This season has been about taking advantage of opportunities. Michael Grant stepped up when Arkansas needed a free safety. Matt Hewitt took Freddie Fairchild's spot at linebacker. Ernest Mitchell took over when Marcus Harrison went down at defensive tackle.
The latest opportunity was created when Damian Williams, the starter at flanker, quit the team Wednesday. Robert Johnson and Cedric Washington, both former quarterbacks, figure it's their turn to step up. That's what Johnson said Thursday after the Hogs went well over two hours inside Walker Pavilion for a morning workout in full pads that everyone called "very" physical.
"What you learn around here is that if you come to work every day, something good might happen for you," Johnson said. "Ced and I are just trying to come to practice with a good attitude and work hard. Maybe we can help the team. That's our attitude and it mostly is the way to handle things on an every day basis."
It may be that Ben Cleveland continues to benefit from a similar opportunity since Peyton Hillis continues to struggle with a deep thigh bruise that has been complicated by a severe buildup of calcium.
Cleveland is getting lots of repetitions at fullback, tight end and the third wide receiver. Hillis tried to practice Wednesday night, but made it only 30 minutes. Hillis was unable to practice Thursday.
"Dean Weber wants to try one different treatment for Peyton," Nutt said. "He's got a knot that won't go away from that thigh bruise. Hopefully, this procedure will help him. He really tried to go yesterday, but the leg stiffened up on him. Hopefully, this will help. This is about the last thing they could do and if it doesn't help it doesn't look good for him (playing in the bowl game)."
Hewitt sustained a minor knee injury when he fell backwards in a pileup. Defensive coordinator Reggie Herring said Hewitt returned later in practice.
"He looks like he's getting tougher because he bounced right back today," Herring said. "But we are going to make a lineup change there. He's going to be a good linebacker, Hewitt is. But we need someone a little more physical in this game. We are going to start Desmond Sims there in this game because of who we are playing. Sims is more physical, plus he's a senior and it would a chance for him to start in his last game."
Herring left little doubt about what kind of game he expects from Wisconsin and a massing offensive line coupled with a 242-pound tailback.
"We have to get off the plane in Orlando and first thing punch Mickey Mouse right in the mouth," Herring said. "We have to be physical from the very start. This game will be about being physical. They are just like us on defense and just like us on offense, a real mirror of us."
The Hogs wanted a physical mindset in practice Thursday after what Herring said "was a not so great practice" on Wednesday when he thought the team was still thinking about final exams.
The head coach tried to set the tone with a physical "bull in the ring" drill at the beginning of the workout.
"That's one of Coach Nutt's signature drills, bull in the ring," Herring said. "It gets your juices flowing and the players like it. I think it led to a good practice today. You do that a lot in spring drills and in August, but you can't risk injuries later in the season and we haven't done it in awhile. It was a good way to start today and got us going."
Johnson said that was fun and he liked the way the team practiced.
"We came to work and that's the most important thing you can do each day," Johnson said. "We lost a player (freshman Damian Williams) and that gives me and some others a few more repetitions in practice. You shouldn't have to do anything different. You should have already been working hard so you don't do anything to change things. But you do get more chances in practice because of it.
"You take those reps that are given to you and take advantage of them with your hard work."
The Hogs are working hard on their passing game as the bowl game approaches.
"We've taken the idea that this is a time to get better at route running and our passing game," Johnson said. "We all are trying to get better. The quarterbacks are trying to get better and we are trying to do a better job as wideouts. I think we've improved our route running this week."
Johnson is bouncing back from minor knee surgery and Washington has had to battle concussions that knocked him out of several weeks of practices and two games.
"We have both spent too much time in the training room this fall and it's good to be healthy now," Johnson said. "So I think we both do appreciate this opportunity to play."
Interestingly, Johnson and Washington once battled against each other on the high school level in Central Texas. Johnson was the quarterback at Waco while Washington quarterbacked the team at Bryan.
"He killed us with his quarterback play," Johnson said. "When Ced completed the pass in the championship game against Florida, I went to him and reminded him, 'That's just like you used to do to Waco when you played at Bryan.' He smiled about that.
"Ced helped me when I moved over to wide receiver earlier this year. He'd been through the same thing. He talked to me and helped me out a lot."
Johnson said he likes what he sees from both Casey Dick and Mitch Mustain in practices so far this week.
"They are playing hard and competing for the job and playing very hard in practice," Johnson said. "I like the way Mitch is throwing it right now. He looks relaxed and comfortable now, moreso than he was looking. I think to get some things behind him is good."
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