Open Jim: Who are some players to watch during Wisconsin football camp?

Jul 20, 2023 Updated 5 hrs ago
Welcome back to a late-summer edition of the Open Jim mailbag. This feels like the calm before the storm of training camps starting.
Check out this week’s Open Jim podcast, where I discuss the University of Wisconsin football all-time roster project I’ve been updating the past two weeks and answer these two featured questions from the mailbag:
I’m excited to see some of the newcomers who either weren’t available in the spring due to injuries or just arrived.
Topping that list — at least for me — is wide receiver Bryson Green. The transfer from Oklahoma State caught 36 passes for 584 yards and five touchdowns as a sophomore last season for the Cowboys. He was recovering from a shoulder injury during the spring and was limited to individual work.
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UW did a good job of building some depth at a position that will be utilized much more than it has in the past. Two transfers, CJ Williams (Southern Cal) and Will Pauling (Cincinnati), had joined holdover Chimere Dike in the top group by the end of the spring. Returnees Skyler Bell and Keontez Lewis seem next in line, while young players such as Quincy Burroughs, Vinny Anthony II, Tommy McIntosh and Chris Brooks Jr. all showed flashes.
Where does Green fit in the mix? I can’t wait to find out.
Tight end Clay Cundiff is someone to watch. Cundiff’s past two seasons have been cut short by left-leg injuries — he played four games in 2022 and five in 2021 — but he’s a player who could really flourish in this new offense. How close to 100% is Cundiff and how much rust will there be to shake off? We’ll find out.
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Another player I’ll be keeping an eye on is Darian Varner, a defensive end who transferred from Temple. Varner, who had 12½ tackles for loss and 7½ sacks last season and should add some much-needed depth along the defensive line, was recovering from a leg injury in the spring.
And this is more of a position group than an individual player, but the process of building depth at the cornerback spot is intriguing to me.
The backup cornerbacks in the spring were both true freshmen who had enrolled early, Jace Arnold and Jonas Duclona.
Help has arrived in the form of more freshmen — Amare Snowden and A.J. Tisdell — along with transfer Nyzier Fourqurean. I’m not really sure what to expect from Fourqurean, who arrives from Grand Valley State and was a Division II first-team All-American last season. I’d think he has a good shot of running with the No. 2 group at a position that definitely needed to add some experience.
I don’t think so. Not at all, in fact.
First off, I don’t think the football and men’s hockey changes had anything to do with one another. Let’s say last season went differently in football — a win over Washington State, avoiding the disaster against Illinois — and Paul Chryst remains the coach heading into 2023. The men’s hockey change still would have happened because it was time.
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Football runs this department, and Chris McIntosh decided an overhaul needed to happen. He understands, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic, that lost revenue from football has a trickle-down effect on the entire athletic department and that drove his decision to make major changes.
I don’t think it had anything to do with the fact that the volleyball and women’s hockey programs are playing at a national championship level. I will say this: If I were a coach in any sport at the UW right now, I’d be trying to pick the brains of Kelly Sheffield and Mark Johnson for any tips on how to build and sustain an elite program.
It hasn’t been for lack of effort. I’ve reached out multiple times to Paul Chryst and Jim Leonhard, but neither of them seem interested in discussing what happened at UW or what’s next in their careers.
When I was asked this last month, shortly after Kon Knueppel’s official visit to UW, I thought it was basically a 50/50 shot that he’d end up with the Badgers. Duke and Alabama have offered the Wisconsin Lutheran star since that point, and he plans on making official visits to both schools, so the race to sign him certainly has gotten a lot more competitive.
I still think UW is one of the leading contenders, along with Virginia. We’ll see if Duke or Alabama can make a late surge. My gut tells me he’ll end up playing for Tony Bennett.
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Jackson McAndrew is another major target for UW in 2024, and the forward from Minnesota is nearing a decision. The Badgers are one of four finalists for McAndrew, but that sounds like a two-team race between UW and Creighton.
I’d like to see this play out a little longer before declaring that Christian Yelich is back — and by back, I’m not talking about him ever returning to the elite levels he was at in 2018 and 2019.
I’m going to choose to be optimistic and say that the Yelich we’re seeing this season is the one we’ll continue to see over the next couple seasons. The hope is that he’s figured out some things in his approach at the plate and can carry it forward.
As far as a trade? No chance. The Brewers took a major PR hit last season by trading away reliever Josh Hader. Trading one of their only offensive threats when they’re leading the NL Central race would be silly.
Plus, I’m not sure other teams would be willing to give up all that much for Yelich. He has a big salary and, like me, they probably want to make sure this offensive resurgence isn’t an aberration.
I’d still like to know exactly who is available. I’ve read multiple lists that include players who could be moved at the trade deadline, but are there players who are secretly being shopped that would make sense in Milwaukee? Could the Brewers find a player — as they did with Willy Adames early in the 2021 season — who they could keep for multiple years and yet still would provide immediate help?
In terms of short-term options, two names that stick out are Cody Bellinger of the Cubs and Justin Turner of the Red Sox. Both could provide offensive help and, just as important to me, both have a ton of experience in the postseason.
My wish list would also include a reliever, because you never can have enough arms in the bullpen.
As far as what the Brewers should give up in return for short-term help, I’m fine with a package that would include second-tier prospects. But I still wouldn’t give up any of their top prospects because, again, I think they’re more than one or two players away from being able to beat the Braves or the Dodgers in a seven-game series.
There isn’t one. It’s that simple.
The Brewers are more than one player away from being a World Series contender so it would be foolish to give away a big package of young talent for short-term help. I’m all for adding offense — and anyone can see Milwaukee desperately could use a bat or two — but it wouldn’t make sense to me to go all in at this stage.
Craig Counsell has some soul-searching to do. Or maybe he’s already done it and come to a conclusion.
I’m sure there’s a big part of him that wants to stay in Milwaukee, his home, and continue to help build this organization.
But he’s also a competitor. Does he look at the Brewers’ situation and conclude that, as wonderful as it’d be to lead this franchise to a World Series, the chances of that happening are slim because of the organization’s small-market status? Perhaps he meets up with old friend David Stearns in Queens and they try to bring the New York Mets to glory.
Or maybe Counsell wants to take a step back. He’ll have two sons playing college baseball next spring, so maybe he’ll move into a role where he doesn’t have to be at the ballpark every day and can spend more time with family.
Since two of those options end with Counsell no longer being the Brewers manager in 2024, I guess that where my money would go if I were a betting man.

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