Wisconsin was inside Tuesday to avoid the bizarre weather, which dropped snow, sleet, rain and rolling thunder during practice and saw spring starters Jordan Kohout, David Gilbert and Jacob Pedersen and back-ups Chase Hammond and Marquis Mason out, Bradie Ewing and Konrad Zagzebski in green no-contact jerseys and B.A. Allen suffered a non-serious lower leg injury.
The Badgers aren't quite limping to the finish line, but the injuries are starting to pile up.
Take J.J. Watt out of the equation and Wisconsin's defensive line returns every contributor from last season, including a vast amount of young talent. Those facts alone have allowed co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach Charlie Partridge the opportunity to do more fine tuning than actual teaching to the majority of his players.
During split team work, Wisconsin's d-line went through drills that emphasized keeping the pad level low, exploding off the line of scrimmage, shedding blockers, working on generating speed off the end and, most importantly, knowing which way the play is going.
"The most important one is block recognition, which is what we do most of the time, where a defensive player simulates what an offensive player is supposed to do and we react to that," senior defensive lineman Patrick Butrym said. "That's one of the most important things we get out of our drills."
Tough Day for Doe
With all the talk about his speed, athleticism and the way he's impressed his peers, it appeared that Kenzel Doe was a super freshman that was destined to be the Badgers third Big Ten Freshman of the Year player in the last three years. It may still happened, but Tuesday showed the Reidsville, N.C., native still has work to do.
Through five sets of skele, team, red zone and move the ball drills, Doe had four drops, including one in skele drill that would have been a beautiful over-the-shoulder catch for a touchdown. Doe did have some athletic plays, including skiing for a catch over the middle that got some applause from his teammates, but he ended the practice with a wide-open drop on a 3rd-and-10 play in the two-minute drill.
With Pedersen out for the next two practices, senior Jake Byrne was elevated to the first team and certainly took advantage of the opportunity.
Byrne caught a number of passes running straight downfield and making an over-the-shoulder catch midstride. Byrne caught one of those passes over the head of linebacker Marcus Trotter, caught another pass over Shelton Johnson's head and made a solid grab over the middle in team drills.
Byrne, who is going through his fourth spring after he enrolled early, should be a factor in the offense, after playing in 13 games (8 starts) last season and caught five balls, one of which went for a touchdown.
In preparation for his spring game start, redshirt sophomore quarterback Jon Budmayr was sharp in two runs through the drill. Budmayr went 8 of 14, but was victimized by a couple drops and an athletic interception by senior cornerback Devin Smith. On a quick out route to Jared Abbrederis, the ball and Smith arrived at the same time and a wrestling match for the ball ensued and Smith came out the winner. It was one of two interceptions in the drill for Smith (he also picked off Joel Stave), who made his most athletic play of camp.
Redshirt freshman Joe Brennan went 4 of 7 with two drops by his receivers and Stave completed three of four passes.
The first and second team each got two cracks at the end zone against the Wisconsin defense and only could break through the goal line once. The first series of the first team offense netted only two yards in three plays, as senior Louis Nzegwu broke through for a third down sack.
The first series of the second team was more of the same. Brennan did complete back-to-back passes to Brian Wozniak and Jason Hengel for seven and nine yards, respectively, but the defense came up with a big play when it needed to with Marcus Cromartie breaking up a touchdown catch to Isaiah Williams on second and goal.
When the drill switched to move the ball, Budmayr engineered a six play, 60-yard touchdown drive that ended when he scrambled to buy time and found Abbrederis open for a 21-yard touchdown pass. The second team, led by Stave, couldn't duplicate that success, as Doe's third-down drop and Josh Prepah knocking down an end zone heave to end the drill.
Extra Points: Former Badgers Jim Leonhard and O'Brien Schofield watched practice … Senior linebacker Greg Russo (shoulder) and Kevin Claxton (ribs) both returned to practice … Wisconsin's final tune-up for the spring game is Thursday at 3:45 p.m.