According to head coach Bret Bielema, Stave, a redshirt freshman, will open camp atop the depth chart. But O'Brien, a transfer from Maryland and Phillips, who is coming off a third ACL surgery, may be the two watch this fall. Bielema gave Phillips high praise during the Big Ten Media Days. "I think the real upside to Danny's situation is we've also had the emergence of Curt Phillips come back after his third ACL surgery," Bielema said. "And those two have got a nice little competition and probably again with Joel Stave."
With Mike Taylor and Chris Borland penciled in at two spots, the coaches will be looking for a third linebacker to emerge at camp. The battle will likely go beyond just Fenton and Armstrong, with Derek Landisch, Conor O'Neill and even true freshman Vince Biegel all in the mix. Armstrong is coming off surgeries on both hips while Fenton, who trimmed down to around 220 pounds, had a great spring camp. Andy Buh has plenty to work with during his first year as the position coach.
Right guard is the only position on the offensive line without a clear-cut favorite or returning starter. Bielema had high praise for both Burge, a fifth-year walk-on and Costigan, a converted defensive tackle. "(Burge) is a guy that was at about 325 or 330 pounds," Bielema said. "He looks like he weighs about 285 now, but he weighs the exact same. He's changed his body, and he could be one of those seniors who have that special senior year that you're looking for." Dallas Lewallen and Dan Voltz are also contenders in this race.
French received some valuable experience early in 2011 while Philip Welch battled back from an injury. But Russell, a true freshman from Waunakee, has a huge leg and could be a weapon for Wisconsin, particularly on kickoffs. French will enter as the starter, but don't be surprised to see Russell make a strong push in August. "I think Jack Russell has a chance to come in, it could be for the kicking job, and play right away," Bielema said during Signing Day in February.
With Montee Ball expected to miss a big chunk of camp, the door is open for both White and Gordon to earn significant reps with the No. 1 offense. White had an up-and-down sophomore season while Gordon had a terrific spring camp after using his redshirt as a freshman. White has the experience but Gordon may be too talented to keep off the field in 2012. Running back is a very deep position with Jeff Lewis and Vonte Jackson also available this fall.