MADISON - Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst is a big believer that the Badgers have set their roster up well enough with veterans that the coaching staff won’t need to rely on a bevy of newcomers to contribute in main roles this upcoming season.
“You try to set it up so you are not relying on any true freshmen,” Chryst said. “Then if you got one, OK, that’s good. I think that’s the fairest way for them and for your team. They shouldn’t play unless they are ready.”
But it’s hard to account for injuries, and the bumps and bruises certainly caused Wisconsin to throw some young players in the mix during Wednesday’s practice.
With projected starters Leon Jacobs (right foot) and T.J. Edwards (left shoulder) leaving early because of injuries, defensive coordinator Dave Aranda didn’t waste any time throwing some of young freshmen inside linebackers into the fire. With Jacobs out, true freshmen Ty DeForest, Chis Orr and Nick Thomas all got reps with the first-team defense during various team drills.
Both DeForest and Thomas enrolled in time for spring practices. Thomas appeared to work the most with the first-team defense next to redshirt sophomore Keelon Brookins, and the duo performed admirably. Wisconsin also started giving graduate transfer Kellen Jones more opportunities as the Badgers try to bring him up to speed after he arrived in late July.
The inside linebacker position is one of the few positions that the Badgers may need help from their new youth, but where true freshmen will end up playing this year is not a decision solely made by the staff.
“The area will be driven by the young kid and if he’s ready,” said Chryst. “I think there might be two or three spots.”
MCEVOY: “I’m a Receiver Today.”
Senior Tanner McEvoy doesn’t know where he’s going to practice at tomorrow, the next day or the day after that. All he knows is he’s coming to practice each day with the eagerness to learn two positions in order to contribute to a roster that has championship aspirations.
“I come out each day and let them (the coaches) tell me where I’m going and just trying to take advantage of it,” said McEvoy.
The senior has been in information overloaded since the new coaching staff took over in January. Knowing that his future wasn’t at quarterback in Chryst’s system, McEvoy spent most of the spring working with secondary coach Daronte Jones on technique, schemes and reads. Through the first three days of fall camp, McEvoy has been under receiver coach Ted Gilmore’s tutelage.
“There’s a lot to this position,” McEvoy said on adjusting to the wide receiver position. “The first day I made a few big plays, but I had a lot of bad plays, too. The second day I felt a little more comfortable. I was getting off the ball better, and my routes were a little better. Each day is getting a little better. Obviously a lot more to work on but there’s still a few more practices left to start cleaning things up.”
McEvoy’s 6-6 frame is an imposing target for defensive backs. Having worked with quarterback Joel Stave after spring practices and throughout the summer, McEvoy has flashed during drills as he tried to relearn a position he hasn’t played extensively since his junior year of high school.
If the Badgers played a game this week, McEvoy would likely be the fourth option behind Alex Erickson, Jordan Fredrick and Rob Wheelwright. On Wednesday, that group saw the first-team reps along with Reggie Love, who was inconsistent throughout the day.
“It is a little more different trying to learn the offense but the other guys have been running it during the spring have been helping me out,” McEvoy said. “I’ve played quarterback before and you have to learn that pretty quickly. It is pretty much all the same; you just have to learn the language. It is all the same concepts, just a different way to call it. I’ve been focusing on that. I’m just trying to clean that up.”
Wisconsin’s quarterbacks went through a turnover-free practice on Wednesday, a nice performance for the group in the first day of pads. Stave looked polished throughout practice, hitting receivers with precision throws on all three levels of the defense. Arguably his best throw (and there were a lot of them) was a 50+ yard completion to Alex Erickson over the middle off a double move, giving Erickson just enough separation over Darius Hillary to haul in a well-placed pass.
Not making any major mistakes on the day, Stave also hit Troy Fumagalli on a 30-yard bullet between three defenders, a play that drew some oohs from the offense.
The successes weren’t limited to the starter. Battling for the backup job, junior Bart Houston was efficient within the offense and redshirt freshman D.J. Gillins made some nice throws and reads, as well. Both of them appear to be considerably ahead of where they finished in the spring.
UPDATING THE DEPTH CHART
*True freshman Jon Dietzen continues working at both guard spots as offensive coordinator/line coach Joe Rudolph continues to develop depth behind the starting five. That group continues to be - LT Tyler Marz, LG Ray Ball, C Dan Voltz, RG Michael Deiter and RT Hayden Biegel. Biegel said after practice that he feels the right tackle spot is his to lose but Rudolph rotated in redshirt freshman Beau Benzschawl more than normal. Rudolph also backed off Voltz slightly with it being the first day in pads. When that happened, Deiter moved to center and junior Walker Williams moved to right guard.
*After starter Corey Clement, running back coach John Settle appears to be favoring redshirt junior Dare Ogunbowale over the rest of the pact. It’s not a surprising move considering the rest of the backs competing for playing time – Taiwan Deal, Bradrick Shaw and Serge Trezy – have yet to appear in a game for Wisconsin. That having been said, Ogunbowale is showing some deceptive speed and some nice vision on a handful of his runs through the first three days of camp.
*Other than the rotating door at inside linebacker, Wisconsin’s starting defense was pretty much as expected. On the line, defensive line coach Inoke Breckterfield continues to go with Arthur Goldberg and Chikwe Obasih at defensive end and Conor Sheehy at nose tackle. In the situation where UW moved to a 2-4-5 nickel package on third down, Wisconsin used Zander Neuville and Alec James as the down linemen for the second day in a row.
FROM THE INFIRMARY
In addition to Jacobs and Edwards, who spent the rest of practice wearing a sling on his shoulder, Obasih had to leave after being overcome by the heat and redshirt freshman nose tackle Jeremy Patterson left practice with an undisclosed injury. Junior cornerback Sojourn Shelton also went down with an injury (possibly a shoulder stinger) but returned to practice and was pronounced OK.
Freshman tight end David Edwards remains out with the left ankle injury he suffered in Monday’s practice. He remained in a walking boot and using crutches.
HAVE A KICK
One of the major position vacancies that needs to be field for Wisconsin is at kick and punt returner, a job that Kenzel Doe filled throughout his tenure. After the media got their first glimpse of the return units Tuesday, Wisconsin did more special teams work on Wednesday and the same group of players were back field kicks.
Cornerback Natrell Jamerson appeared to be one of the front runners for the job. The role wouldn’t be a first for Jamerson, who returned two kicks for touchdowns during his senior year at Ocala (FL) Vanguard High School. He was named a first-team Class 6A all-state selection by the Associated Press that season, too.
UP NEXTWisconsin returns to the practice field at 10:15 a.m. Thursday morning. The entire practice is open to the media.