MADISON - With injuries taking a toll on the Wisconsin football team over the first 10 days of camp, head coach Paul Chryst wanted to give his players a light, but productive, practice as his team reached the midway point of fall camp.
During the first of two Wisconsin practices Wednesday, Chryst and special teams coach Chris Haering emphasized special teams work, which only signifies the importance of this staff wanting to improve upon all four units entering the season.
“I’ve seen enough football and been around enough football to know that special teams can make a difference,” Chryst said. “It is our job to make that come to fruition.”
Needing to find a replacement for Kenzel Doe for punt and kickoff returns, Chryst said after practice that sophomore Natrell Jamerson and senior Alex Erickson are the leaders in the clubhouse, with Jamerson handling kickoffs and Erickson on punt returns. While Jamerson and Erickson did get a chance to do some return work, it was sophomore George Rushing who got plenty of reps in both areas.
In total Jamerson fielded three kickoffs for a total of 76 yards and demonstrated good speed and elusiveness on his kickoffs. Rushing showed he was capable of being an efficient returner as well with 113 yards on four returns.
One of Rushing’s more impressive plays came with the second team punt unit. P.J. Rosowski’s punt deflected off of a player downfield, but Rushing gathered the ball off the bounce at the 25-yard line and was able to return the punt for 35 yards. In that return, Rushing showed good cutting ability and a willingness to fight for yards, as he broke two tackles before Reggie Love tackled him.
Chryst likes the approach of the special teams work and what it can show in practice because it can reveal which players have a nose for the football and have an edge to their game. He added that he expects to use some starters on his units.
"I think you've got to put the best team out you can," Chryst said. "We've got guys who want to do anything they can to contribute to this team. Individually it's good for those guys. I absolutely expect our starters to contribute on special teams."
Update from Infirmary
A total of 14 players sat out of practice with the newest addition being outside linebacker T.J. Watt. Not to be concerned, however, as the coaching staff wanted to give Watt some rest considering his history of recent knee injuries. The Badgers removed three defensive lineman from the injury list with redshirt freshman Jeremy Patterson (knee), redshirt senior Jake Keefer (hip) and redshirt sophomore Arthur Goldberg (back) all returning.
Chryst said he doesn’t know when right tackles Hayden Biegel and Beau Benzschawel will return or inside linebackers T.J. Edwards and Leon Jacobs. While not expecting either to return this week, Chryst anticipate he’ll start to see them starting to return sometime next week.
“I think we’ve been fortunate that none of those are season ending injuries,” Chryst said. “Leon was able to do some stuff in our walkthrough, and T.J.’s starting to make some progress. Hayden I think will be a couple days, and Beau my guess would be the furthest of that group away.”
Injuries at key positions has naturally allowed younger players to step up and receive important reps in practice. Two of the biggest benefactors on defense have been Alec Ingold and Chris Orr working with the starters at inside linebacker, and junior Walker Williams seeing opportunities on the line.“With Hayden and Beau being out, it is not clear yet when they will return, but it has provided great opportunities for other guys,” said Chryst. “Walker Williams has received a ton of reps, which has been helpful for him and some of the younger guys. Hopefully we get those guys back but when you are sixth and seventh lineman with our injuries you have to take advantage of the opportunities.”
Extra Points: After Rafael Gaglianone nailed his 46-yard field goal, the team celebrated by passing out popsicles to one another on a 60 degree day...During the work on special teams, the referees were former Wisconsin Badgers Bradie Ewing and Kyle Costigan and current defensive backs coach Daronte Jones...Redshirt senior Drew Meyer showed good hang time in his punts, which allowed his punt cover team to get down in time to prevent returns.