New wide receivers compete for starting jobs

first_imgBRYAN FAUST/Herald PhotoThe Wisconsin faithful at Camp Randall Stadium likely won’t recognize the starting wide receivers in cardinal and white this fall.With Brandon Williams, Jonathan Orr and Brandon White all lost to graduation, quarterback John Stocco might not even recognize his own mates in the passing game.While that last statement is a bit of an exaggeration, there’s no denying the inexperience that UW wide receiver coach Henry Mason has to work with this spring. The current corps of wideouts combined for two catches and 23 receiving yards in all of 2005, both coming in the Badgers’ easiest win of the season — a 65-0 thrashing of Temple.But with a mere five practices under their belt, Jarmal Ruffin and Marcus Randle El — a couple of strong candidates for starting jobs this year — have developed motivation out of their current situation. Both have said that fans and media can think what they want, but they’ll be surprised to see the results this August when the 2006 season is under way.”Looking outstanding,” Ruffin said with conviction, when asked about the state of the wideouts. “This season, you got to watch out for receiving. A lot of people are having doubts, [but] we got a lot of talent, and a lot of people for us are hungry, so just watch out.””I think the passing game is going to be nice next year,” Randle El added. “I think a lot of people don’t know about everything. I just think they look at it, you know, we lost a lot of players, so they kind of downgrade us a lot.”But that’s for us to come out and show them, because if we don’t show them, then they don’t know.” Along with Ruffin and Randle El, guys like Paul Hubbard and Luke Swan will have the chance to make impressions on Mason and new head coach Bret Bielema to find their way onto the starting lineup in spring practices.Jarvis Minton also figures to be in the mix this fall, but he will miss the remainder of UW’s spring session with an undisclosed injury, according to Bielema.Hubbard represents an interesting contender for playing time, as the junior — who also competes for the UW track team — has garnered some attention on the gridiron, but comes with concern about his ability to withstand the physical edge of football.”We’re not playing a game for a while, so we’ve got some time to really work with him,” Mason said. “He’s been with us for a couple of years, hopefully he’ll be able to turn a corner and get himself on the field.”I think it’s a constant battle for a guy like that all the time,” Mason continued, speaking of Hubbard’s durability. “But there [have] been guys that have had that and gone on and been pretty good football players. I have no questions about his intensity, I’ve got no questions about his courage and he just has to learn how to play football.”In terms of consistency, Mason singled out Randle El and Swan — at just 5-foot-11 and 6-foot — as a couple of guys who have shown that strength thus far.”I don’t think they’ve had one [dropped ball] in any competitive situation yet, so they’ve been very consistent to this point through five practices,” Mason said.But while either of those two receivers could be capable replacements for a Williams-like wideout — a shorter, shiftier option who can easily get open for Stocco — the Badgers could also use another player like Orr, who carried a 6-foot-3, 190-pound frame onto the field at Camp Randall in his final season for Wisconsin.Enter Ruffin, who holds a one-inch, 15-pound advantage on the ex-Badger whom he hesitated to immediately compare himself with at the beginning of spring ball.”It’s hard to say because we both have long strides, but JO’s a hard person to follow in the footsteps,” Ruffin said. “He’s a great athlete, extremely fast, talented, good jump, great hands. It’s an honor to even be in the same sentence as JO. Similarities, I really can’t say. I still have a long way to go.”Mason was hesitant to make quick comparisons between past and present players, even though a Randle El-Ruffin duo would appear — at least physically, if nothing else — to mirror that of Williams and Orr.”Two different kinds of guys, two really different types of players, about the only thing that’s the same are [their] size,” Mason said, referring to Williams and Randle El. “Obviously, that’s the direction that Marcus is trying to go, but we’ll have to see. It’s way too early to start comparing those guys to [players] that just left.”Needless to say, Randle El disagreed.”Yeah, I think Brandon and I have a lot of similarities,” the Markham, Ill., native said. “[As for] my goals, whatever stats he had, I’m going to try to get more than him, just continue the [success].”Randle El was sure to credit Williams, a Second Team All-American in 2005, with helping him to learn the ropes for the UW offense.”I learned how to run routes. I don’t think I’m a master yet, but he gives me a better idea,” Randle El said. “We have a lot of the same strategy and stuff like that. … I called him on the phone a couple of times, and he gives me great advice, how to come out and run my routes.”It’s obvious that the graduating wide receivers have made impacts on the current ones. Whether the 2006 corps back up their own talk and help UW make a potent passing game remains to be seen, but after covering them in practice, defensive back Joe Stellmacher has confidence that Randle El, Ruffin and the others will make it happen.”That’s a tough group to replace. Those are guys that are going to be taken maybe in the first day of the NFL draft,” Stellmacher said of Williams, Orr and White. “[The new guys] are going to have their work cut out for them to replace guys like that. … They certainly have the potential to do so, and Coach Mason will have them ready to go.”last_img

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