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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Azzanni molding inexperienced receiving corps

Jared Abbrederis will be the Badgers leading and most experienced receiver next year. He hasn’t been able to see action this spring due to a foot injury. Abbrederis’ 75 career receptions far exceeds the rest of the wide receiving corps\’ combined 22 career recptions.[/media-credit]

Newly anointed Wisconsin wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni is thankful it is only spring camp.

With possibly one of the youngest, least experienced positions under his watch, he feels blessed that the season still lies months away.

“Thank God,” Azzanni said when a reporter mentioned the season was still far away.


Spring camp always plays host to concerns and speculations – and this year is no different with the receiving corps. With the departure of Nick Toon and the Badgers’ other go-to wide receiver Jared Abbrederis sidelined with a foot injury, younger receivers that have seen little to no playing time are now getting the attention and repetitions they need in order to provide Wisconsin with a passing game next fall.

But the wide receivers simply need some more time.

“We’ve got a bunch of guys that have never played in a college football game,” Azzanni said. “Jeff Duckworth is like the only one (outside of Jared Abbrederis). Duck’s the only one that’s caught a pass and ran a route in a game. The other guys – nobody has. Kenzel played sparingly last year, not really as a wide out, more of a slot catching screen passes. [We’re] really untested up and down, a bunch of guys that haven’t played a lot of ball so they’re getting thrown into the grease right now. It’s going to be up and down that way. It’s a process.”

Next season, the Badgers have a total of 17 receivers on their roster, 15 of which are already on campus. Excluding Abbrederis’ total of 75 receptions over his 27 games played in the last two seasons, the six wide outs who have seen game action combine for a measly 22 receptions – that’s 3.67 catches per receiver.

Simply put, Azzanni is basically starting from scratch with his group, but he relishes the fact that he’ll be able to mold the majority of them in his own style.

“I love it,” Azzanni said of the opportunity. “Walking off the field, I’ve got to remind myself that they have a brand new coach, they haven’t played. As frustrated as I get, I think the older I get in this profession, the more I know it’s a process. And I like that I get to start from square one. I want them to take on my personality. It’s not going to happen overnight. So again, I like the fact that I’m not trying to break a ton of habits that have already been put in that I don’t like. There really aren’t any habits. The habits are the ones I’m trying to instill in them.”

Of his players with experience, junior Manasseh Garner has played in 20 games – 10 in 2010 and 10 in 2011 – but only recorded two receptions over those 20 games, each in 2011.

Sophomore Kenzel Doe only has nine games under his belt, also recording two catches. But both Garner and Doe have really only seen the field after Wisconsin was more than confident they would win (think last year’s blow out after blow out).

Most notably, with the Big Ten Championship catch of the game, redshirt junior Jeff Duckworth is the second most experienced receiver after Abbrederis currently on the team, with a total of 18 catches – 15 in 13 games in 2011 and three in five games in 2010.

So, with the vast majority of wide outs never bringing down a catch in a game, much less playing a game, spring camp is an essential time for the young guys to get some crucial reps and coaching.

“The more reps you get, the better you’ll get,” Doe said. “The more understanding you get on different plays or different concepts of the plays, who to block.

“A lot of us are getting a lot of reps, it’s not exactly like the game but it’s kind of similar. So a lot of us are getting reps so we can get used to the game to get better each and every day. So it’s good that we’re getting the reps … because some of us want the experience too in a game and it’s going help us out to where we just have to step up and make plays when we get a chance.”

But while Abbrederis’ absence helps the younger guys gain more experience in practice, Abbrederis isn’t able to help set an example. Instead, he has to watch from the sidelines and do what he can from a coaching perspective.

“It’s hard to be the guy on the sideline to be like, ‘Hey, let’s go pick it up,’ if someone is kind of slacking, because no one likes that guy on the sideline that doesn’t do anything and says, ‘Hey, hurry up, c’mon, run fast,’ or something like that,” Abbrederis said. “But just helping them out with the plays, you know if they come over here and ask, ‘What would you have done here?’ maybe on a route if they have an out-route … whatever it is, just trying to help, coach Azzanni.”

The day Azzanni first met the Wisconsin media, he said he was looking forward to working with a physical player like Abbrederis and while the Wautoma, Wis., native hasn’t been able to do much yet, Azzanni is starting to instill that physicality on his other players.

“I think physicality in your game makes you better in everything you do out there – in your releases, your route running, how you catch a ball in the air – everything you do, if you’re physical, it gets better faster,” Azzanni said. “I’ve seen some progress.”

So while many other critics may feel there is concern at wide receiver, Duckworth feels there is no need for such worries.

“I don’t know if there’s concern,” Duckworth said. “But [spring camp] is a great opportunity for a lot of guys to take steps forward, including myself. I mean, we’re all out there competing for a spot.”

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