Les Miles met with the media once workouts wrapped up to provide his take on the Tigers' first day of spring camp. The team only donned helmets for the first non-contact practice. Miles said they emphasized footwork and technique in this first outing and the team put forth a spirited effort.
There were a new bunch of Tigers out on the ponderosa for the start of the 2014 campaign. Gone are guys like Zach Mettenberger, Jarvis Landry, Lamin Barrow and Craig Loston. Miles said the team voted on its Unity Council — the group of elected team leaders — before practice, and the leadership gone from last year's team has been replaced.
"There's always a void when you leave a portion of your team to graduation," Miles said. "But there is no more void. There is that leadership. We've established a very quality culture here. Our older guys understand it best, and they're requiring it of the young guys."
WIDE-OPEN RACE AT QUARTERBACK
The quarterback competition garnered a lot of attention during Miles' post-practice press conference. All three scholarship QBs — Anthony Jennings, Hayden Rettig and Brandon Harris — received even reps, and Miles isn't in a hurry to decide who his starter will be for Wisconsin.
"It always plays out," Miles said. "If you make the decision early, its' foolish."
Miles was adamant that Jennings isn't coming into spring practices with a hold on the position, even though he filled in for Mettenberger at the end of last season. He said he wants the QBs to know the position's not going to be given to anyone, and that it must be earned.
Miles said all three QBs showed flashes of great play Saturday. He said both Jennings and Rettig have grown stronger and more athletic since they arrived last spring, and Harris has as well in his couple months on campus.
"The older guys know the cadence and there's some comfort there," Miles said. "We want to allow for a quality, competitive environment for Harris and the others. We have to bring him to speed in his comfort of the offense, then let's have at it and see who's best."
NEW ASSISTANTS HAVE A SMOOTH TRANSITION
Saturday marked the first time new assistants Jeff Grimes (offensive line/run-game coordinator) and Bradley Dale Peveto (special teams/defensive assistant) got to take the field with their position groups.
"I enjoyed both new coaches," Miles said. "Jeff Grimes really stepped in and performed at practice, just like he's supposed to. You can tell he has comfort and his guys are going to respond to him very well."
Peveto worked with all three defensive units, but spent most of his time with the defensive backs. Miles said his role on the defensive staff is still coming together.
"I'm not certain that a decision's been made," Miles said. "He's helping the secondary, but the great thing about his experience is that he can help in a number of different spots."
FOUR TIGERS MISSING IN ACTION
The defense was without four players that missed Saturday's practice with injuries. Jermauria Rasco, Corey Thompson, Jordan Allen and Mickey Johnson were all absent. Miles said that Rasco and Thompson will miss most, if not all, of spring camp.
"I think Rasco will be out," Miles said. "Getting him back late might be worth it, but not likely. Corey has a better chance, but I'm not overly optimistic there either."
Miles said Travin Dural and John Diarse have separated themselves from the other wide receivers at this point in the offseason. He said Kevin Spears, Quantavius Leslie and Avery Peterson are all competing to get on their level.
"This is the time for that," Miles said. "This is an opportunity for those guys."
Miles said there will be a competition for playing time at right guard. Evan Washington ran with the first team, while Fehoko Fanaika worked behind him. Miles also mentioned Ethan Pocic as someone that could move there as well. He served as the second-team left tackle Saturday.
"Playing the best player is obviously the key," Miles said.
The linebackers saw a bit of a shakeup from their positions last year. Kwon Alexander flipped to the WILL linebacker position after playing SAM last year. Lamar Louis, who was a MIKE last season, played at SAM on Saturday. Kendell Beckwih, a defensive lineman in 2013, worked out as a middle linebacker.
"We're really taking the time to multi-train these linebackers so we can put the best three linebackers on the field," Miles said.
Kickoff specialist James Hairston is no longer with the team. Miles said "he opted to have another experience in college."