Injuries Give Duckworth A Chance

After his injuries have opened the door for other players to contribute over the last two seasons, sophomore Jeff Duckworth is hoping he can now take advantage of what has quickly becoming a lack of depth in Wisconsin's receiving corps.

MADISON - With the injuries starting to mount at key positions on the University of Wisconsin's football team, head coach Bret Bielema gathered his team after practice had drew attention to center Peter Konz, left guard Travis Frederick and linebackers Chris Borland and Mike Taylor, players that got the opportunity to become main contributors because injuries had opened the door for him.

Bielema addressed the entire team in wake of the Badgers trying to find playmakers three weeks before their September 1 opener against UNLV but for redshirt sophomore Jeff Duckworth, he felt his head coach was talking right to him.

Duckworth knows better than anyone that injuries open up opportunities, as it usually been his injury clearing the way for a player like Jared Abbrederis to step in and get meaningful repetition. Whether it was a shoulder or a knee, Duckworth never could quite get his feet under him enough to contribute the way he wanted.

Now he's getting his chance. With injuries mounting at the wide receiver position, including senior Nick Toon having missed the last two practices, Duckworth has been running with the first team offense for the first extended period in his career.

"I'm making steps forward, a little more than the day before," Duckworth said. "I'm still leaving some (plays) out there …You have to keep going forward, especially with a game three weeks away. This isn't like spring ball."

In more ways than one, Duckworth is happy that his first two weeks of fall camp isn't like his spring. Although he made it through all 15 practices, his nagging injuries made it hard to play at 100 percent, especially since he got a knee scope the day after the spring game.

"I battled, I made it though, I grinded it out," Duckworth said. "That's Wisconsin football right there. You have to come out and go to work, not let the little things get to you."

Duckworth played in five games last season, and caught his first three passes of his collegiate career against Austin Peay. More importantly, he showed that he could play. Duckworth had career totals of 152 catches, 2,365 yards and 17 TDs at Princeton High, doing most of that work with a torn labrum.

It didn't help that the first UW practice Duckworth participated in after getting cleared from his shoulder surgery resulted in a torn PCL. His second scope this spring took care of a meniscus problem and cleaned up the knee, limiting him for just a couple weeks and giving him the confidence to play this camp.

"It's my third year, so it's like, now or never," Duckworth said. "I have to be ready to go, and I think my competiveness has grown over the years watching (David) Gilreath, Toon and all the others go out, work and play."

Now healthy, Duckworth is starting to realize his potential thanks to receivers coach DelVaughn Alexander, who seems to be losing a player on a daily basis. No matter the situation, Alexander is never far away from Duckworth, giving him feedback, giving him instructions or giving him corrections on what he needs to do better.

"You just have to accept it and go to work, because you know he's going to be in your face every day," Duckworth said. "He just wants to get the best out of you and get the best for the team. You have to get out there and show him you can do the job. He's taught me a lot."

What Alexander has taught Duckworth and what makes the Cincinnati native a viable commodity for Wisconsin is his versatility. Duckworth has the ability to play all three receiver positions, having the ability to take reps at any spot. More importantly, he, like some of the older receivers, developed a good connection playing catch over the summer with the quarterbacks, mainly senior Russell Wilson.

"Being out there with him and throwing over the summer, you saw what kind of leader and competitor he was," Duckworth said. "He was trying to get us better every day, same with (Jon) Bud(mayr)."

Duckworth has certainly showed up at points this spring with some stellar catches mid stride that have resulted in big gains. He also has shown that he still needs work, as bobbles and drops have been a part of his second week of camp. It's another reason Alexander has been in his ear, considering he is third on the depth chart in terms of game experience.

"I just got to do my job so I know they can trust me every play," Duckworth said. "I've got to be more consistent every day. I can't have one drop. I can't have any drops if I want to play."

With three seniors having left the program, sophomore Manasseh Garner (pegged at the end of spring to be the team's No.3 receiver) out for the next two to four weeks, sophomore Chase Hammond out up to six weeks and redshirt freshman Marquis Mason out for the year with an ACL tear, Duckworth knows it's time to prove his worth.

"You just have to take advantage of opportunities that are there," Duckworth said. "You look behind me, there is hardly anybody else so if I want it, I've got to go get it."

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