrimmage against Northern Illinois, Anderson blew by his defender and reeled in Scott Tolzien's pass and took it to the house for an 80-yard score.

But for every big play Anderson had throughout the season, he had one bonehead play that thwarted momentum or killed a drive. Immediately a blatant penalty against Northwestern that took away a critical touchdown comes to mind. Or the numerous times in practice the coach's get on him for lack of effort or wrong route running.

The fact remains that Anderson, with his speed, could become a sleeper choice for an all-conference team at the position if he is able to stay focused and driven enough to be on top of his game all the time.

Fall camp should be a good indicator of whether or not Anderson has turned that mental corner, because the physical skills are there.

FRESH FACES: Isaiah Williams, Chase Hammond, Manasseh Garner

Garner may be the most intriguing prospect on the offensive side of the ball in UW's most recent recruiting class. He has size that could put him at wide receiver or tight end and plays with a chip on his shoulder. Reports from summer conditioning and workouts are that he's a smooth player on the field and has soft hands. His versatility will do nothing but enhance the Badger offense as his career unfolds.

Hammond has great size at the wide out position but needs to develop a comfort level with the playbook and become a more fluid route runner and don't be surprised to hear the Williams' name mentioned throughout fall camp as he has opened some eyes throughout summer workouts.

FALL CAMP PREDICTION:

Toon will be the No. 1 target for the Badger offense, but I wouldn't be shocked to see Anderson develop into a major target for Tolzien as camp wears on and the season draws nearer. He may very well be the fastest receiver in the lineup and runs some of the best routes of anyone at the position.

Toon will get the majority of the headlines, but Anderson has plenty of potential to develop into a legitimate deep ball threat as he was at times a season ago.

Gilreath will see plenty of action and with a couple of healthy feet, could be in for a big year both as a receiver and kick returner. His versatility in the playbook will continue to give opposing defenses fits.

Finally Jared Abbrederis, who made several plays throughout spring camp, will look to make his way up the depth chart. His speed and pass catching separate him from some of the younger players at his position.

Tomorrow, BadgerBlitz.com will preview the Badger offensive line.


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