Spring Practice Report: April 14

In the first scrimmage of the spring season, the University of Wisconsin found out it has some depth on the defensive line and that the running back tradition is alive and well at Camp Randall Stadium.

MADISON - With his team suiting up for the first of three planned scrimmage for the spring season, Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema wanted to see if his running backs could handle the burden if Montee Ball needed to rest on the sidelines. The answer was definitive.

After Ball went to the sidelines following his one and only four-yard carry, junior James White and redshirt freshman Melvin Gordon were the go-to players in the offense, both unleashing some power running, some speed and some agility during the refereed scrimmage at Camp Randall Saturday morning.

"I think they really took big steps forward today," Bielema said.

Nobody more so than Gordon. Although he rushed 20 times for 98 yards and one touchdown in three games last season, Gordon was forced to redshirt when he couldn't shake a nagging groin issue. No such problems so far this spring, as Gordon unofficially 21 times for 96 yards during team and situational drills.

Gordon's longest run was 28 yards on a third-and-2 when he ran right into linebacker Conor O'Neill, shook off the tackle attempt and got to the corner. Later in practice, Gordon unleashed a gain of seven yards on third-and-3 and nine yards on third-and-9 between the tackles, causing Bielema to yell out ‘Ball who?'

"His (high school) film was all lateral plays because he played in the wing T," said Bielema. "Everything was east and west before it got going north and south. Last year I was amazed how quickly he adjusted to downhill running. He still has flashbacks once in awhile and Coach Hammock will get on him, but he's gifted athletically."

Although he got off to a slow start, White turned on the jets after Gordon started breaking tackles. Unofficially, White rushed 14 times for 104 yards, including a 28-yard run after getting outside the tackle, a 17-yard run up the middle and an impressive 35-yard run at the tail end of practice.

"He did (have a burst) and some holes opened up," said Bielema. "The one thing with James, he doesn't need a lot of room and he can get vertical. We have some things designed to get him and Montee on the field at the same time."

Redshirt sophomore Jeff Lewis was scheduled to scrimmage, but a hamstring injury allowed redshirt junior Kyle Zuleger some reps. Lewis is expected back by next Saturday.

From the Infirmary

Wisconsin got out of the scrimmage injury free, always the number one goal for the UW staff. Derek Landisch scrimmaged with his right hand in a club after breaking it on Thursday's practice.

"He didn't say anything until he went in there after practice," said Landisch. "He'll have (it clubbed) for about two weeks."

David Gilbert (foot), Tyler Dippel (foot) and Konrad Zagzebski (shoulder) were among the main players that did not practice. Devin Smith (foot) practiced in individual drills and is expected to get fully cleared by team doctors next week.

Arneson Catching Up

More known for his blocking that his pass catching, sophomore tight end Sam Arneson has had one of the best practice weeks of his young career. One of the go-to targets of Joe Brennan, Arneson has developed in to a frequent target in the passing game, adding to his already sound work in the blocking scheme.

"Sammy weighs over 255 pounds and did a nice job in the out-of-season (work) that you can really see it in his blocking," said Bielema. "He's holding his own against some defensive ends that I think are good players … He reminds me a lot of Jason Pociask. He was a guy that was really good at the line of scrimmage but could hold his own in the passing game."

Showing up on Defense

While White and Gordon were the big playmakers on offense, there was no shortage of players that stepped on the defensive side of the ball, particularly on the defensive line. One of the bigger standouts was redshirt sophomore Warren Herring. Being moved from defensive end to defensive tackle, Herring was active early in practice with a couple tackles for loss.

"He just came up out of the ranks and had a nice day," said Bielema.

Bielema also said Darius Hillary has had an outstanding three weeks of camp, which the redshirt freshman showed with a perfectly timed blitz off the edge that resulted in a blindside sack.

"He's very athletic," said Bielema. "Mom and dad raised a good one because he listens to everything you have to say. He tries to do everything you ask."

QB Struggles

With future Wisconsin quarterback Danny O'Brien watching from the sidelines, the two-man tandem of Brennan and Joel Stave likely didn't scare the former Maryland signal caller.

Brennan's first series went incompletion, fumbled snap, overthrow and a 3-yard pass to Kenzel Doe. For the day, Brennan unofficially went 3-for-8 for 37 yards and two sacks. He was victimized by some drops, but did spike a pass intended for a wide-open Isaiah Williams that would have moved the chains and avoided an interception after Shelton Johnson couldn't secure a pass following contact.

Stave wasn't much better, going unofficially 3-for-13 with three sacks. A number of his throws went over the head of Doe and, like Brennan, was fortunate that Terrance Floyd couldn't haul in an easy interception. Stave did throw the only interception of the day in 7-on-7 drills, as linebacker Derek Watt made an easy pick.

"The protection wasn't always there," said Bielema. "We have four of our five starters solidified on the offensive line but that (right guard spot) shows how quickly you need someone to pop in there. I think just confidence in the huddle. They are light years of where they were a year ago and obviously we want them to be better. I think they'll continue to grow."

Bielema hinted that Rob Havenstein is a guy UW would want at the right tackle spot and have Casey Dehn, who has starting experience, on the field, as well. Bielema also noted that Kyle Costigan (broken foot) is making tremendous strides on the offensive line despite not participating in winter conditioning or the first four practices.

Players to Note

While not participating in the scrimmage, fifth-year senior Curt Phillips struggled when he was on the field for 7-on-7 work. Still trying to gain some strength in his lower body and some zip on his throws, Phillips went 2-for-5 with his passes including an interception by Dezmen Southward. Phillips only two completions were in the flat to Ball, but he did fall victim to a drop by Chase Hammond.

Being moved from tight end to fullback, Sherard Cadogan has a solid day blocking for the running backs. It's still a work in progress for the redshirt sophomore, but Cadogan is noticeably bigger – 236 pounds – and can certainly lay a lick on an unsuspecting linebacker.

Conor O'Neill had been working with the first-team defense, but redshirt junior A.J. Fenton continues to have a strong start to spring practice. With his head coach saying it's the best two weeks he could have, Fenton has been showing poise and discipline in his gap responsibility, good lateral movement and rarely was out of position. After other coaches thought about moving him to a different position (like fullback), Fenton is starting to hone the position, especially since Bielema said he likely is UW's fastest linebacker.

Ryan Groy appears to have found a home at left guard and appears that job is his to lose heading into the fall. After shifting between fullback and center, Groy works well between Ricky Wagner and Travis Frederick and has a good first step off the line of scrimmage. He looks natural and fluid in his movements and should fit nicely.

Final Thought

Bielema wanted to talk to the seniors following practice and while the group always has been in double digits, UW's coach only had eight players around him.

"It's an extremely small class," Bielema said. "One thing I am amazed at, just during recruiting you look at certain things and you lay things out on depth to show players on campus. In theory two years from now, we'll have as talented of football team as I've had."

With that having said, Bielema said it wouldn't be surprised to see some juniors step up and become captains.

"You look at a guy like Chris Borland, my guess is he'll be voted captain," said Bielema. "At the interior line position, Travis Frederick and Groy have leadership skills. I know Jacob Pedersen is frustrated because he wanted to get involved today. We'll probably let him go full go next week. He's another guy that doesn't say a lot, but his actions speak volumes."

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