Polzin: 5 things that stood out from Wisconsin football media day

The University of Wisconsin football team’s annual media day is always a good place to learn more about the Badgers, and it didn’t take long Tuesday to find out something new about coach Luke Fickell.
He doesn’t feel like he needs a handler.
Brian Lucas, UW’s director of football brand communications, led Fickell into a meeting room in the basement of the McClain Center for a news conference. The two took seats next to one another at a raised table in the front of the room, and Lucas gave a quick rundown of interview- and training camp-related items before introducing Fickell.
“Does anybody feel like I’m being babysat?” Fickell said. “I appreciate it. I guess I could have read that for you if you needed me to.”
Fickell paused.
“That’ll be about the last joking we get here until the end of the season,” Fickell said.
But it wasn’t the last joke we heard Tuesday. And it certainly wasn’t the only entertaining interaction during a 3-hour session that included interviews with Fickell, offensive coordinator Phil Longo, defensive coordinator Mike Tressel and 10 players on each side of the ball.
Here are four other things I found interesting from media day:
Wanted: Game-changers
UW has to replace its two biggest stars on defense, nose tackle Keeanu Benton and outside linebacker Nick Herbig, and Tressel was asked about the need to find game-changers to replace those two players.
“One of our sayings is we want football players not fit-ball players, which means we're going to give them some freedom,” Tressel said. “We're not creating robots out there. So let's see who, with that freedom, can be those playmakers. And we do have to identify that because we did lose some – there’s no secret to that – but I think we have the replacement parts.”
Tressel mentioned safety Hunter Wohler and defensive end Rodas Johnson as candidates to fill that role. And while he didn’t name anyone specifically, Tressel hopes a playmaker emerges at Herbig’s old spot, where Darryl Peterson and C.J. Goetz are the projected starters.
Slotted to succeed
Will Pauling, a transfer from Cincinnati, was one of the big stories of the spring and is the likely starter at the slot receiver spot in Longo’s version of the Air Raid offense.
How important is it to Longo to have a dynamic player in that role?
“I told my wife I think the thing that I love the most after my wife and my kids are slot receivers,” Longo said, pausing briefly for laughter in the room, “because they are typically one of the most productive positions in the offense. And probably the toughest thing is when you don't have a guy that can play that position. When you have a guy that can play that position, he's in the middle of the field most of the time. He's not at wide out, he's not in the backfield, he's in the middle of the field where he's got space on both sides. He's a mismatch for a lot of people. And we can do a lot of things with him. It's the most multiple skill guy we have out there.”
Pauling has a chance to lead the Badgers in receptions this season, but Longo also likes Skyler Bell and Vinny Anthony II in the slot. And, while he couldn’t mention 2024 wide receiver recruit Kyan Berry-Johnson by name, it was clear that’s whom Longo was referring to when looking beyond this season.
“I can’t bring up who it is, but we’ve got one coming in, too, that I’m really excited about,” Longo said. “So I just know the future is bright at that position, and we need that position to be prolific and I think Will and Skyler are going to have a big year at that spot.”
Fickell time
Johnson, a fifth-year senior who started 10 game last season at defensive end, said one thing he’s noticed about Fickell and his assistants is their attention to detail.
Packers fans will appreciate this: Fickell apparently has his own version of Lombardi time.
“Usually, being on time is getting there five minutes before,” Johnson said. “Now it’s like 15. It’s just holding us to a different standard on all levels and making us better overall.”
So if Johnson walks into a meeting 10 minutes early, he’ll get funny looks?
“You don’t want to be the last one,” he said. “Usually 10 minutes early is kind of late.”
Camp veteran
UW quarterback Tanner Mordecai, a transfer from Southern Methodist who began his career at Oklahoma, will begin his sixth training camp on Wednesday.
I asked him if he’d like to just fast forward to Sept. 2, when the Badgers open the 2023 season against visiting Buffalo.
“Fall camp is so important to a team,” Mordecai said. “If you’re truly invested in a team and want the best for a team, you know how important fall camp is and this one is no different.”

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