"It wasn't a (repetition) day yesterday, but a little sluggish at the beginning," said Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema following Monday morning's practice. "A lot of balls on the ground offensively. A little sloppy."
Bielema complimented the team following practice for a strong finish, but emphasized how missed opportunities at any point in a game can cost a team in the end.
Analyzing the Quarterbacks
The starting quarterback position won't be won or lost based on one day of practice but if I had to anoint the starter based on Monday's work, Danny O'Brien should be the guy. Wisconsin doesn't need a hero under center as much as it needs someone who is consistent, and that was O'Brien throughout the two-hour practice.
Crisp with his throws, O'Brien showed he had a solid understanding of what he needed to do to in order to move the chains. In 7-on-7 drills, O'Brien was 7-for-8 passing and while none of his throws were particularly dangerous, he consistently moved the chains when he needed to and unleashed a first-down point every time.
In his first extended action in front of the media in over two years, Curt Phillips showed he has transformed into a more confident pocket passer. His throws are no longer shaky, but more crisp and on point. During 7-on-7 drills, Phillips showed perfect touch on a sideline route to James White, putting it only where the running back could catch it for a 22-yard gain.
Phillips showed no signs of multiple leg injuries when broken plays forced him to run out of the pocket, but overthrew a couple passes when he failed to generate enough power on his right plant leg (the leg that sports a knee brace for extra protection). If Phillips is going to win the job, he's going to have to trust his leg more.
Entering camp as the number one quarterback, Joel Stave was off throughout the first part of practice with his throws and his reads. During 7-on-7 drills, Stave unofficially went 4-for-8. His first three passes all missed the mark - two overthrows and an interception thrown right to Michael Caputo was returned for a touchdown.
"He was a high school running back who played a little bit of safety," said Bielema of Caputo. "Last year, he was just beginning to understand the position. There was a lot of debate. We thought about moving him to linebacker. I was really steadfast. I sat him down and told him I thought he could play safety if you play smart and get up field for it. He's had a really nice camp."
As Stave got deeper into practice, his throws and his play drastically improved. During the move-the-ball segment at the end of practice, Stave completed a pair of nice throws to Jeff Duckworth along the sideline for a first down and went right back to Sam Arneson in a similar area. Stave has a nice build and has added some muscle to his frame, but he needs to be more consistent if he wants to win the job.
Although it was just the first practice of the week, offensive line coach Mike Markuson appears comfortable with Ricky Wagner (left tackle), Ryan Groy (left guard), Travis Frederick (center) and Rob Havenstein (right tackle). Of the four, Groy was the most eye opening, as his foot speed on his pull blocks was impressive, usually leveling an unsuspecting linebacker to allow Melvin Gordon to smoothly run into the secondary. Havenstein is massive on the right side and will be solid at that position.
The only flux in the line is at the right guard position between senior Robby Burge and sophomore Kyle Costigan, although that flux may not last long. Burge looked very strong working in the interior between Frederick and Havenstein and looks much more comfortable and confident on the field than he did last year in special teams work. Costigan move well in space and can deliver a good punch, but had trouble holding his blocks on the interior, as he occasionally wound up on his back from a stronger defensive tackle.
The second-string offense saw Tyler Marz (left tackle), Ray Ball and Zac Matthias (left guard), Dan Voltz (center), Costigan (right guard) and Riki Kodanko and Jonathan coon (right tackle) while the third-string offense was Walker Williams (left tackle), Ball, Joseph McNamara (center), Jake Meador (right guard) and Kodanko.
From the Infirmary
Defensive tackle Beau Allen (ankle) was held out of team drills after an ankle sprain early last week. He went through individual drills Monday and should be back at 100 percent this week. Wide receiver Chase Hammond (concussion) did not participate in any drills.
"(Beau) is a little bit heavier from where he was in the spring, so I was anxious to see him working," said Bielema. "He hurt it, I think, on that second day, so I haven't seen a lot of him out there. He was really doing a nice job."
"We've got them on a pitch count," Bielema said.
One player that has returned after many on-field and off-field issues is Milwaukee Washington redshirt junior Nick Hill. Suspended for a time being and overcoming multiple knee injuries, Hill was working at both the middle and strongside linebacker position Monday with the second-team defense.
"Nick last Wednesday or Thursday had an unbelievable practice," said Bielema. "He really flashed and I made a big deal about it. He's been through a lot personally … At Wisconsin, we've got to get good players on the field. He's athletic, he's rangy."
Depth Chart Notes
- With Bielema holding out his first-string linebackers for the majority of practice, the Badgers used Conor O'Neill (sam), Marcus Trotter (mike) and Derek Landisch (will). A.J. Fenton also rotated in.
- David Gilbert and Brendan Kelly looked comfortable working with the first-team defensive ends while Bryce Gilbert filled in for Allen next to Ethan Hemer. The second-team defensive line saw Tyler Dippel and either Konrad Zagzebski or James Adeyanju at the ends along with Warren Herring and true freshman Arthur Goldberg at the tackles.
According to Bielema, Herring is the team's number three defensive tackle while Gilbert and Goldberg are battling for that fourth defensive tackle spot.
"Surprisingly, he learns pretty quickly," said Bielema of Goldberg. "There's no doubt in my mind that he's going to be a good player here."
- It was no surprise to see Wisconsin rotate in plenty of tight ends and wide receivers with its first and second-string offense, but the reasons for them appear to be vastly different. While the Badgers have plenty of talented tight ends to utilize, as Sam Arneson, Brock DeCicco, Jacob Pedersen, Austin Traylor and Brian Wozniak all got reps, UW is still looking for some standout receivers.
On Monday, redshirt freshman Jordan Fredrick, who was on the cusp of playing last year, appears to be a solid option this season, as the Madison native made a number of catches in various drills, looked good on his breaks and even shook off contact from senior Marcus Cromartie to haul in a nice catch in move-the-ball drills.
"He's never going to be short changed on reps," Bielema said of Fredrick. "He'll pop in that huddle if they need a player in there. He's a hard worker. Not only is he catching the ball well, he's (blocking down field well) … We're probably blocking downfield better than any time in my coaching career."
- Caputo and Michael Trotter split time at the No. 2 strong safety spot. In addition to his interception, Caputo forced a fumble when he filled the running lane and stripped the ball from tailback Vonte Jackson. Redshirt freshman Darius Hillary got work at the No. 2 free safety spot in his first day moving over from cornerback.
Play of the Practice
It's clear that senior cornerback Devin Smith is not only healthy and recovered from his broken foot, he's still playing at a high level. On a deep pass intended for Jared Abbrederis, Smith made up the ground separating him and the receiver and swung his left arm into the passing lane to break up the pass as the two crumpled to the turf. Instead of a first down inside the 10, the Badgers were forced to punt.
Extra Points: Bielema plans to have the team vote for captains likely on August 26 … Scouts from Arizona, Denver and Minnesota were in attendance … Wisconsin will practice again tonight in full pads, but there will be no media access.