MADISON - The Wisconsin Badgers are in desperate need of some help at wide receiver following last year's campaign. Only Jared Abbrederis tallied more than 20 receptions during the 2012 season, and just three of their top nine pass catchers were actually wide receivers. The Badgers were forced to stick to the ground game for the most part, and as a whole their lack of depth made their offense pretty one-dimensional.
Chris Beatty is trying to change that. The Badgers' new wide receivers coach spent the last two years at Illinois and Vanderbilt, and is in the process of coaching up Wisconsin's younger receivers. I asked Beatty a few questions after Monday's practice, and his answers are included below.
What have you seen out of the wide receivers so far this spring? What do some of the younger guys like Jordan Fredrick and Kenzel Doe need to do to contribute more this season?
Chris Beatty: I think they're a work in progress. Jared is the proven guy of the group and we've got to get some guys to step up to complement him. We've just got to be consistent. We've got to be where we're supposed to be at all times in our route running. I think that's the biggest thing. I tell those guys all the time we've got to be quarterback-friendly. So we've got to be a big target for the quarterback and make ourselves available by creating space and separating and being consistent. We've had some good practices and some not so good practices. It's all part of the process.
Was today one of those good practices or one of the not-so-good ones?
CB: [It was] a work in progress. It wasn't one of our better ones but it wasn't awful. In order for us to get where we want to get, we have to be a lot better than we were today.
When you say they've got to be 'quarterback-friendly,' is that just making sure the receivers are on the same page, running the right routes, stuff like that?
CB: We've got to be where we're supposed to be. In our style of offense, it's about precision and being exactly where the quarterback expects us to be. If he gets at the top of a seven-step drop or a five and a hitch, or whatever the drop is, we've got to be exactly where they expect us to be. And in order to do that we've got to make sure we're consistent in our route running and all of us look the same so they're not different routes by different people. The quarterback's got enough to worry about without how somebody's running their route.
How long do you think it takes some of these younger guys to get to a point where they can be where a quarterback needs them to be?
CB: It takes time. It takes being able to understand the big picture, and I think that's a bigger thing. People always think 'Well, you tell them to run a route and it's that easy.' But it's understanding the big picture of the whole thing, being able to be in the right spot. Whether you're a year in or a week in or three years in it takes a little bit of time. We need to expedite that curve as much as we can.
How about some of the guys like Marquis Mason and A.J. Jordan? What do they need to do to contribute on offense?
CB: Marquis needs to get healthy, and be consistent on his assignments and his alignment and just get the little things for his game. I think A.J. has a little bit of juice, a little bit of burst, he's just got to be a little more consistent with his hands. He's got to be able to trust his hands a little bit more, and that's part of being comfortable with catching balls and repetitions. We've got to give him enough reps where he feels comfortable catching the ball at all angles.
What does a wide receiver need to do to get separation on a consistent basis?
CB: I tell those guys: you beat man coverage with moves and speed. We've got to be able to do one or the other. If you're not real fast you'd better have good moves, and if you've got good speed you've got to be able to get out of your breaks. Everybody's different, but it's about being precise in what routes you're running, and being able to use head and shoulder fakes and nods and things of that nature to be able to create separation.
This is more on the recruiting front, it seems like Wisconsin hasn't been out working on the east cost very much. What is the talent level like in that area, compared to some of the other areas of the country?
CB: There's some great players out there, especially the players in the area I know: the Maryland, Washington D.C., and Virginia area. There's a ton of great players. I know in that Tidewater area alone at the combine there was five guys that I knew from one high school, much less one area, that all had draftable grades. You sit back and look at a lot of the teams in the Virginia area and the D.C. area, there's a ton of pro players that come from there. And with our conference broadening it's scope a little bit with Maryland and Rutgers coming in, it makes sense to try and recruit those areas.
So do you think working in that area now will pay off when you guys are playing games out on the east coast more often? Have you had to work hard to get your message to guys in the area?
CB: Yeah, and as good as Wisconsin has been, it's a brand that everybody knows no matter where you are in the country. Even if you don't necessarily recruit on a national scale, everybody knows who Wisconsin is. Everybody's seen them in the Rose Bowl for three years in a row. It's [also] about letting people know that we're trying to recruit the area. A lot of times people might get mail but nobody comes through that area. But absolutely I'm going to go through there and try and find some guys. We're going to try and broaden our scope in that area because I know it pretty well. It just makes sense to let people know that we're going to try and work down there.
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