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MADISON - The experiment proved to be a success.
Choosing to split up his young roster into two groups with one group going at 6 a.m. and the other at 1 p.m., Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen believes the positives of the four days of split practices have far outweighed the negatives.
”Mission accomplish with the young kids, the old kids, it was a great mix,” said Andersen. “Ton of reps. Not one kid on this football team didn’t get a good number of reps as he went through the last four days, so I’m excited about that. We definitely were able to see some of the youth and where they sit understanding the scheme.”
Approaching Sunday’s scrimmage, the first true measuring stick on this year’s fall camp, the four days of split camp have allowed new position battles to emerge. Not all revelations have been positive, especially at the backup nose tackle spot between sophomore Arthur Goldberg and true freshmen Jeremy Patterson and Conor Sheehy.
It’s no secret that Wisconsin has a young defensive line after graduating a lot of their top tacklers. Defensive line coach Chad Kauha’aha’a said yesterday that he was hopeful to go three deep at all three spots along the line, giving the Badgers the ability to rotate plenty of fresh bodies to keep constant pressure on opposing offenses.
“We’ve talked about Warren playing a lot of snaps. Right now Warren would have to play every snap, which is a concern,” said Andersen. “Who is going to come in at the nose guard spot?”
Andersen said it’s an emergency option to move ends Jake Keefer or Konrad Zagzebski into the spot to give Herring a breather, but that the trio of nose tackle backups will have to develop some toughness and play within UW’s 3-4 scheme.
“We have a ways to go and that worried me,” said Andersen. “…When I say physically not ready, I would say with the technique (we’re) not ready (and) definitely an issue. Coach Chad is working like crazy with it to get it in the direction. We flash at times and show some tremendous things. We flash the other way too much. That’s not where we need to be.”
Andersen also noted the fourth cornerback spot between Dare Ogunbowale and Derrick Tindal has gone back and forth, running back Taiwan Deal continues to grind through practice and is waiting for someone to challenge him for the No.3 tailback spot and the three freshman wide receivers – Natrell Jamerson, George Rushing and Krenwick Sanders – have a chance to play.
Andersen said Wisconsin will likely play a minimum of seven freshmen, including interior lineman Michael Deiter, Deal, some wide receivers and some defensive backs.
“The challenge a lot of times is mentally be able to stay there,” said Andersen. “Some kids that’s harder for them than physically. Certain positions have the chance to play early, but I’m looking for them to stay in the playbook, hang in their mentality with the grind of the camp and show us we could put them in a game and count on them.”
Although he was working with the second-team offense (and in some cases the third-team offense), quarterback Joel Stave looked polished on a lot of his throws. He went 5-for-10 in 7-on-7 drills, numbers that could have been better if it wasn’t for three drops, but completed two 15-yard TD passes on his final two throws. One was to redshirt sophomore Reggie Love, who made a stutter step at the 3-yard line to clear an alley and the other to Austin Maly after Stave bought time by scrambling to his right and hit a breaking Maly with both of them on the move.
Stave went 4-for-8 during 11-on-11 drills. One pass was dropped and two passes were broken up on athletic plays by sophomore linebacker Leon Jacobs, who showed good burst and instinct at the snap of the ball to read the pass to the flat and the attempted running back screen.
Where Stave stood out was during pre-snap procedures at the line of scrimmage, taking time to move the freshmen receivers into the proper spots to run the play.
“That’s the quarterback’s job to make sure things are moving in the right direction,” said Andersen. “His pre-snap awareness should be better than anyone on the field. Him and the free safety have the most command of what they expect and what they see of their offense or their defense. Joel’s knowledge of the offense is really good.”
Bart Houston went 1-for-4 in 7-on-7 drills, having one pass broken up by senior Michael Caputo and another intercepted by D’Cota Dixon, who was lined up as a linebacker and made a leaping grab as he backpedaled to cover a slant route over the middle. Houston went 0-for-2 during 11-on-11.
Andersen admitted that it was tough to gauge the play of both Stave and junior Tanner McEvoy since he believed it was easier to have success during the morning practices with the veteran offensive line and skill position players.
Junior Jack Russell went 2-for-4 on his tries at the start of practice. He made a 38-yarder, missed from 41, was five-yards short on a 48-yard try but made the adjustment to make a second 48-yard attempt. Rafael Gaglianone did not have a good showing, only hitting from 41 yards and missing from 38 and 48 twice.
Wisconsin will run an approximate 100-play scrimmage that will involve full tackling (except Corey Clement and Melvin Gordon) and plenty of offensive and defensive work on Sunday. Both kickers will attempt PATs and field goals, but there will be very little special teams work outside that.
“It’s going to be really, really important in my opinion for these kids to play in some different situations,” said Andersen. “Playing in front of some fans will be big for them, so hopefully it’s a big group of people.”
Quotable“I feel good where we are today. When I laid my head down last night on the pillow, I was a little bit uneasy as far as where we were going. Tonight I feel better about it. Tomorrow, who knows how I will feel?
QBs – Bart Houston, Connor Senger, Joel Stave
WRs – Krenwick Sanders, Reggie Love, Lance Baretz, Natrell Jamerson
CBs – Derrick Tindal, Darius Hillary, Dare Ogunbowale, D’Cota Dixon
Extra Points: Andersen laughed when a reporter asked him to assess the play of his son, Chasen, and simply said “I’m not going there” … Jordan Fredrick, Caleb Kinlaw and T.J. Watt were held out from team activities. Andersen says Watt will be back in “days not weeks” … Derek Landisch and Marcus Trotter are slated to be the starting ILBs, but Andersen doesn’t know who their backups are yet … Andersen still had no update on JUCO safety Serge Trezy’s academic situation, meaning he probably will redshirt and join the team in January.