20 on '20: Wisconsin's Wide Receivers and Replacing Three Contributors
As Wisconsin football student-athletes started "voluntary athletics activities" on June 15 -- AllBadgers.com wanted to begin a series dedicated to the program entering a 2020 season that is supposed to start on Sept. 4 against Indiana.
I had some questions here as to the parameters, however. Do we highlight breakout or "most important" players according to a specific set of standards?
Perhaps we look at the biggest concerns with a team returning many starters and contributors but has specific questions needing to be answered at key positions?
In that light, AllBadgers.com presents its "20 on '20" series where we dissect (you guessed it) 20 topics pertaining to the football program. For those needing to catch up, here is the series so far:
- No. 1: Wisconsin's Deepest Position Groups
- No. 2: Wisconsin's Special Teams
- No. 3: Replacing Two Key Wisconsin Linebackers
- No. 4: 20 on '20: Wisconsin's Recruiting 'Upswing' in Recent Years
- No. 5: Tailgating Before, Attending Wisconsin Games at Camp Randall Stadium
- No. 6: Wisconsin's Running Back Room Post-Jonathan Taylor Era
Topic No. 7: Wisconsin's Wide Receivers and Replacing Three Contributors
As much as Jonathan Taylor's presence will be missed for Wisconsin's offense, Quintez Cephus and A.J. Taylor also provided key plays in the passing game last year that kept opposing defenses honest. Though limited in production, Aron Cruickshank provided some glimpses of potential especially in the run game.
In a year where he led the team in receptions (59), receiving yards (901) and receiving touchdowns (seven), Cephus showed his ability to reel in contested catches and asserted himself as a deep threat in a tandem with quarterback Jack Coan. Though missing the final two games of the season due to a torn Achilles, Taylor still contributed 23 receptions for 267 yards and two scores through the air.
For Cruickshank, who now will play for Greg Schiano at Rutgers, he was not much of a factor in the passing game. However, he provided sparks as a rushing threat when called upon in limited fashion.
That all being said, Wisconsin has returning contributors to this position group that will now be led by a new assistant coach. As Ted Gilmore left to lead Michigan State's tight ends, former Colorado State and Green Bay Packers wide receivers coach Alvis Whitted has taken over the group.
Whitted's resume speaks for itself. In his time in Fort Collins, he groomed four NFL-bound wide receivers in Rashard Higgins, Michael Gallup, Preston Williams and Bisi Johnson. Higgins and Gallup claimed consensus first-team All-American and Biletnikoff Award finalist status before suiting up for the Cleveland Browns and Dallas Cowboys, respectively. Then with the Packers, he mentored a room that included one of the game's best at the position in Davante Adams.
Though 15 spring practices were wiped out due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Whitted told AllBadgers.com last month that under the current circumstances, the players have been engaging through their frequent conversations.
“We're building relationships -- even though we're not face-to-face -- we stay connected twice, three times a week on Zoom," Whitted said on May 29. "We talk football. We also talk about things that can obviously help them to become their very best.
"Maintaining their academic standards, and really just focusing on being the best version of themselves every day and to be ready when the time comes when we are actually able to get back together and become a football team face-to-face and in person."
When speaking with reporters on Friday, Chryst acknowledged that part of him felt bad for Whitted not being able to be around his players during his first offseason as a Wisconsin assistant, but he also complimented the former nine-year NFL vet turned coach and those student-athletes in his room.
"He's done a great job, and our players have done a great job of really making the most of these meetings," Chryst said. "Certainly, they've talked football and a lot of football, but they've covered a lot of other ground as well.
"I think they've done a great job of building a foundation, and I say 'they' because I think it's Alvis and the players. We have four seniors that are are good leaders in that group with Danny (Davis) and 'KP' (Kendric Pryor) and 'Dunner' (Jack Dunn) and 'Krumm' (Adam Krumholz), and then we've got another group that they're young. I think that's where it sure would have been nice for Alvis to get a feel for them in spring ball. That's one of those things that didn't happen. But they do have a good foundation going in, and then we just got to make use of the time that we do get."
In 2019, Davis caught 30 passes for 250 yards and a touchdown while also carrying the ball nine times for 110 yards and a rushing score.
As a redshirt junior, Pryor hauled in 23 receptions for 278 yards, but he also ran the ball 13 times for 180 yards and two touchdowns.
While Chryst believes both Cephus and Taylor will be missed, he also thinks Davis and Pryor have delivered big moments as well, "and now it's their opportunity to turn those into big seasons.
"For them, they've had the right approach," Chryst said. "They know this is their last shot at it and I've loved the way they've kind of gone about preparing for it, and I think the same could be said for 'Dunner' and 'Krumm.' What 'Krumm' did on special teams for our team, if he can take that over and do similar on offense, that would be a huge contribution to this team, right?"
The two-deep could be rounded out by Dunn and Krumholz, redshirt seniors who walked on to UW to begin their careers. Both played in all 14 games last season, with the former tallying a rushing and receiving touchdown.
Though discussing those quartet of upperclassmen in Whitted's room, Chryst also looks at who is behind them. When asked which positions he had the most questions about that he did not receive an opportunity to assess during the once-scheduled spring football practices, he noted at "next-ups at receiver" and at outside linebacker.
He believes that there are young wide outs that have ability and talent, and he is interested in "who really does come out of it once we start practicing." He noted a few names late last week.
"Is it A.J. Abbott? Is it Taj (Mustapha)? Is it Stephan Bracey? Is it one of the freshmen?" Chryst said. "That'll be interesting because I think that it's far from knowing, heck, who even the travel roster is, right? Who is that next guy? We can say those four, they've played a significant role--I think all four of their roles would be different--and then who are the other two or three that put themselves in position to where they'll kind of define their role.
"That'll be the fun part of getting going."