Senior transfer quarterback Russell Wilson was at it again Tuesday afternoon at Wisconsin's football practice, making spot throws, good reads and showing he's not afraid to tuck the ball and run when the pressure from Borland and Co. makes the pocket break down.
"He's a very good player," Borland said Tuesday. "He jukes you more than any Wisconsin quarterback I have been around. It's a little bit of a change of pace, no offense to Scott (Tolzien) or (Nate) Tice. He's a good player and we'll all be better for it."
Wilson is expected to be named the starting quarterback when the Badgers start preparation for the season opener against UNLV on September 1. It will be at that point that Borland will be anxious to see if Wilson is as rude to his opponent as he has been to Wisconsin's first-team defense.
"That's a dangerous asset for the offense," Borland said. "We have to deal with it during camp. Hopefully our opponents have to deal with it during the season."
QB: Russell Wilson, Joe Brennan
C: Peter Konz, Ryan Groy
LT: Ricky Wagner, Case Dehn
MLB: Chris Borland, Josh Harrison
From the Infirmary
A number of people were back for Wisconsin and participating in extended reps, a good sign for Wisconsin after going through a rash of injuries.
Concussion victims Ethan Armstrong and Austin Maly returned and participated in workouts and Brendan Kelly, who has been hampered for over a week with foot/shoe problems, looked good working with the second team defense.
Peniel Jean also practiced for the third straight workout after suffering a slight MCL sprain last week, and worked primarily with the second team. After two days of wearing a green no-contact jersey, Jordan Fredrick ran routes with the second-team offense in his red jersey. Fredrick looked really good, too, catching a number of out-stretched passes that went for first downs with Brennan at the helm.
A.J. Fenton, Michael Trotter and Brian Wozniak all continued to do more work after returning to limited means yesterday. Fenton even got some work in with the second-team defense and made some nice plays, including a third-down sack on Brennan.
Jon Budmayr (right elbow) is still out, but appears he's making progress, as he watched practice without his elbow wrapped in a sleeve.
7-on-7 Skelly Drills
Wilson got great production from his receiving corps, as the group was a big reason he unofficially went 13 for 15 in the drill. Jeff Duckworth made a number of leaping catches along the sidelines, the running backs showed best catching ability that they had this week and Pedersen made a number of nice catches in traffic. The only passes Wilson missed was a deep ball down the middle that was just out of reach of a diving Isaiah Williams and an overthrow along the sideline.
Brennan wasn't nearly as crisp. He rarely challenged the defense and he poorly telegraphed a pass that went right into the waiting arms of safety Josh Peprah. Unofficially, Brennan went 6 for 8 and a number of his completions were of the five-yards-or-less variety.
Over the last few days, it looks as if Pedersen has really stepped up his pass-catching game. On one play in particular, Pedersen slipped right through the linebackers for a 22-yard gain, a move he generating by appearing to stay back in pass protection. Pedersen wasn't the main show last year and was usually in Kendricks shadow, which allowed him to have some big play opportunities. He appears poised to be able to handle being the main attraction.
In the battle for the No.3 receiver, it's evident it's a battle that probably won't be decided for roughly 10 more days. Still, Wisconsin has been looking for playmakers and three of its wide receivers had a solid day catching the ball. In addition to Fredrick, who was held his own after being elevated from the scout team, Duckworth made some nice catches, but got harshly chewed out when he dropped a ball in front of Bielema. With Manasseh Garner being out of action for at least week one, one or both of these players might see game reps.
A lot has been talked about and written about when it comes to Wilson, but one thing that hasn't been mentioned much is his bounce-back ability. Considering he hasn't many bad practices since coming to Wisconsin, it's been a moot point. But after a poor practice Monday morning, it was reassuring to see him be so crisp in the evening practice and again today. Wilson's throws were on time and on target, and his decision making and patience when the pocket collapses.
Asked yesterday what freshmen might contribute this season, Bielema mentioned the names of Melvin Gordon, Sam Arneson, Derek Landisch, Michael Caputo, Darius Hillary and Fred Willis. Gordon is a given. His burst and his abilities behind the line of scrimmage suggest that he already has played a season of college football. He has demonstrated throughout the week that he's a quick learner, especially when it comes to catching passes out of the backfield and picking up blitzing linebackers in pass protection.
As for the rest of the group, I would be surprised if any of them were pressed into action if Wisconsin stayed injury free. Arneson has looked good catching the ball and running routes in skelly drills, but probably could fill in if Wozniak continues to be plagued with hamstring problems. Landisch is gifted physical and is built like Borland, but he hasn't played with UW's first or second team yet.
Caputo and Hillary have had reps with the second team and both have showed flashes, but I would suspect any work they get this season would be on a special teams unit, as both are fast and show a good awareness. If Caputo makes the cut this year, it would be a fantastic turn around considering he fractured his left ankle early last fall. Willis is going to be a good receiver, but I think Fredrick is ahead of him in the pecking order. Fredrick looks more built for the position than Willis, but both have come up with big catches offensively.
Move the Ball
A first down incompletion and a Montee Ball inside handoff got Wilson in a comfortable third-and-2. What is becoming a favorite play of the quarterback, Wilson ran a play-action pass and dumped the pass off in the flat for a first down. After moving the chains, Wilson immediately went deep and hit Abbrederis for a leaping for a 27-yard gain. With Toon out since the Rose Bowl, Abbrederis has become Wisconsin's best wide receiver.
That was evident two plays later. From the 25-yard line, Wilson got his guy in one-on-one coverage and zinged a pass to the corner of the end zone. Abbrederis was able to out run Fenelus (no small task) and make an easy catch. Not only was Wilson's throw spot on, Abbrederis was solid coming out of his break, allowing him to separate from the cornerback and register the play of the day.
Connor Cummins continues to make strides for UW's wide receiver group, which is quickly building depth and confidence over the last four practices. Cummins came out of his break and turned on a dime, allowing him to grab a nine-yard completion and eventually set up a first down for UW at its own 40.
The drive stalled there, as two sacks, including a third-down blitz by Fenton, and a failed run attempt ended the drive.
Keeping the ball on the ground four straight times to move the chains and get the ball outside its own 5-yard line, Wilson showed his ability to scan the field and find his receiver despite a rushing defensive end. With Nzegwu within an arm's reach, Wilson calmly delivered a perfect spiral to Byrne, who had no defender underneath him, to advance UW to its own 41. Smith stopped the bleeding from there, breaking up a pass intended for Abbrederis on third-and-10. Smith may have gotten away with a little shove in the back, but got his arm in the passing lane and body on the receiver to knock away the pass.
Pinned at the 3-yard line, a play-action pass gamble didn't work when Austin Traylor dropped a lot pass that would have given UW some breathing room. After Gordon put UW in a third-and-7, Brennan delivered a solid throw over Fenton, who was coming untouched on the end, to Lewis, who picked up 20 yards and a first down. A 9-yard completion over the middle to Arneson and a 7-yard jump pass to Lewis were two more solid throws by Brennan, who is now making more good, on-target throws that poor ones.
After an overthrow and a drop by Lewis, UW faced third-and 10 and Brennan saved his best throw for the critical situation. With the pocket collapsing, Brennan got enough on his throw that it fell just between the linebacker and the cornerback, right into the arms of Willis for a first down at the defense's 35.
Just like Smith, Nzegwu came to the rescue, getting pressure off the end to force a sack on second down. It put the offense in a challenging third-and-long and when Brennen's deep pass missed, practice was finished.
Extra Points: For the first time this spring, quarterbacks worked on corralling wayward snaps. It certainly is a foreign concept, considering the Badgers had no quarterback-center exchange issues last year … Open fall camp this season had been pretty scuffle free, but that didn't stop Beau Allen and Traylor getting lock out in a physical wrestling match that was quickly broken up … UW officials had no update on how Curt Phillips' ACL surgery went this afternoon … Wisconsin holds its fourth two-a-day tomorrow starting at 9:15 a.m.