With an hour-and-a-half full contact scrimmage on the docket for Saturday morning, Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez elected to conduct a "mental practice" Friday afternoon, the second practice of the Badgers' third of five two-a-days during fall camp. The Badgers conducted the session in helmets and spiders, rather than full shoulder pads and leg pads.
The workout lasted less than two hours, with relatively little running or physical contact. There were position drills, team work and 7-on-7 work, like usual, but the practice was similar to a classroom session on grass at the Bishop O'Connor Center.
"So now you have to put an added emphasis on what you've got to think about before the snap, during the snap and after the snap," defensive coordinator Bret Bielema said. "Try to put an added emphasis on communicating all the little things that kind of maybe get lost in the action once the pads start popping."
"Practice was pretty much a mental practice," sophomore linebacker Reggie Cribbs said. "You go through everything but it's pretty much get everything right in your head, keep your legs fresh.
Part of the mental aspect was working on a series of situations—offensive, defensive and special teams—that teams can find awkward.
"Now what we did during that walk-through period was went over a lot of special situations, a lot of things that only happen maybe once every five games or, you know, put yourself in a situation, whether it be unusual formations, unusual time situations," Bielema said. "We went over when we were down by two scores and they were trying to advance the ball by running. We've got to get off the ball in a hurry, try to get them out of bounds. Anything we can do to make the clock stop without getting penalties. That's what you really try to do. It's a teaching of the game by doing it. Obviously you learn more by doing than reading or hearing. So that's what we're trying to get out of it."
The trick to making sure this sort of practice is effective, Bielema said, is not taking on the mentality that it is just a walk through.
"Just because the pads come off you don't practice like you're not in pads," he said. "You've got to keep those same ideas and philosophies as far as defensive thought process. ‘I've got to line up, I've got to get myself in position before the snap and do all those techniques.'"
Hitting the wall
The Badgers earned Friday afternoon's practice in spiders and helmets after a spirited situational scrimmage that morning, followed by a student manager catching two kickoffs (see related story).
The morning practice, though, was not entirely pleasing for Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez. However, the problem, mid-fall-camp fatigue, is one that can be anticipated, he said.
"Some of our younger guys today I thought really lacked concentration," Alvarez said Friday morning. "I told them the last two days, anybody that's every coached football or played football, you know that you hit a wall at a specific time during camp. That's just the way it is. Nothing's changed since you started camp in football. Your body's sore. You don't want to get up in the morning. Then you have to come out and pick it up. The trick is not wasting your time, just getting through a drill. I've just been trying to explain to them, you have to train your mind. You go down and you work on a drill, you work on a technique and then two minutes later you are in team and you have to execute that technique and totally abort it. You are just getting through practice. You are not concentrating. Those are things that young guys have to learn…I expect that right now. Don't want it but that's the way it is."
Bielema was pleased with the way the defense bounced back Friday after performing below its standards during the scrimmage sessions Thursday afternoon. The Badgers finished that practice with two situational scrimmages: a red zone scenario and a second-and-eight. The defense gave up a touchdown, two nine-yard carries and was called for pass interference in the last eight plays of practice.
"Yesterday we had a great practice," Bielema said. "We didn't fair well in the competition period and carried that into the meetings at night. (We) expressed our unhappiness with the result of those eight plays 'cause we played a great game and on the last eight plays we didn't fare so well. What I liked this morning was they came out guns-a-blaring today and played pretty good football for me."
Note to readers: Wisconsin's one-hour practice and subsequent one-and-a-half-hour scrimmage at Camp Randall Saturday morning are both closed to the public and the media. BadgerNation.com will publish Barry Alvarez' post-scrimmage comments Saturday afternoon.
Fall camp report, Aug. 20, afternoon session
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