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Here's how Badgers wide receiver Devin Chandler could be an under-the-radar playmaker this season
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UW FOOTBALL | FALL CAMP

Here's how Badgers wide receiver Devin Chandler could be an under-the-radar playmaker this season

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Enthusiasm pours out of Devin Chandler like sweat does during a hot training camp practice at Camp Randall Stadium.

Entering his second year at the University of Wisconsin, the wide receiver can see and feel that he’s close to delivering on his potential. His speed and acceleration give him the chance to be a deep threat in the Badgers’ offense. His agility makes him a weapon as a return man on special teams.

Badgers head coach Paul Chryst talks about the importance of WR Devin Chandler putting in extra work during the offseason and during training camp

But before he can get on the game field and show those skills, Chandler, a redshirt freshman, has to continue banking trust with his teammates and coaches. They, too, see the flashes of athletic brilliance, but in a crowded receiver room led by a couple of savvy veterans, knowing the details of every route and assignment is the only path to snaps.

“I think for Devin the key thing — and we’ve had conversations, he and I, just in regards to the direction he needs to go — just continue to mature, on and off the field,” receivers coach Alvis Whitted said. “I think that he’s making strides. He’s continuing to do things and just learning football, really. And I think the more football that he learns, the more that the game will slow down for him. He can have a bright future here.”

Chandler came to UW as a somewhat unheralded recruit. A midseason addition to the 2020 class, the three-star prospect out of Hough High School in Cornelius, North Carolina, had offers from a handful of Power Five programs such as Duke, Illinois, Maryland and Virginia.

He was pressed into action on special teams and offense after injuries to the wide receivers, particularly seniors Danny Davis and Kendric Pryor. He caught two passes for 28 yards and had six kick returns for 156 yards. Seeing the field early taught Chandler about the level of preparation needed to succeed at the Big Ten Conference level.

“You have to make sure that you’re on top of everything, 24/7,” Chandler said. “You have to understand not only your assignment, but everybody else’s assignment and the kind of looks that the defense has giving.”

That process is ongoing as Chandler and the Badgers enter their second full week of training camp. But he’ll have to take advantage of meeting time and mental reps at practice to continue his growth.

Chances at wide receiver will start thinning as camp continues and coaches begin giving more snaps to the top group of Davis, Pryor and sophomore Chimere Dike to prepare for the season. At present, Chandler finds himself in the trio behind them, along with junior A.J. Abbott and senior Jack Dunn.

He calls Davis and Pryor his big brothers, and says their advice is crucial to his development. Every tip or correction they give gets jotted down in a notebook or applied to the next rep.

“When you first get into college from high school, the speed is different,” Davis said. “The playbook is thicker, you’ve got to do a lot of thinking. So I would say mentally was his biggest area this summer and now camp, taking that next step to actually having a grasp of the playbook. … It’s just a matter of him to keep continuing to get stronger. And the sky’s the limit for my guy.”

While he waits for more opportunities on offense, Chandler is determined to make noise as a returner. His 59-yard kick return in the third quarter of the Duke’s Mayo Bowl jump-started the Badgers’ drive that tied the game 21-21. He’s been the first-team kick returner through training camp thus far.

Chandler said playing special teams helps him get into the flow of a game and use his speed in the open field.

Whitted, who played nine years in the NFL as a receiver and kick returner, enjoys the effort Chandler puts into special teams, saying that he sees an urgency in Chandler’s approach.

“He’s grown a lot in regards to special teams and I love that he wants to be on kickoff return, because it’s going to help our football team,” Whitted said.

Chandler’s goals are set high — he wants to return “at least three” kickoffs for touchdowns. Told that he’d set a UW single-season record if he meets that goal, Chandler’s eyes light up.

“That’d be cool,” he says, laughing.

Though his time as a regular at receiver may be later rather than sooner, Chandler said he’s starting to put things together to be ready for his time.

“As I get used to it and everything, I kind of start to have more fun with it, you know?” he said. “I get to experiment with certain things in the playbook and on the field, and I’m feeling good about that.”


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