Paul Chryst returns to Wisconsin sideline at spring game
MADISON, Wis. (AP) The spring football scrimmage on Saturday at Wisconsin will be more than just another glorified practice.
It's a high-profile chance for the Badgers to impress new coach Paul Chryst, and give curious fans a peek at what to expect from the new boss this fall.
''Especially coming off a good year, with a new coaching staff, you kind of want to cement yourself,'' outside linebacker Joe Schobert said.
Schobert shouldn't have to worry too much about his job. A senior in the fall, Schobert and Vince Biegel should be one of the top outside linbecker tandems in the Big Ten.
And spring football games are typically are really just controlled scrimmages with vanilla play-calling. It's often more of a chance for backups and walk-ons to prove that they're worthy of consideration for more time when the real games start.
Chryst's return to Wisconsin adds a new element.
The former Badgers offensive coordinator left Pittsburgh following a three-year stint as head coach to take the same job in Madison, his hometown. Chryst replaced Gary Andersen in December after his predecessor bolted unexpectedly to Oregon State for the same position.
''I wish we had another month,'' Chryst said this week about the end of spring drills. ''The biggest thing is getting to know this team and I've enjoyed it.''
The starters will face the backups on Saturday. Badgers basketball players Josh Gasser and Duje Dukan will serve as honorary coaches.
''They might have a few surprises up their sleeve,'' Chryst joked. ''They're working on it right now, that's why they weren't at practice.''
Surprises aside, much of the attention will fall on the offense. Chryst, after all, has a reputation for operating high-scoring schemes.
The offensive line has been racked by injuries, but Wisconsin has solid building blocks in running back Corey Clement and quarterback Joel Stave. The defense is getting some tweaks with returning coordinator Dave Aranda.
''We'll keep it pretty vanilla, but we'll have some twists in there. Coach Chryst brings his own type of flavor to the pot,'' Biegel said about the spring game. ''We also have some new twists on defense, not just the same 3-4 you saw last year. Some new fronts that we're going to have, and some twists that we're going to be ready for Alabama.''
That would be the season opener against the Crimson Tide on Sept. 5 in Arlington, Texas. Openers don't get any bigger than a high-profile affair against a national power.
The secondary should be one of the defense's strengths with three starters returning led by hard-hitting safety Michael Caputo. Quarterback Tanner McEvoy seems primed to return to the defensive backfield on Saturday next to Caputo in a preview of a potential two-way role in the fall.
Outside linebacker is the other big strength for the Wisconsin defense.
Biegel had 16 1/2 tackles for losses and 7 1/2 sacks as a sophomore last season; Schobert had 13 1/2 tackles for losses and three sacks as a junior. They are each working on skills to make them more complete players in the fall.
Biegel said he's been working on dropping back in coverage more than blitzing, while Schobert has been blitzing more than dropping back.
''During the season you don't necessarily see some of that, so working on our weaknesses and improving on them has been the biggest thing for us,'' Biegel said.
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