MADISON - Five spring practices have been wrapped up for first year head coach Paul Chryst and he is pleased with where things stand at the moment with his Wisconsin football team, which has a Friday morning practice before going on spring break from March 28 to April 5.
“Pleased with the way guys our approaching and working,” Chryst said after Wednesday night’s practice. “Obviously we have a lot of things to work on but I like their attitude. We have one more practice before spring break and we’ll take advantage of that one, then it will be break, and obviously pick up as fast as we can when they come back.”
Wisconsin was able to run an efficient practice for the two hours that was open to the media, getting some special teams work in to begin the practice with punter Drew Meyer working on pinning the football inside the 10-yard line and positional work before the teams broke off to do skelly and team.
Senior quarterback Joel Stave had a good practice, unofficially completing 12 of 17 pass attempts combined during skelly and in team portions. He was able to consistently find ways of placing the football where only his receiver could get the football. At one point Stave was able to complete six consecutive passes before redshirt senior Alex Erickson dropped one in the end zone.
The previous six consecutive completions by Stave weren’t all dump offs to running backs either, as he was able to connect on a couple of deep routes and out routes and threw with good zip on the football. Although Stave did practice well, there was one center-quarterback exchange between him and redshirt freshman Michael Dieter that caused a rush throw and an incompletion.
During Stave’s reps in practice, he targeted Rob Wheelwright early and often. Wheelwright continues to play well over the course of spring football, as he was a favorite target of all the quarterbacks in skelly and during team portions.
“I’ve liked the way Rob has attacked each practice and as he gets comfortable, you can see him just play I think he’s got some real ability,” Chryst said. “I like his size. I like the way he runs. I think he has some natural football awareness and it is important to him.”
D.J. Gillins worked after Stave and unofficially went 5-for-10 between the skelly work and team portions. Bart Houston was third and he was able to go 7-for-11 during practice and made a couple of nice throws down the field, including a touchdown to Wheelwright on a fade route.
Alex Hornibrook received more reps then fellow true freshman quarterback Austin Kafentzis and looked good in skelly (a perfect 4-for-4) or in team drills (2-for-4 with a Krenwick Sanders drop). With the way Hornibrook has played as of late, Chryst said he has received the right to more reps in practice to show what he can do in front of the coaching staff.
“With all these guys, they have to get their reps and get a feel for things, but you earn the right to more reps or some guys who earn the right to get fewer reps,” Chryst said. “I think Alex has earned the right to get some reps, really the first reps he has received in a team setting and I thought he handled himself pretty well. I’ve been impressed with the way he’s approached everything.”
“I’ve liked the way he’s come in and everyone learns at a little bit of different tempo,” Chryst added about Kafentzis. “I’ve enjoyed and appreciate what he’s been doing and been getting good work. Not been disappointed at all in Austin.”
With Stave learning his fourth new offense since he’s been at Wisconsin, as well as the other quarterbacks trying to dive into the new system, Chryst said graduate assistant, and former Wisconsin quarterback, Jon Budmayr has been a big help with the transition into a new offense.
“Jon has been in this offense for a long time,” Chryst said. “He’s been on the other side of it, which is a lot of help for the quarterbacks as they learn the new system. I think he’s good at what he does, so I think the combination of that will help these guys and it is a good group. They wants to be coached.”
Taiwan Deal off on right foot
It is clear that Corey Clement is the team’s starting running back, but the challenge for running back coach John Settle sis to figure out what he has behind Clement before Jordan Stevenson and Bradrick Shaw set foot on campus in the summer. After a rough beginning to his college career due to a hand injury, it appears that Deal is starting to pick things up on offense through the early goings of spring practice.
“I’ve liked the way Taiwan is running the football,” Chryst said. “He certainly has shown some things and he’s talented. He trusts himself, which is even better.”
During the team portion it appeared that Clement, Deal and Dare Ogunbowale received equal amount of carries. All three looked good carrying the football but Ogunbowale committed a fumble following a hard tackle, which started a small scuffle amongst the offensive and defensive players.
Throughout practice Deal was able to keep the football tight and thwarted defenders attempts to rip the football out. Former tailback Melvin Gordon was at practice and appeared that he was giving Deal pointers throughout the practice to help him take advantage of the opportunities he received.
“He’s natural, hearing plays calls for the first time, understanding the rhyme or reason behind the blocking schemes or protection,” Chryst said. “I think he’s done some good things and he certainly has learned from the one’s he hasn’t. But he’s shown some runs where he is running with a purpose.”
From the Infirmary
Junior center Dan Voltz (ankle) was able to take part in some positional work and appears to be doing better. He wasn’t able to compete in team but Chryst feels like Voltz is starting to trend toward back to full health.
“We’ll see how he responds after (break) and it seems to be trending where we can get more out of him over time,” Chryst said.Receivers A.J. Jordan, Connor Senger and Reggie Love, offensive lineman Beau Benzshawel and tight end T.J. Watt all have missed parts of spring practice due to injuries, but Chryst is hopeful that he will be able to get a couple more healthy bodies on the practice field after spring break.
"It'll be interesting for these guys who have missed a couple what spring break does for them," Chryst said. "They want to be back. Each body comes back a little bit different. These are some valuable reps and you want everyone to participate.”
Outside of linebacker D’Cota Dixon, Chryst said Jordan Fredrick (upper body injury) and Rafael Gaglianone (back soreness) will be out for all of spring football. There’s also a chance T.J. Watt could be added to that list after injuring his left knee Friday.
“We’ll see how he comes back,” Chryst said. “I liked the way he was coming out and working so it was certainly a setback.”
Extra PointsFormer tight end Sam Arneson was in attendance for practice...Former NFL safety and Badger Jim Leonhard took in practice as well...After practice Jake Maxwell and Jon Dietzen worked on technique with graduate assistant Josh Oglesby...Tanner McEvoy worked mostly at safety during the practice but was able to come up with an impressive catch over Devin Gaulden, as he was able to use his frame to box him out to win the jump ball.