He lost proven wide receivers Jared Abbrederis and Jeff Duckworth to graduation, leaving all his current wide receivers with a combined zero touchdown catches in 2013. He doesn’t have a proven playmaker within his group and lost 40 percent of his incoming recruiting class due to off-the-field situations.
Everything would suggest Wisconsin’s second year wide receiver coach is in for a difficult season, but he’s not buying into that notion.
“I’m not that nervous,” he said. “I think those guys will step up. It’s the next man up and those guys will be fine.”
There is a lot of youth at Beatty’s fingertips when fall camp opens on Monday and a lot of opportunities will be there for the taking. Wisconsin has to replace 90 receptions, 1,257 receiving yards and all of the group’s nine touchdowns. Abbrederis accounted for 78 of the receptions (66.1 percent) and 1,081 of the yards (69.5 percent), not to mention 15 of UW’s 17 pass completions over 20 yards.
“That’s how we designed the pass game,” said Beatty. “We knew we had a talented kid so we targeted the kid. We knew those other guys weren’t quite ready. Now those guys have to step up and make plays.”
Beatty admitted it was hard to gauge whether his returning receivers are better now than they were a year ago, especially since sophomores Alex Erickson and Rob Wheelwright were barely on the practice field during spring workouts. Erickson – a former walk-on now on scholarship – leads the returning receivers with 127 yards, and Wheelwright’s size and length make him one of the group’s most gifted players.
But Beatty does feel better about his group compared to four months ago since he was able to spend limited time in the summer working with them.
A tweak in the NCAA rules gave assistant coaches extra hours a week during the summer for face-to-face time with players. Since they weren’t allowed to do any drills with a football, Beatty spent most of the allotted time going through meetings with the players to give the young group caught up to speed with the offensive playbook.
“Before we couldn’t spend time with them, so you never knew exactly what you got entering camp,” said Beatty. “We’ve been able to see the younger guys move around and do some things throughout the summer.”
According to Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen, redshirt freshman Jazz Peavy has been one of the players who has taken a big leap. Over his hamstring injury that knocked him out for much of fall camp, Peavy has developed physically and improved his route running.
“His ability to be involved in the offense this summer was impressive,” said Andersen.
While UW has some experience returning in Erickson and redshirt junior Jordan Fredrick (who has established himself as an excellent blocker), the face of the group this season will be senior Kenzel Doe. Possessing a suddenness and quickness to his game that the current makeup of the receiving corps doesn’t have a lot of, Doe has spent the offseason working on his lateral movement and his ability to create space.
After not getting many reps during practices last season after battling hamstring problems, Doe, who was limited to seven receptions last season, was one of the few wide receivers who made it through spring healthy, allowing him to maximize his work and learn the different position to increase his versatility within the offense.
“Guys look up to him,” said Beatty. “He doesn’t have the production to match it, but he’s done everything we’ve asked him to do. He’s played a lot of games, a lot of football, and he’s done a good job leading those guys.”
That bonus time also gave Beatty confidence that Natrell Jamerson, George Rushing or Krenwick Sanders will be able to help the Badgers more in the beginning of the season compared to past years when the extra time wasn’t permitted. It couldn’t come at a better time with UW opening the season against No.13 LSU on Aug.30.
“I think it’s huge because there’s such a difference between a spread offense and a pro-style that we run in terms of terminology, splits and important information,” said Beatty. “Just to get lined up properly is a little bit different in our offense. It’s a great deal to meet with these guys and tell them on a certain split you line up here and here’s why, opposed to going out there the first day and it’s paralysis by analysis with those guys trying to figure things out.
“Meeting with those guys now give them an opportunity to compete at the same speed as some of the veteran guys and let their ability showcase a little bit earlier, opposed to them learning where to go, what to do and how to line up. A group of those guys have to step up, and I think they will, but it all remains to be seen.”