MADISON - As he trotted on to the field for Wisconsin’s first spring practice of the 2016 slate, senior outside linebacker Vince Biegel knew things were going to be different.
For starters his good friend – outside linebacker Joe Schobert – has graduated, leaving a big hole at the boundary linebacker spot where the Big Ten 2015 linebacker of the year admirably filled last year. Secondary, in order to fill Schobert’s field linebacker spot, Biegel has slotted right in to his old buddy’s position.
“Last year I knew both Joe’s and my positions so it’s not too much of a transition,” said Biegel, who recorded eight sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss last season.
Wisconsin will spend the first three practices of spring camp in helmets only, as the coaching staff will spend time teaching fundamentals, technique and implementing schemes. That’s not to say day one of camp didn’t have some noteworthy things, like Biegel shifting over to the field linebacker role in new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox’s defense and redshirt junior T.J. Watt taking over at the boundary position.
“I knew TJ was going to be a big-time starter for us coming into this year,” said Biegel. “I think that’s going to be the best thing for our defense. I’m really excited what me and T.J. can both bring off the edge from a physicality standpoint and from a pass-rush standpoint. I think we’re going to have a lot of fun in the backfield getting quarterbacks.”
Listed at 6-5 and 243 points, Watt moved to linebacker from tight end last summer and saw his playing time increase late in the season. He was primarily a weapon in passing downs and even played on the defensive line. He finished with eight tackles, four quarterback hurries and three passes broken up.
“I thought the last three games he was starting to get comfortable with it,” UW coach Paul Chryst said of Watt. “Now it’s the volume of it. A lot of those were more pass situations (and not) the run game. The one thing that is tremendous about spring ball is we’re not getting ready to play an opponent, so you can focus on what that is that you need to improve.”
After filling in for Chris Orr during the second half of last season, Jack Cichy worked at inside linebacker during Saturday’s practice and rotated with T.J. Edwards and Orr during 11-on-11 drills. Edwards and Orr received the initial first-team reps.
Ramczyk Gets First Shot
After going through a plethora of injuries and offensive line combinations last season, Wisconsin’s first-team unit was expected to have many familiar faces. As was the case, Wisconsin lined up Micah Kapoi at left guard, Michael Deiter at center, Beau Benzschawel at right guard and Jacob Maxwell at right tackle, all players who started games last season.
The only new piece was junior Ryan Ramczyk, who transferred from UW-Stevens Point and sat out last season per N.C.A.A. transfer rules. Ramczyk was no stranger to Wisconsin’s coaching staff – Chryst and offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph offered him a scholarship at Pittsburgh – and the work the 6-6, 308-pound lineman has put it has started to resonate with him getting the first-team left tackle reps.
“He’s an athletic big guy,” said Chryst. “I thought he did a great job last year of diving in and getting comfortable with the team, the system. Because he couldn’t play he was on scout team and did a great job there. I’m just glad now that he’s in the edge of the pool. It’s big for him. He hasn’t been in this system forever, so it’s big for all of our guys to keep learning. He’s a good football. I’m fired up that he’s here.”
Reggie Love has moved back to wide receiver from H-back. Serge Trezy has moved back to the secondary from tailback. Lubern Figaro, shifted to cornerback last fall, has moved back to safety. Keelon Brookins has moved to safety from inside linebacker. Leon Jacobs has moved to fullback from linebacker.
From the infirmary
Fullback Austin Ramesh (groin) and offensive lineman George Panos (left shoulder) were limited day one, while quarterback Kare’ Lyles (hip), defensive end Zander Neuville (right shoulder), center Dan Voltz (knee) and walk-on tight end Michael Rolfe (right knee) are out for the entire spring.
Redshirt freshman receiver Henry Houden was the only player injured during day one with a lower leg injury that did not appear serious.
“I told the kids before you play a season, you go through four phases: winter conditioning, spring ball, summer conditioning and fall camp. I thought the first phase in winter conditioning, I really liked the way guys approached it, attacked it and we had a lot of growth in that area. This is the start of phase two. We only have 15 opportunities and 44 days.” – Chryst
Extra Points: Four new players were added to the roster via walk-on tryouts — redshirt freshman outside linebacker Conrad Dudenhoefer, redshirt sophomore quarterback Bobby Dunn, redshirt sophomore inside linebacker Connor Rolain and redshirt sophomore safety Matthew Reynolds … Receiver Andrew James has left the program prior to his redshirt freshman season. James was the only scholarship receiver in the 2015 recruiting class for Wisconsin … UW ended practice with offensive and defensive linemen catching punts. Needless to say, seeing 340-pound nose tackle Jeremy Patterson trying to field a punt made for a comical conclusion.