Lee Evans fires out of his stance, makes a move at the line of scrimmage and accelerates down field. In a flash, he is behind the secondary, darting down field, the ball courses through the air and lands peacefully in Evans's grasp. He sprints further downfield, no defender in sight.
It might as well be 2001, but is just another day at practice for Evans, who has drawn attention from day one with his stellar play. After missing nearly a year and a half after two knee surgeries there were plenty of questions, most have been answered in resounding fashion.
"I don't think you have to wait till game time," Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez said. "You see it every day. I've said it all along. He has practiced hard, he hasn't missed one snap. He has done every thing we have asked him to do. I think he looks stronger and more powerful than has been. He is just more mature physically than he was previously. I think he has had a great camp."
The play described above occurred during this morning's session, but it has been a perpetual occurrence this fall, as have the following:
Later this morning, Evans drove off the line of scrimmage against zone coverage. He ate up the cushion, then cut to his right, gaining separation. A safety came over the top, trying to double team him, but Evans cut off his route and sprinted to the sideline, beating the double team. The pass was delivered high, where only Evans could go get it. When Evans has graced the field, he has been expected to make these plays. Now, it is hard to help from having an anxious feeling when Evans leaves the ground. After all, it is well known what happened the last time he leapt for a pass during live action, in the 2001 spring game…
No problem here. No problem all fall. Evans leaps. He seemingly effortlessly rises above the two defenders in close pursuit, catches the pass and lands comfortably back to earth.
This afternoon he strikes us again, this time as he cuts to the sideline the pass is too far in front, but Evans lunges forward and catches it anyway.
Over and again, Evans has, as he did in what feels like a distant, pre-injury career, made spectacular catch after spectacular catch.
The one thing Evans hasn't done is face a hostile opponent and take on heavy hits after touching the ball; taking hits, as a receiver often does, while in a vulnerable position. That test will have to wait, though. So far so good.
Alvarez was asked if Evans should again be considered the best receiver in college football:
"I don't want to get into that," Alvarez said. "Who knows? His numbers speak for themselves. He has more receiving yards in one season than anybody in the history of the Big Ten. I don't have to stand up and justify, but I don't know all of the receives. I'm sure there are some good ones out there. I'm just glad we have him. He means an awful lot to our football team."
It is premature to consider Evans among the best in the country quite yet. The tools are there. The skills are there. More importantly, the health is there. The coronation, however, should at least be postponed until after the Aug. 30 opener.
- Freshman defensive end Justin Ostrowski was back working with the second-team defense Monday afternoon. He and Traison Lewis received the bulk of the second unit reps in the afternoon session. Joe Monty, Jason Clemens and Mark Gorman also receive regular reps with the second team at end. Gorman, though, has worked more frequently as a second unit defensive tackle.
- Owen Daniels worked out primarily as a tight end Monday afternoon, lining up often as a two-point stance end, or near slot receiver. He made two nice touchdown catches on corner routes.
- Freshman walk-on Jonte Flowers had two sparkling diving catches in receiving drills this afternoon.
- This afternoon's practice concluded with kick return work. Brandon Williams and freshman Ernest Mason were the primary returners.
- Brett Bell followed up this morning's highlight reel showing with another exceptional practice. He had a couple of very good pass break ups and he was a lockdown corner during red zone drills.