MADISON - Don't get too comfortable with the University of Wisconsin football team's depth chart, released on Monday.
The first depth chart released by the Badgers since the Rose Bowl last season contained a couple significant surprises.
"The thing with the depth chart is it's ever-changing," UW coach Gary Andersen said at his first weekly news conference.
Sophomore Tyler Marz is listed as the starting left tackle, after a strong close to preseason camp. That has pushed senior Ryan Groy back to left guard, his preferred position and the spot he played most of last season.
On defense, freshman Sojourn Shelton, who enrolled early, is listed as one starting cornerback, ahead of sophomore Darius Hillary, who is the No. 1 nickel back. Hillary spent almost the entire camp paired with junior Peniel Jean as the starting cornerbacks, while strong safety Dezmen Southward was the top nickel back.
Andersen regards Jean, Shelton and Hillary all as starting corners. Given how much nickel defense the Badgers expect to play this season, all three will have major roles.
For the opener on Saturday against Massachusetts, Southward will be the starting strong safety. He will also be the nickel back at times this season, depending on matchups and opponents' style of play.
"It'll be a week-by-week sort of thing," Southward said. "Wherever our coaches feel I can help the team the most that week, I'll be there."
That will include plenty of nickel back, where Southward can be closer to the line of scrimmage and be utilized as a blitzer.
"It's just the first game," Southward said. "It's not one of those deals where I took a million snaps at nickel and I'm never going to play it. I'll be at nickel this year, guaranteed."
As for the starting quarterback, sophomore Joel Stave and senior Curt Phillips are listed as sharing the spot. But all indications point to Stave being the starter. Andersen said, "The quarterbacks know who is going to play."
But Andersen said no announcement was made to the team because he doesn't want to treat the position differently from any other one.
"We had a flip-flop at linebacker a week ago," Andersen said. "We didn't sit down and send out smoke signals and have a big meeting about it, we just said it is what it is.
"We believe in the direction we're headed with the young men involved. And it's in-house, the way we do everything."
The change at linebacker was junior Derek Landisch overtaking senior Conor O'Neill at one of the inside positions. Andersen said the change was made due to Landisch's production in scrimmages.
At kicker, junior Kyle French will handle field goal duties, in part due to a knee injury suffered by sophomore backup Jack Russell. But Andersen said he was pleased with how French bounced back from a recent poor performance in camp. French will also handle kickoffs.
Even though the depth chart is big news to fans, Southward said the players mostly knew what was coming.
"If you've been into camp, in the environment at all, you can sort of see," he said. "Honestly, you don't need a depth chart to come out. We've been in the (practices) for a month, so we know who won certain position battles and who's been playing well.
"Even though some people may have lost position battles, they'll still help us a lot. They'll be in the game in some form or fashion."
The coaches try to cater to the skills of different players, which means finding a role for anybody with a special talent.
"At the end of the day, if you have a niche, they will find a spot for you," Southward said. "If you're a good blitzer, they're going to find a way to blitz you."
Also, don't expect the Badgers to reveal too much in the first two games, against what appear to be two overmatched opponents, including Tennessee Tech in the second game.
"It's a pretty long season," Southward said. "Nobody shows all of their cards (in the first game). It'll be one of those things where, down the line, we'll slowly put a couple more things in.
"I'm not the only one like that. There are other guys who have been working multiple positions. In certain games, if they are better suited (in a different spot), that's where they'll be, to help the team."
The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.)
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