MADISON – There was no easing into the cornerback role for Natrell Jamerson.
In his first year as a collegiate defensive back, injuries and a lack of depth pressed Jamerson into critical snaps as Wisconsin's nickel corner. He had no hesitation.
“I came here expecting to play,” Jamerson said. “When I got an opportunity I was excited. They trusted me, I trusted myself, so I went in there and made plays.”
Jamerson was part of Wisconsin’s five-member 2014 receiving signing class, joining Chris Jones, George Rushing, Krenwick Sanders and Dareian Watkins. But after one season that yielded one catch in 12 games, the coaching staff felt a move to the defensive side of the ball would be better suited for him.
Even though he finished his high school career with 119 catches and 42 touchdowns, Jamerson was ready for the switch.
“Coming out of high school, I wanted to play DB in college, but I didn’t recruited much as a DB,” Jamerson said. “When Coach Aranda called last year after the season to tell me about moving me, I was excited.”
Finishing with 14 tackles (10 solo) and a half tackle for loss, Jamerson finds himself right in the mix for a key role in the fall. He’s pushing junior cornerback Derrick Tindal – who has been getting the majority of the first-team reps opposite senior Sojourn Shelton – and been primarily the top unit’s nickel cornerback. He also has worked at cornerback with the second-team unit.
During Tuesday’s 10th spring practice, he again put himself in the middle of a number of plays, resulting in contested passes, tight windows for the quarterback to throw into and incompletions.
His approach is simple: work harder than the next man and compete every day.
“Coach Leonhard likes that I’m long and I get a good jam on the receivers,” Jamerson said. “It’s the little things, like getting my footwork right, getting my technique right and everything like that that he’s coming me on. It comes through.”
In addition to his role on defense, Jamerson is hoping to elevate Wisconsin’s return game. In his first year as the team’s primary kick returner, Jamerson with a 22.4-yard average on his 20 returns, his shining moment being a 98-yard return for a touchdown in a 31-24 win at Maryland.
“Every time they kick to me, I want to make the best out of it,” Jamerson said. “Every return can’t be a touchdown, but if it’s possible, I’m going to do it.”
Under the Quarterback Microscope
The offense looked out of sync following two off days, as senior quarterback Bart Houston threw four interceptions, center Michael Deiter delivered a number of high snaps and the receivers, tight ends and tailbacks unofficially had seven drops.
After going 3-for-6 in 7-on-7 drills, including a pick-six interception by inside linebacker Jack Cichy, Houston went 10-for-19 in team drills. He hit receiver Jazz Peavy on a go route in one-on-one coverage for a 55-yard touchdown and got some solid catches from Tindal (who continues to run routes with three receivers injured) and tight end Kyle Penniston.
However, Houston misfired on a number of open throws, threw a horrible pass that was intercepted by safety Jake Ferguson and saw OLB Vince Biegel return an interception for a touchdown when it appeared him and tight end Troy Fumagalli weren’t on the same page. He also threw an interception to Ryan Connelly on a pass that senior tailback Dare Ogunbowale bobbled after it hit him square in the chest.
Alex Hornibrook went without an interception for the second straight day but that was more due to luck. After also going 3-for-6 in 7-on-7, Hornibrook went 8-for-18 by relying heavily on Penniston. However, both Cichy and safety Keelon Brookins delivered pass breakups that could have easily resulted in interceptions.
Unofficially Wheelwright had two drops while Fumagalli, Ogunbowale, Peavy, Penniston, Rushing and Tindal had one
From the Infirmary
Limited Thursday – CB Titus Booker (right thigh), WR Ricky Finco (head), WR Henry Houden (right thigh), fullback Austin Ramesh (groin), OLB Jake Whalen (right thigh)
Out Thursday – S D’Cota Dixon (left groin), OL Ben Hemer (head), RB Mark Saari (right hand), WR Krenwick Sanders (left thigh), OL Logan Schmidt (left knee), TE Eric Steffes (right groin)
Out for Spring – QB Kare Lyles (left hip), DE Zander Neuville (right shoulder), TE Michael Rolfe (right knee), OL Dan Voltz (right knee)
Extra Points: Working in half pads, Wisconsin practiced inside the McClain Center for the fourth straight practice due to chilly outside temperatures … On more than one occasion Wisconsin ran quarterback sweeps with each QB under center, giving the defense a different look … Wisconsin will go through its 11th spring practice Thursday morning, preparing for the spring game April 23.