Injuries are an unfortunate part of football that most players go through at some point in their careers.
For the Wisconsin Badgers football team, there are several key players who return this season after missing significant time last year due to injury.
With players back on campus and going through summer conditioning, let's look at ten players who hope to be contributors in 2022 despite being injured for a good chunk of last season.
Running back Chez Mellusi was on pace to rush for over 1,000 yards last season if not for a knee injury.
The former Clemson transfer was the starter for the first nine games of the season a year ago but went down with a non-contact injury against Rutgers and did not return.
He did not participate in spring practice, but the hope is to have him available this fall. The senior tailback added some upper body strength in the off-season, and if his knee is good to go, he should see plenty of carries for the Badgers as the backup to Braelon Allen.
Wisconsin missed having a No. 2 option to spell Allen late last year, and Mellusi is also a good pass catcher out of the backfield. If he can return to form in 2022, the Badgers could have a really good one-two punch.
Last season Mellusi averaged 4.7 yards per attempt and finished the season with 815 rushing yards and five touchdowns in only nine games.
Mellusi is the only player on this list not fully "back" at this time, but he could arguably have the biggest impact on the team next season.
Clay Cundiff may have only seen playing time in five games last year, but he still wound up finishing fifth in receiving yards. While that does not speak glowingly about the overall passing game from a season ago, it was a great step for Cundiff, who showed flashes of being an effective pass-catching threat for the Badgers.
Cundiff actually finished the season with the second-longest reception of the year with a 43-yarder from Graham Mertz against Notre Dame. Additionally, all three of his receptions went for at least 18 yards, and he added a receiving touchdown against Michigan.
Just as Cundiff began to emerge last season, he suffered a slew of significant lower body injuries against Iowa that required ambulance attention and an immediate trip to the hospital. Several surgeries later, the Kansas native is once again running, and is now participating in regular team activities this summer.
Wisconsin has had terrible injury luck at the tight end position, but Cundiff is one of the more promising players in the room when healthy. He is a capable receiving threat and blocker, making him a valuable player with Jake Ferguson off playing with the Dallas Cowboys.
If Cundiff can remain healthy, he could provide the team with another key weapon as Bobby Engram looks to improve the offense from a year ago.
One of the fastest players on the entire team, Guerendo has struggled to stay healthy during his career with the Badgers. The running back out of Indiana suffered a fluke Lisfranc injury in warmups against Illinois that forced him to miss the majority of last season.
Guerendo has since returned to normal workouts and is nearing full health, which is great news for the Wisconsin offense. Guerendo has top-level speed that is hard to replicate and assuming he stays healthy, Guerendo should give running backs coach Al Johnson another talented option in the backfield.
Overall, Guerendo only finished last season with 160 rushing yards in five games, but he did break off an 82-yard touchdown run against Eastern Michigan that was incredibly impressive.
A healthy Isaac Guerendo would add needed depth at the running back position and provide a nice insurance policy if Mellusi is not back to 100% by the opener against Illinois State.
After recording a sack against Wake Forest in the Duke's Mayo Bowl as a true freshman back in 2020, expectations were at an all-time high for Aaron Witt.
Unfortunately, the three-star outside linebacker would miss the entirety of the 2021 season due to an injury that required him to wear a boot and use a push scooter. He suffered a setback this past off-season and was unable to practice with his teammates this spring, but according to Jeff Potrykus, Witt is no longer using the rehabilitation equipment and is moving around better.
The outside linebacker position is deep heading into the 2022 season, but Witt is incredibly talented, and saw playing time as a freshman for a reason. His size and ability to set the edge make him an intriguing player for next season if he can pick up where he left off before the injury.
Cole Dakovich + Cam Large + Hayden Rucci
Clay Cundiff is not the only tight end back next season after missing most of 2021.
As mentioned earlier, Wisconsin had plenty of injury issues at the position last year.
Three other players who missed most of last season are tight ends Cole Dakovich, Cam Large, and Hayden Rucci.
Of the three listed, Rucci is probably the player with the best odds of grabbing a major role next season. The junior from Pennsylvania is a great blocker and primarily works as an in-line tight end in Wisconsin's system. He only saw playing time in six games last season due to injury, and I would expect that number to double if he can stay healthy in 2022.
Sophomore Cam Large played in three games a year ago but was also a regular on the injury report. He has the ability to play tight or fullback, which increases his odds of seeing the field and makes him a versatile option heading into the fall. Wisconsin could get creative and use Large in multiple ways next year, however, that will ultimately come down to his health.
Sophomore Cole Dakovich is a bit of a wildcard. He missed the entirety of last year with a knee injury, but he was available this spring and made the most of his opportunities. Dakovich is still developing as a receiving target, but he is one of the biggest tight ends on the roster and is a formidable blocker.
With Rucci, Large, and Dakovich all vying for playing time as in-line blocking specialists, there are only so many reps to go around. Heading into the summer, Rucci has the most experience and probably has the upper hand, but the two sophomores are also capable if needed.
Spencer Lytle was one of the top signees for the Badgers in the 2019 recruiting class, but he has struggled to stay healthy. With the talent and depth at outside linebacker, the coaching staff moved Lytle to inside linebacker this spring, and the California native will look to make the two-deep this fall.
One of Wisconsin's best linebackers in space, Lytle is someone who should at the very least contribute in special teams next season, and I would not be shocked to see him push for playing time in specific packages under new position coach Mike D'Onofrio. The key for Lytle will be to stay healthy after only seeing action in six games last season.
Semar Melvin + Al Ashford
Wisconsin brought three several graduate transfer cornerbacks to add depth and retool the secondary, but that does not mean some of the returning players won't push for playing time.
Cornerback Semar Melvin started against Minnesota back in 2019, but he has been unable to stay consistently healthy the past two seasons. Melvin played in eight games last year but missed the latter part of the season due to injury. He has the talent to see the field in 2022, and with assistant coaches Hank Poteat and Jim Leonhard willing to play multiple combinations, he could make the two-deep next season.
I think it will be a bit harder for freshman Al Ashford to see significant playing time next year after he missed all of last season with an arm injury, but at 6-feet tall, he is one of the longer corners on the roster. Ashford worked primarily with the reserves in the spring, but he could help the team out on special teams to gain experience.
- Freshmen expectations for the class of 2022
- Freshman defensive lineman Curt Neal medically cleared
- Paul Chryst ranks as a top-15 coach for 2022
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