Football notebook: Hubbard responds

Sophomore receiver is beginning to mix physical play with his immense athletic ability; Hayden gets the message

There was Paul Hubbard, the 6-foot-5, 216-pound, wonderfully athletically gifted receiver, laying on the turf at Camp Randall Stadium.

Hubbard had just run a short pass route, stopping just beyond the first-down marker on a third-and-five play during a scrimmage in the University of Wisconsin football team's spring practice Sunday afternoon. As Hubbard hands met quarterback Bryan Savage's pass, linebacker Ben Landgraf laid into him, delivering a wicked, jarring blow that left Hubbard dazed and the ball resting harmlessly on the field.

Slow to get up, Hubbard was admonished by a cacophony of his defensive teammates.

"‘Hub', he can dish it out but he can't take it!'' the catcalls resounded.

Earlier in practice, Hubbard had wiped out linebacker Paul Joran, decleating him as he pursued scrambling quarterback Tyler Donovan.

Now, the defense was having fun with the turnabout in Hubbard's fortunes. Four plays later Hubbard exacted a little revenge. He missed just two plays after Landgraf's hit and on his second snap back in the action he caught a short pass and fought through corner Ben Strickland, muscling his way for the extra yards necessary to turn a third-and-eight into a first down.

"He didn't back down," receivers coach Henry Mason said. "I've seen a lot of guys get knocked down, now they don't come back or when they do come back they are not playing well. When he came back he immediately [made a play]… in a tough situation."

This was heady stuff for Hubbard. One of the best athletes UW has at any position, Hubbard has been asked to pick up his toughness and physicality.

"That was really good to see by him and something that he should be able to build on," Mason said. "Hopefully he'll really make a jump here these next few practices."

There was another learning moment for Hubbard, a few plays after he persevered for the first down. Hubbard ran down the seam but could not make a play on a well-thrown deep pass from Savage. Before the next play, head coach Barry Alvarez pulled Hubbard out of the scrimmage to talk to him about the play.

"He wasn't in the right place on the route," Mason said. "He didn't do a very good job of reading the coverage or he might have had an opportunity to catch a touchdown. That's part of the learning curve."

The Badgers have been excited about Hubbard, who originally came to Madison on a track scholarship, but went on a football scholarship last fall. An elite long and triple jumper with very good speed, Hubbard has been slowly but surely turning himself into a football player, rather than an athlete playing football.

"He's taking baby steps but he is getting better and he wants to do it," Mason said. "Normally you combine a pretty good athlete with ‘want to' usually at some point in time it clicks and they understand the big picture and (become) good players."

Hubbard was UW's No. 5 receiver Sunday, behind Jonathan Orr, Brandon White, Jeff Holzbauer and Jarvis Minton. Starter Brandon Williams missed practice.

"We have to take it a day at a time," Mason said of the stress related shin injury that has kept Williams from all but one spring practice. "The bottom line is he's got to get healthy. If that means he can't practice so be it. We'll have to deal with that. There's no reason for him being out there if he can't protect himself, if he can't execute the plays.... Right now the most important thing for him is to get healthy."

Randle El's return

Sophomore receiver Marcus Randle El returned to practice Sunday after missing the first seven spring practices while serving a suspension for a violation of the university's Student-Athlete Discipline Policy.

Randle El was charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct last month as the result of an alleged altercation with his girlfriend in his campus dorm room. He pled not guilty; a pre-trial conference is scheduled for April 14.

Randle El took part in position drills and returned a couple kickoffs Sunday but he was held out of most scrimmage work. While serving his suspension, Randle El was not permitted to take part in team meetings, so he is behind his teammates in understanding the changes to the Badgers' system that have taken place since Paul Chryst joined the coaching staff as co-offensive coordinator.

"I wish the first day back for him wasn't a scrimmage day because you don't want to put him in much of that because he hasn't done much," Mason said. "He was really looking forward to this day and the practice time where you are running plays, working on situations, that type of stuff."

Hayden gets the message

Gino Cruse spent some time with the first team at defensive tackle Sunday, not for what he had accomplished but because defensive line coach John Palermo was upset with first-team tackle Nick Hayden.

"He definitely got the message," Palermo said.

How did Hayden show that he heard Palermo loud and clear?

"He got the message, trust me," Palermo said. "Before we look at the tape I can't tell you what he did right or wrong… He knows, he understands. And the great thing about that is his parents are behind me. So, I can do whatever I've got to do to get his [butt] ready to play."

Hayden and fellow sophomore Justin Ostrowski are being counted on to replace Anttaj Hawthorne and Jason Jefferson as the starting defensive tackles.

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