Spring practice report, March 29

News and notes from Wisconsin's Wednesday night practice.

MADISON — The University of Wisconsin football team conducted its fourth practice of spring Wednesday night at the McClain Center. The team practiced for about two-and-a-half hours in full pads. There were no full-tackle drills. Several players missed practice with an injury or due to class obligations.

Quarterbacks

It was an up-and-down day for the Badger signal-callers. John Stocco was excellent during 7-on-7 work, completing all of his passes during his second run through the drill. He was generally sharp, but suffered a few overthrows and miscommunications with receivers.

Tyler Donovan appears to have an edge for the No. 2 quarterback job, but Dustin Sherer could challenge him. Neither player is lighting the world on fire, and neither player is doing anything to really hurt himself. It is early in spring, and quarterback-receiver chemistry is still developing.

Offensive line

Offensive tackle Eric Vanden Heuvel is still being held out of contact work, leaving Kraig Urbik, Mike Van Someren and Andrew Weininger to rotate between the two positions.

Running backs

Dion Foster had an excellent day. He is a savvy runner, with good speed and quickness. He thrived throughout practice, setting up linebackers and defensive backs with some nifty moves in the open field and hitting the hole with confidence. His improvement from the beginning of fall camp last year has been extreme.

Another redshirt freshman tailback, P.J. Hill, made a great catch-and-run for a 45-yard touchdown during 7 on 7 work.

Chris Pressley was absent from practice. As a result, Bill Rentmeester served as the No. 1 fullback, and walk-on Josh Balts became No. 2 for the evening. Balts had a very impressive block on mike linebacker Elijah Hodge.

Redshirt freshman tailback Jerry Butler showed off his speed during 7 on 7 work, catching a pass over the middle and bursting down field for a long touchdown.

Junior Jamil Walker was the first tailback in with the first offense. Walker also put his speed on display, turning the corner on a run to the right and bursting down the sideline before a safety was able to use a good pursuit angle to track him down and coerce a whistle to stop the play.

Wide receivers and tight ends

Andy Crooks appears to have the most consistent hands of any of the tight ends. With his size (264 pounds) and solid athletic ability, he has the potential to pose a matchup problem for opposing defenses. The question, which will begin to be answered this weekend when the Badgers begin full-tackle drills, is can he block consistently?

Sophomore Jarvis Minton, who appears to be UW's early No. 1 receiver, suffered an injury in practice Wednesday. He received attention from UW's training staff to his foot or ankle and watched the rest of practice from the sideline.

Junior receiver Paul Hubbard is still looking for more consistency. He has come a long way in this regard, and he made fine adjustments on a few receptions, but he also let a few hit the turf that he could have come up with.

During 11-on-11 work late in practice, Hubbard caught a pass, let a cornerback go right on by him and sprinted down field for what might have been a long scoring play had it been totally live. p> The most consistent receivers thus far this spring, considering route-running and catching the ball, have been Marcus Randle El and Luke Swan. They have gobbled up the passes thrown their way. Randle El in particular stood out Wednesday, catching everything within reach and getting open seemingly at will.

Richard Kirtley made a nice sliding catch. Fellow walk-on Matt Gifford had a good catch along the sideline, when he had to extend to pull it in.

On one pass play, Jeff Holzbauer did a good job of setting in between the corner and safety for a decent pickup.

Defensive line

Kurt Ware was held out of contact work Wednesday, and walk-on Adam Purcell was not available. As a result, the Badgers were down to four defensive ends. Joe Monty and Brandon Kelly with the first team; Terrance Jamison and Brian Behnke with the second team.

Brandon Kelly had a stop for loss on tailback Jerry Butler during 5-on-5 work.

Linebackers

With Paul Joran missing practice Wednesday, the Badgers juggled their rotations slightly.

The first and second teams remained the same, with sam DeAndre Levy, mike Mark Zalewski and will Jonathan Casillas leading things off, followed by sam O'Brien Schofield, mike Elijah Hodge and will Ben Landgraf.

Jammar Crane worked in behind Landgraf at second-team will. Ryan Flasch, normally the No. 4 mike, spent some time at sam with the third-team defense in place of Joran, with mike Joshua Neal and Crane.

Zalewski had a tackle for loss versus Butler.

It looks like the Badgers will have a good problem at linebacker. Hodge continues to make plays all over the field and it will be very difficult to keep him from playing regularly next year. On the other hand, how can he possibly start? UW would have to move Zalewski to sam and send Levy or Casillas to the bench. That is unlikely to occur. Hodge, though, will need to have a role somehow.

Secondary

First-team cornerback Allen Langford returned to practice after being injured in the team's last practice two days before. Classmate Jack Ikegwuonu, however, missed the second half of practice after his legs apparently tightened up.

With Ikegwuonu out and second-team cornerback Zach Hampton still nursing the injury he suffered Sunday, the Badgers turned to walk-on Ben Strickland as their first-team right cornerback Wednesday. Redshirt freshman Prince Moody also rotated in to the lineup at that position.

Third-team cornerback Jameson Davis was watching practice in street clothes. That left Moody and Strickland to also serve as the second-team corners.

The third-team cornerbacks were walk-ons Phil Ayeni and Chris Eernisse, who were joined in an all-walk-on third-string secondary by safeties Nate Egholm and William Hartmann.

Ayeni broke up a pass intended for Hubbard.

Strickland had two interceptions Wednesday and Langford had one.

First-team free safety Roderick Rogers made a really good break on a pass over the middle, looking for an interception. He would have had it too, but it slipped through his hands.

First-team strong safety Joe Stellmacher had a tackle for loss and a fumble recovery during the 9-on-9 work.

Special teams

Marcus Randle El, Jerry Butler and Ben Strickland again served as the three candidates for punt returner.


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