Originally posted on Fox Sports Wisconsin
By JESSE TEMPLE  |  Last updated 11/13/13
Wisconsin-michigan
We've reached the home stretch of the college footballseason, and so we're coming down to the wire on Badgers football mailbagquestions. This week, we discuss possible future replacements for JacobPedersen and Jared Abbrederis, Tanner McEvoy as a long-term defensive optionand the prospects of running back Melvin Gordon returning for his juniorseason.If you have a question and missed out this week, we'll posta submission link Saturday night following Wisconsin's game against Indiana.As always, thanks to everyone who submitted questions thisweek:Q: Who is the coaching staff high on to fill the shoes ofPedersen and Abbrederis when their time is done in Madison? Doesn't seem to mereplacements are being developed, but it's hard to tell from my couch onSaturdays. Great job as always.-- Mike, Lake Geneva, WIA: To say that any player will be able to fill theshoes of tight end Jacob Pedersen or wide receiver Jared Abbrederis is astretch. Let's consider that Pedersen is the reigning conference tight end ofthe year, and Abbrederis is about to pass Brandon Williams for second on UW'scareer receiving yards list. There simply aren't guys who will step in andfully replace that type of production.Still, Wisconsin has to put guys out there, so who will theybe? Sam Arneson seems to be a prime candidate at tight end. The junior has fivecatches this season for 56 yards and caught a touchdown pass against Ohio Statewhile filling in for the injured Pedersen. He's the only player with a proventrack record on the field that will be back next season. But let's not forgethow deep and talented the Badgers always seem to be at tight end. They stillhave Austin Maly and Austin Traylor -- both will be redshirt juniors next year-- and young guys such as T.J. Watt and Troy Fumagalli. I think the future isbright at tight end.As for receiver, this is one of the biggest questions movingforward. We've been talking about Abbrederis' value to the team for the pastthree years, and he's excelled the last two seasons without a solid No. 2threat. You'd like to think someone like Jordan Fredrick will have learnedenough from Abbrederis to take over as the top guy. Alex Erickson also hasshown lots of promise and shares a similar story as Abbrederis -- walk-onquarterback to wide receiver.In reality, Wisconsin probably will need to use areceiver-by-committee approach. To expect any player to suddenly startaveraging 100 yards receiving per game is unrealistic. The Badgers need to hopetheir recruits develop enough consistency to make an impact on game day.Q: Tanner McEvoy has been a terrific defensive addition.Do you think that they might just keep him there for next year? He could beall-Big Ten by senior year, at this rate of improvement.-- Chris Van Wagner, MadisonA: McEvoy has told the media on several occasionsthat he still considers himself a quarterback. But it seems hard to believe hecould come in during the spring or fall and unseat Joel Stave as Wisconsin'sstarting quarterback. And if he's going to be a backup quarterback, why not puthim in a place where he can be of use? Besides, Bart Houston is plenty capableat quarterback and would make for a great backup option.We know defensive coordinator Dave Aranda loves McEvoy atsafety. McEvoy is listed at 6-foot-6, 223 pounds, so he's got the size to be atop-level Big Ten safety. I actually agree with your assessment that he coulddevelop into one of the best players at his position in the Big Ten when it'sall said and done. Consider that the coaching staff basically threw McEvoyright into the fire after he already tried quarterback and wide receiver in thefall. Now, he's a key piece to the puzzle and has 17 tackles with aninterception.The coaches have said all along that they want to get thebest players on the field any way they can. McEvoy has a better chance tocontribute on defense, and given the strides he has made in just a few shortmonths, perhaps it's best for the team if he stays there.Q: Looking ahead to next season, I think the mostimportant question is whether Melvin Gordon will be back. Has he given anyindication about his plans for 2014, or do you have any sense whether he'llenter the draft or come back? Thanks!-- Mitch Cyldeburg, Madison, WIA: Gordon has given no indication as to whether he'llreturn for his junior year in 2014. That probably scares a lot of Badgers fans,but he does seem to enjoy the college atmosphere. He would be the go-to guy inthe backfield next season with James White gone, and that could appeal toGordon as well. Plus, he'd be an early Heisman Trophy candidate in 2014 andwould be on everybody's radar.The way I see it is if Gordon submits his name to the NFL'sdraft advisory board -- and I would expect him to do so after the season -- andhe hears back that he'll be a first-round draft pick, then he has to leave.I've talked to NFL Draft gurus who say this is not a particularly strongrunning back class for seniors, which actually boosts Gordon's draft stock. Butthe running back position has been devalued of sorts in a pass-heavy NFL, andthere aren't any tailbacks listed as first-round picks right now.Still, Gordon is a top-50 type of talent, which would puthim in the second round. Maybe he decides the second round is too good to passup. Or maybe he decides to come back for one more season to prove himself as aleader as Montee Ball did and improve his draft stock.The one thing Wisconsin may have going for it is the pathBall chose. Despite being a Heisman Trophy finalist as a junior, he was toldhe'd be no higher than a third-round NFL draft pick. He returned for his seniorseason, and even though his numbers weren't quite as good, he wound up beingtaken in the second round.Q: How have the additions of Rutgers and Marylandimpacted traditional areas of recruiting for Wisconsin (i.e. New Jersey, wherewe've gotten some of our best running backs over the years)?-- Steven Joseph, Milwaukee, WIA: If nothing else, it will put Wisconsin on theradar for East coast recruits when the Badgers play on TV against a local team(Rutgers or Maryland). At this point, Wisconsin has branched out and become moreof a national player on the recruiting scene. Freshman running back CoreyClement set all sorts of records as a talented New Jersey prep player. Hissuccess, I believe, is more likely to attract other recruits from the arearather than the addition of Rutgers and Maryland.This coaching staff has plenty of national ties,particularly to the West coast. But running backs coach Thomas Hammock has donea tremendous job of recruiting out East, and the staff also has ties toFlorida.Wisconsin currently has 18 commits for the class of 2014.Two players are from Maryland -- wide receiver Chris Jones and running backTaiwan Deal. Maybe that's all just coincidence, but the fact Wisconsin canpluck players from other programs' backyards is a positive sign moving forward.More exposure to other regions can only help Wisconsin when it comes time tofind the next recruit. But the truest way to lure recruits is for players fromthose other states to excel at Wisconsin, which would make high schoolprospects want to be a part of something special.Q: What sort of adjustments have stood out to you fromAndersen as the season progressed? Personnel packages, play calling, schemes?-- Sven, DenverA: I think one of the most noticeable changes hasbeen making a concerted effort to get tight end Jacob Pedersen the ball. Earlyin the season, Jared Abbrederis seemed to be the only player quarterback JoelStave looked for in the passing game. In the first six games of this season,Pedersen averaged just 29.7 receiving yards per game. Over the past two, he isaveraging 61.0 yards per game. That's a pretty significant jump, and it makeslife even more difficult for defenses because now they have to worry aboutanother offensive threat -- in addition to Abbrederis and running backs MelvinGordon and James White."He's such a mismatch problem, and you see himcontinually catch contested balls," Badgres coach Gary Andersen said ofPedersen on Monday. "He runs great routes. He causes some real issues. Ithink we definitely made an effort to get the ball to him more. It's making himmore productive, and it's making our offense better too."Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig has done a nice job ofkeeping much of the old playbook to make the transition to a new coaching staffeasier this season. Left guard Ryan Groy told me last week that "90percent" of the playbook was the same, although that number seems high tome.As the coaching staff grows more comfortable with thepersonnel, recruits its own players and has more time to implement its style, Ithink we'll see new wrinkles pop up offensively in the next few seasons. Butyou can't argue with the success of the team this season. Those 37.1 points pergame are on pace to rank third in program history for a single season. Follow Jesse Temple on Twitter
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