MADISON – Vince Biegel meant no disrespect with his comments following Wisconsin’s fifth spring practice Thursday morning.
The senior outside linebacker has a lot of respect for graduated players Michael Caputo, Darius Hillary, Tanner McEvoy and Joe Schobert, and he knows those players – who helped Wisconsin have the No.1 scoring defense in the country last season - left big gaps that need to be filled prior to the start of the 2016 season.
But with two-thirds of the spring still to go, not to mention a whole summer conditioning program and fall camp still ahead, Biegel is already expecting – and proclaiming - big things from his unit.
“I think our defense is going to be the strongest it’s been in many years,” Biegel said.
The defense is always expected to be ahead of the offense during the early portion of team drills in spring, so the defense dominating the first day of red-zone drills wasn’t a surprise.
“Wisconsin defense, we pride ourselves on that,” Biegel said. “We want to be the best defense in the nation. I think we proved that last year, and we want to take off right where we left off last year. No touchdowns in the red zone, that’s something we pride ourselves on … That’s something we’re going to continue to develop during spring ball and build off down the road.”
A large part of the shutout was because of problems under center. Both Houston and Hornibrook had more than their fair share of high passes in wet conditions throughout practice, but the secondary was in the mix making plays.
Safety D’Cota Dixon – working with the starters for the second straight day – had a near interception on the end line, junior cornerback Derrick Tindal broke up a pass that could have been a touchdown and junior cornerback Natrell Jamerson forced an incompletion when he made contact with receiver George Rushing and made a swipe at the ball.
“I think our defense is progressing right on track,” Biegel said. “A lot of plays in for some of the young guys, so it’s keeping them up to pace, having them learn the plays and get comfortable with that.”
Mixed day under center
Other than the struggles in the red zone, Hornibrook bounced back from a below-average practice Tuesday to put up some better numbers. He went 3-for-6 during 7-on-7 drills and an efficient 7-for-8 in 11-on-11, a drop a way from going perfect.
While a handful of his passes were conservative, Hornibrook aired out a perfect deep ball to Krenwick Sanders on a go route down the hash marks. The redshirt sophomore beat his man in one-on-one coverage for a 50-yard gain. Near the end of practice, Hornibrook hit sophomore receiver Ricky Finco on a corner route across the field. Finco split the coverage for what would amount to a 70-yard touchdown.
Houston took a step back Thursday. Not only did he struggle in the red zone, Houston went 4-for-6 in 7-on-7 and 2-for-8 in 11-on-11. He was plagued by drops by Rushing and Reggie Love, and did deliver a nice pass to Rob Wheelwright on a deep out, but had a number of passes sail on him.
The second day in full pads started to bring out some tussles, especially in senior tailback Dare Ogunbowale.
In a team drill with minimal contact, Ogunbowale took exception to how Biegel contacted him. That engaged in a heated shoving match that eventually ended up on the turf and needed multiple teammates to separate the two.
A couple minutes later Ogunbowale got irritated with inside linebacker Chris Orr, throwing the football at his facemask after contact, raising tensions once again.
Fullback Alec Ingold also appeared to get in on the action, jawing with sophomore lineman Micah Kapoi at the end of a drill.
From the infirmary
Junior offensive lineman Ben Hemer was the only new addition to Wisconsin’s injury report on Thursday, as he was ruled out with a head injury. Fullback Eric Steffes also headed for the locker room early in practice with a trainer.
Limited on Thursday – OL George Panos (left shoulder) and fullback Austin Ramesh (groin)
Out on Thursday – WR Henry Houden (right thigh), running back Mark Saari (right hand), offensive lineman Ben Hemer (head)
Out for spring – QB Kare Lyles (left hip), DE Zander Neuville (right shoulder), OL Dan Voltz (right knee) TE Michael Rolfe (right knee).
Contracts for UW’s new coaches
According to compensation packages released to the State Journal, new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox will earn $500,000 this season ($300,000 base salary, $200,000 additional compensation) and $950,000 next season ($300,000 base salary, $650,000 compensation). He will also receive a $100,000 retention payment if he’s still with the Badgers on Jan. 1, 2018.
Former defensive coordinator Dave Aranda made $520,000 last season before leaving for a three-year contract with LSU that will pay him $1.25 million annually.
Secondary coach Jim Leonard will earn $225,000 this season, a $10,000 increase over former UW defensive backs coach Daronte Jones. Jones left in February for a job with the N.F.L.’s Miami Dolphins.
Extra Points: Still looking for a number that gives him an edge, Love wore No.61 Thursday, his third different number in the last three practices … Jon Dietzen committed two false start penalties in team drills, being replaced by Micah Kapoi each time. Ian Dretzka also committed a false start on the next cadence after a Dietzen miscue. Jazz Peavy also committed a pair of false start penalties … Wisconsin will practice Saturday morning at the Don Hudson Center in Green Bay before getting a tour of Lambeau Field and the Packers Hall of Fame.