July 21, 2009

Fall Outlook: Wide Receivers

With Wisconsin's fall camp set to begin Aug. 10, BadgerBlitz.com takes a look at the individual position groups. Today, our continuing series digs into the wide receiver core.

As a position that returns every player from a season ago, the depth and talent is the best it has been under head coach Bret Bielema. And after gaining momentum as the season went on, the position looks to build on that success in August.

Departing Starters: None
Returning Starters: David Gilreath, Isaac Anderson, Kyle Jefferson
Top Reserves: Nick Toon and Elijah Theus
Freshman Impact: Kraig Appleton

Post-Spring Depth Chart:

Wide Receiver (Z)

Jr. David Gilreath (5-11, 162)
So. Nick Toon (6-3, 207)
Sr. T.J. Theus (6-2, 188)

Wide Receiver (X)

Jr. Isaac Anderson (5-11, 180)
Jr. Kyle Jefferson (6-5, 180)
Fr. Kraig Appleton (6-3, 190)

Overview: When thinking of the 2008 Wisconsin wide receivers, many direct themselves right back to the beginning of the season where dropped balls seemed to be more common than completed ones. The unit hit a low point against Michigan where the inability to haul in a pass hampered the offense's ability to establish a larger lead than the 19-0 margin they had at the break. And as we all know, that second half collapse and consequent loss lingered for most of the season as the team never fully recovered.

But, as bad as the receivers were in the beginning of the season, they improved that much more by the schedule's end as evidenced by Anderson's first career 100 yard receiving game against Minnesota and Toon's first touchdown reception against Cal-Poly.

By the end of the year the momentum at the wide receiver position was going strong and that is what has many excited for this season. As a position that returns every player, one can expect a deep and talented rotation throughout the season. No matter who comes out on top of the quarterback battle, the fact remains that they will have plenty of options to throw the ball to this fall.

The Pro: Gilreath. After shining as a special teamer his first season as a Badger, Gilreath really made strides in 2008 during the season and through spring ball in March and April. He proved he was capable of more than returning punts and kicks as he racked up yardage both rushing the ball and receiving throughout last season.

"I showed I could do some things and now I have to go out there and show people that I can play some ball at the line of scrimmage too," Gilreath said during spring ball. "I don't think there's much pressure. I just go out there and showing now that I can be consistent and keep going."

With his speed, Gilreath is definitely a dynamic offensive threat that opposing defenses must be aware of. Everyone knows his ability when he has the ball in the open field, but racking up completions and receiving yardage elevated his game elevated to a new level. And it's that momentum that has him prepped for another big year as a junior.

The Rising Star: Toon. If there was one thing about spring camp that revealed something more than anything else, it was the play of Toon. It was obvious he was serious about elevating his game to a new level and showed it by being the physical, dominant receiver many thought he would be.

One of the most fun match-ups to watch throughout spring camp was the one between Toon and Aaron Henry. Both are very physical players at their position and really got after each other in a competitive manner. Any ball that was tossed in their direction would go to the player who wanted it more. There is no doubt that both players will improve drastically if they have a fall camp as competitive they did last spring.

After utilizing a redshirt season two seasons ago and gaining game experience last season, Toon is poised to be one of the breakout players for Wisconsin this season. He has great size, speed and athleticism that will make it very difficult for opponents to handle. Toon has all the tools necessary to be a major offensive threat for UW this year.

The Rookie: Appleton. When Appleton signed a national letter of intent on signing day, he ended a long recruitment that featured many twists and turns. And the Badgers are more than happy to have him aboard. With his size, (6-3, 190) and body build, Appleton looks to be the type of player that can make an immediate impact. There is no question there will be plenty of buzz surrounding the four-star talent when fall camp begins Aug. 10.

Battle To Watch: Anderson vs. Jefferson. Isaac Anderson really started coming along near the conclusion of the 2008 season. Against Minnesota, his home state school, he recorded his first career 100-yard game. He is lightning fast and possesses great athleticism that allows him to handle tough passes.

Meanwhile, Jefferson, who received extensive playing time as a freshman, has proven that he is injury prone. As a freshman, he took a mega hit when playing Michigan State and never looked the same. Then last year, he got hit hard against Minnesota and did not return the rest of the season. It seemed that Jefferson had gotten back to normal in spring when he added 12 pounds to his lean frame, but only time will tell how he responds when he is on the field later this fall.

At this point, it seems Anderson will be one of the starters come opening day against Northern Illinois.

Expectations: It should be fair to think that the wide receivers are as talented and experienced as they have been under Bielema. There is a great mixture of players with size and speed and plenty of game action under their belts. Gilreath will likely be both a running and receiving threat and Toon is poised to have a monster sophomore season. If the running game performs at a high level, the Badger quarterbacks will be licking their chops with the talent they have at receiver.

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