Fiammetta: 5 badgers in Senior Bowl proves UW’s strength

first_imgRocky as Wisconsin’s offseason has been since its Rose Bowl loss less than a month ago, this weekend promises a solid pick-me-up for Badger fans.The annual Senior Bowl is slated to kick off Saturday afternoon, and five former Badgers will suit up for the North, most in the Big Ten.In this brief offseason, the surprise return of Montee Ball, several assistant coach departures and intriguing hires have tilted the State of the Program scale back and forth between DEFCON 1 and dreams of Ball giving Madison its third Heisman Trophy winner. Saturday, that proverbial meter should trend toward the latter, as the number of now-departed Badgers still sporting their Motion W helmets provides a gleaming snapshot of where Bret Bielema’s program heads entering one of the most significant seasons in recent UW history.Fullback Bradie Ewing, punter Brad Nortman, quarterback Russell Wilson, long snapper Kyle Wojta and offensive lineman Kevin Zeitler will all undergo their first critical examination before NFL scouts and personnel evaluators Saturday at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala., in what is annually the first chance to get a look at the NFL prospects of the latest class of graduated collegiate players. Four members of that quintet seem certain to be drafted come late April – to my knowledge, projecting the long-term capabilities of long snappers hasn’t exactly become a science, so we’ll wait and see on Wojta.Among those five, Ewing and Wilson served as team captains this year and were repeatedly held in high regard as the core of veteran leaders that kept the Badgers together during that nightmarish late-October swoon.Nortman – quietly, as often is the case with punters – was one of the nation’s best, consistently giving opponents weak field position from which to start. During the Rose Bowl, Nortman’s value was never greater to the Badgers, as his two punts that afternoon averaged 44.5 yards and both landed inside Oregon’s 20-yard line. In those rare moments where Wisconsin’s offense sputtered, Nortman frequently gave the defense a greater margin for error.Though his partner on the offensive line, junior Peter Konz, figures to generate more hype as the widely regarded No. 1 center in this draft class, Zeitler has drawn his own raves for his versatility and technique.Coming out of high school, though, Zeitler was merely a 3-star recruit. So was Konz, and Ewing wasn’t even rated.The point? Time and time again, Bielema & co. have proven their ability to turn around a roster immensely more productive than the prospects’ high school careers might’ve suggested.In a season defined by last-minute stunners – those two losses at Michigan State and Ohio State, and then the Big Ten Championship Game victory in Indianapolis – that sort of glue, the acknowledgement of playing to your best and ignoring outside expectations, guided the Badgers out of the misery that concluded October.Predicting NFL futures prior to the draft is generally an inexact science, given the most important factor is the situation the prospect eventually finds himself in. Without a bona fide offensive line or coaching staff to put him in optimal position to make plays, Wilson’s lack of height very well could prevent him from following in the path of previous “short” quarterbacks, ? la Drew Brees and Doug Flutie.A fullback-needy team surely will draft Ewing, but should that squad not elect to take advantage of his receiving skills out of the backfield or his high school acumen as a tailback, he could become just the latest member of the faceless fraternity of fullbacks.Offensive linemen – especially early round selections – typically are “safe” picks, though nothing is guaranteed for Zeitler.And Wojta? Again, let’s say long snapping is just that and leave it there.Regardless of what happens throughout their professional careers, these Badgers will serve as the latest testament to the strengths of the Wisconsin football program. Fans, especially as the team continues to garner increasing amounts of national attention, will groan for higher-touted recruiting classes and the glitz that status brings.But if this season, one typified by the big-play ability Wilson brought, proved anything, it’s that the glam can be saved for elsewhere.Wisconsin will be one of the schools front and center Saturday afternoon, and for good reason. Throughout the program, from recruiting high school talent to replenishing the coaching staff after it’s poached, UW is a place built on getting it done. These five players did that in their collegiate careers, and in this early phase of the NFL Draft process, they’re in prime position to thrive.Mike is a senior majoring in journalism. Have any thoughts on the class of Badgers entering this year’s NFL Draft? Let him know on Twitter @mikefiammetta.last_img

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