Wisconsin's defense had a field day Wednesday morning at the Bishop O'Connor Center, thoroughly dominating the first practice on the final day of two-a-days (the Badgers have single practices on Thursday and Friday).
The defense's supremacy was most acute during an 11-on-11 scrimmage drill that matched the first and second defense alternately against the first and second offense.
The offense registered one successful play, a screen pass to tailback Anthony Davis, but after that play, Wisconsin's defense either forced a turnover, incompletion or lost-yardage play on 15 of the next 16 snaps, almost entirely pass plays. The only change of pace was a short run around right end by Jamil Walker.
Granted, this was not a live tackling session. The Badgers were in shorts and shoulder pads Wednesday morning. But the defense's performance was astounding nonetheless.
During the stretch:
Brett Bell, Chuckie Cowans and Roderick Rogers knocked down passes on consecutive plays. Each pass breakup came on an athletic play, with the defensive back making a good move to the ball. Defensive end Jamal Cooper forced a hurried throw on the pass Cowans knocked down.
After the pass breakup festival, Jonathan Welsh blew into the backfield and stopped just shy of the quarterback, registering a practice sack.
Up to this point, Wisconsin's No. 1 defense or No. 1 nickel defense had primarily graced the field. The second-team, though, picked up right where the starters left off.
Second-team sam linebacker Paul Joran registered a practice sack and one play later tallied a pass breakup. Jack Ikegwuonu then intercepted a pass along the sideline and returned it for what would likely have been a touchdown. The offense's meager streak nearly ended on the next play, but Allen Langford ripped the ball from the receiver's hands just as he was about to secure the reception.
As the drill ended, the defense cheered about as loud as the team did when a manager earned them a lighter practice last Friday.
Nickel shaping up
Wisconsin's first-team nickel got the momentum rolling during the scrimmage session. The Badgers are bringing back a ‘speed nickel' this season where, as expected, redshirt freshman Jamal Cooper takes the field as a rush end. Erasmus James, playing defensive tackle in this set, was exceptional. Near the beginning of the scrimmage session he darted into the backfield and knocked the ball away from a scrambling quarterback.
The Badgers have essentially rotated their top four linebackers at the two nickel spots. Odds are that top reserve LaMarr Watkins will take the field as one nickel linebacker and any of the three starters could line up next to him.
Brett Bell has locked down the starting cornerback job opposite Scott Starks. Johnny White is the starting strong safety and has taken most of the snaps with the nickel defense as well, though fellow sophomore Roderick Rogers could work in on the nickel, as he did Wednesday morning. Chuckie Cowans is the nickel cornerback. Jim Leonhard, of course, is at free safety.
Wisconsin has seven defensive tackles in fall camp and five are "in the depth." That leaves only freshman Gino Cruse and junior Lyle Maiava on the scout team. In an effort to spell that duo, freshman Nick Hayden worked in with the scout defensive tackles during a few drills. During team work, however, Hayden took his regular reps with the second defense.
True freshmen tailbacks Chris Pressley and Jamil Walker are in the depth and primarily working with the second-team offense. That leaves transfer Brian Calhoun as the only scout team tailback. Calhoun cannot get on the field this year but he is going to get quite a year's worth of work against the first- and second-team defenses.
Fall camp report, Aug. 25, morning session
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