Spring practice report, March 11

News and notes from the Badgers first spring practice; a look at UW's initial depth for 2005

The University of Wisconsin football team took to the gridiron for the first practice of 2005 Friday, with a two-and-a-half hour workout at the McClain Center. The workout—in shorts, jerseys and helmets—was the first of 15 scheduled this spring. The Badgers continue practice Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Wednesday before a two-week hiatus for the university's spring break.

First, a few highlights: One of the complaints last season regarding starting quarterback John Stocco was that he struggled to throw deep passes. If the first practice of spring is any indication, Stocco has taken some substantial strides in the offseason thus far. He may have had his best practice throwing deep passes in the past two years.

  • Tight end Owen Daniels, generally expected to be one of the Badgers top offensive weapons, is listed at 6-foot-3 and 247 pounds. But despite adding about 20 pounds since last summer, Daniels looks just as quick in and out of his cuts and just as fast in the open field. Though he is expected to spend more time as an in-line tight end this season, Daniels is officially listed as a tight end/wide receiver.
  • True freshman Andy Kemp, who graduated from Menasha High School a semester early in order to take part in spring practices, began his much-anticipated UW career as the Badgers' second-team left guard.
  • Linebacker Reggie Cribbs and offensive lineman Randy Gyllin were not listed on the official roster. Players and coaches were not available for interviews Friday and it is not known whether Cribbs or Gyllin plan to return in the fall.
  • Jamil Walker, expected to miss all of spring while recovering from shoulder surgery, watched practice while wearing a sling. Dontez Sanders is also expected to miss all of spring workouts with a shoulder injury.
  • Joe Thomas, Wisconsin's starting left tackle, is competing in the shot put Saturday at the NCAA Indoor Championships in Fayetteville, Ark.

Offensive line notes

Four of the Badgers' top six offensive lineman played their final collegiate game at the Outback Bowl, leaving three starting spots in their wake. Friday, those spots were filled by right tackle Kraig Urbik, left guard Matt Lawrence and right guard Jason Palermo.

Donovan Raiola returns at center, while Thomas returns at left tackle. With Thomas in Arkansas for the NCAA Indoors, however, Danny Kaye filled in with the first team at left tackle. Kaye also served as the second-team right tackle.

The rest of the second-team offensive line was typically the following: center Luke Knauf, right guard Marcus Coleman, left guard Andy Kemp and left tackle Andrew Weininger.

Palermo, who served as Raiola's backup the past two seasons, also took some reps with the second team at center, but primarily played right guard with the first team.

The only other offensive lineman on the spring practice roster is tackle Mike Van Someren.

Quarterbacks

The Badgers return all four of their 2004 quarterbacks and they opened spring right where they left off, with Stocco backed up by Tyler Donovan, Bryan Savage and walk-on Craig Meier.

Stocco took nearly every snap with the first team Friday, with a smattering reserved for Donovan. The Arrowhead High School product, in turn, took the bulk of the reps with the second team, with Savage working into the lineup. Meier took a handful of reps with the reserves.

In addition to throwing a much improved deep ball, Stocco put more zip on his passes on out routes.

Donovan had a few nice deep passes of his own. Savage displayed the strongest arm of the top trio, especially on out patters and intermediate throws.

Tailbacks

Booker Stanley heads into spring listed as the Badgers' official No. 1, but it would be a shock if that role does not go to Brian Calhoun in the end. Friday's efforts were non-contact, but it was clear that Calhoun possesses rare abilities. Both he and Stanley looked very sharp catching passes out of the backfield.

Dywon Rowan is going to get a lot of work this spring. He is effectively the only tailback running with the second or third units.

Fullbacks

This position, on the other hand, is a bit crowded. Matt Bernstein is the clear No.1, but there is quite a cluster behind him. Josh Balts, Bill Rentmeester and Chris Pressley all took snaps with the second team. Pressley also played a series at tailback. Walk-on Matthew Sorg also worked in with the reserves, though sparingly.

Tight ends

Another crowded position, tight end could be one of the real strengths of the 2005 Badgers. With the added weight, Daniels be able to block from the line of scrimmage more often, though those potential talents were not put to the test Friday.

Fellow seniors Jason Pociask and Joel Nellis provide solid depth. On one play, Pociask worked free along the sideline on a corner route and hauled in a Stocco pass for what would have been about a 35-yard gain.

Receivers

The play of the day belonged to sophomore walk-on Luke Swan, listed officially as a fourth-team receiver. Swan got behind the defense and, with three Badgers in pursuit, managed to haul in a one-handed, over-the-shoulder catch of a very well-thrown deep pass from Donovan. The play covered about 60 yards, the pass traveling about 50 in the air.

Jarvis Minton and Jeff Holzbauer, listed as UW's No. 2 receivers in spring, each assumed a heavy work load Friday.

Brandon Williams, the Badgers' leading receiver last season, is not listed on the official depth chart, though he is present on the roster. Coaches were not available for comment, but an athletics communications official confirmed that Williams was intentionally left off the spring depth chart. Williams wore workout clothes Friday as he watched practice from the sideline. It is not uncommon for established players to be held out of spring practice.

Defensive line

The Badgers must replace all four starters and a top reserve at this position. Friday's first quartet was ends Jamal Cooper and Joe Monty and tackles Justin Ostrowski and Nick Hayden. Defensive end Kurt Ware also worked in with the first team.

Ware, ends Mike Newkirk and Brandon Kelly and tackles Mark Gorman, Jason Chapman and Gino Cruse worked in the second defense. Chapman, who checked in at 6-4, 280, also played defensive end Friday.

Linebacker

With Sanders out, LaMarr Watkins joined the first team at will linebacker, with Andy Crooks (mike) and Mark Zalewski (sam) in their regular spots.

The second unit consisted of Elliot Goode at mike, Jammar Crane at will and Paul Joran at sam. Nick Sutton also worked in at sam.

As expected, Casey Hogan made the shift from safety to sam linebacker; he was part of the Badgers' fourth trio for some position-specific work.

Another part of that fourth trio was walk-on will linebacker Alex Sell, a 6-foot, 208-pound native of Eau Claire.

Cornerbacks

Jack Ikegwuonu stood out Friday. The redshirt freshman played exclusively with the second-team defense and he broke up a few passes, including a magnificent, lunging deflection of a well-thrown deep pass from Savage that was intended for Jarvis Minton.

Minton, who had a good practice, was the victim of another of the day's best plays. He worked his way free along the left sideline, but corner Allen Langford made the play, getting his hands on Minton's arms and effectively dislodging Minton from the ball.

Credit Langford for a nice play. The 5-11, 187-pound redshirt freshman worked with the No. 1 defense Friday, along with senior Levonne Rowan. Returning starter Bret Bell is recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

Another redshirt freshman, Jameson Davis, spent most of his time with the second unit, while classmate Antonio Freeman worked his way into that rotation.

Sophomore walk-on Ben Strickland moved back to corner from free safety. Strickland was one of the Badgers' better special teams players last season.

Safeties

As anticipated, Roderick Rogers and Johnny White opened spring as the starting safeties. But expect Zach Hampton and Joe Stellmacher to push them hard.

James Kamoku also could get in the mix after converting back to safety from linebacker.

A compliment of walk-ons rounds out the safety depth.

Special teams

A number of the tightest position battles of 2005 will be among the specialists. The Badgers, in fact, did not even bother to list a projected depth for punt returners, kick returners or holders.

Place kickers Taylor Mehlhaff and Adam Schober both performed well in team work Friday, each making all of his field goal attempts. Schober's lift on his kicks was particularly impressive.

Steve Johnson probably has the inside track at long snapper over Dave Peck, if for no other reason than that Johnson is exclusively a long snapper, while Peck is also trying his hand at tight end.

Antonio Freeman, Levonne Rowan, Jarvis Minton and Brian Calhoun worked out at returner.


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