Jae McFadden, a redshirt freshman hitherto tight end, jumped at the prospect, and made the move to sam linebacker Wednesday night, in the Badger football team's 10th of 15 spring practices.
"On Monday we got done watching the film, there were some guys that we thought had the potential to maybe play for us but were getting buried, weren't getting the amount of reps we wanted to get done," head coach Bret Bielema said after Wednesday's practice.
"Jaevery, I actually recruited him out of high school as a linebacker early on in his career. He moved over to the offense side and got a little more recognition. But he was sitting at the 4, 5, 6 spot at tight end and we really needed another guy at that sam linebacker position. So he popped in there."
"One thing I think you have to do here at Wisconsin is maximize your personnel," Bielema said. "If you feel you've got somebody at a certain situation that they can get on the field, especially when they are not even in the two-deep… from a standpoint of getting our best players out there, you really got to make sure that you're not burying anybody at a position."
Bielema reiterated that running back could be a specialized position for the Badgers this season, but said they want to have a firm grasp of who their "first-and-10" back is.
The odds-on favorite for the No. 1 tailback duty has long been P.J. Hill and he now appears to be separating himself from the pack. He received a considerable share of the first-team tailback reps Wednesday and was often the first tailback to line up with the starters, which is a shift from earlier in spring practices, when Jamil Walker filled that role.
Hill has stood out with his strength between the tackles and as a blocker, and with his quickness. He has shown a burst of speed particularly when catching passes out of the backfield.
Said Bielema: "I like P.J. I like his strength. I like his gamesmanship. He sees an edge, he'll take it in short fashion. He's got great power. Even just like when we're doing (skeleton) drills, or blitz pickup, or anything like that. If he just gets a shoulder on someone, it usually disrupts their path, and that's not always the case at a running back position. So I like the power that he's able to bring to the table."
Hill is listed at 5-foot-11, 235 pounds, 15 pounds heavier than his listed weight last fall. After making quite an impression early in fall training camp, Hill was lost for the season after breaking his leg in the fifth practice. He still probably has the capacity for more speed, once he gets in better shape.
"He was a guy that after the second week of camp really was not able to run all the way until we got about half way through winter conditioning," Bielema said. "He put on the freshman 15 and some, I think. I give him a hard time about how tight his pants look…
"If he's with us from the time when we have our summer conditioning start until the time of camp, he'll be in full physical condition. I expect that he'll have a pretty good looking body."
Walker shows improvement
After practice Saturday, Bielema conspicuously made mention of four of the five tailbacks in a positive light. The one exception was Walker, whom Bielema did not discuss when answering a couple open-ended questions regarding the tailback position. Wednesday, Bielema made special mention of the junior tailback, who had one of his best practices of the spring.
"A guy (who) maybe had begun to slide back a little bit and all of a sudden today he jumped out to me," Bielema said. "I thought Jamil made some things today happen that he hadn't to this point."
"He was on the far side over there and he took one around the edge and showed some speed and ability," Bielema said. "And there was a power on the left side right here towards the end that I really thought he just got the shoulders downhill and went vertical. Walked with his head up and his shoulders up. I talk all the time about body language. How you take a room, how you walk into it, sets an image of what you are, and that carries over to the football field."
It was important example of success for Walker, an exceptional athlete who has struggled at times running between the tackles and taking on defenders with confidence.
Stocco quickly returns from injured ankle
No player is more valuable to the Badger football team than quarterback John Stocco, so it was not a pleasant sight for Wisconsin to see Stocco fall to the ground in pain as he tried to plant and throw during one drill Wednesday night. His right ankle had given out on him. Stocco, though, had his foot and ankle taped and quickly returned to practice.
"He's been battling through that," Bielema said. "He rolled it I think towards the latter part of winter conditioning… It was funny. I was going to say something to him before practice because he wasn't taped. He's usually taped on that one ankle and he wasn't. But he was after that fall."
Walk-ons in waiting
Bielema said that he will wait until the fall to make decisions regarding walk-ons receiving scholarships.
Four returning walk-ons were on scholarship last year: punter Ken DeBauche, cornerbacks Ben Strickland and Zach Hampton and long snapper Steven Johnson. It is hard to believe that DeBauche would not receive a scholarship again, considering he will be a favorite to win the Ray Guy Award.
"The guys that received them a year ago, it's a year-by-year basis," Bielema said. "They need to do things on the field as well as off the field to make sure they've got it."
Counting the scholarship players currently on the roster, and the scholarship recruits for the class of 2006, the Badgers have 85 scholarship commitments, the full complement allowed by the NCAA (this includes Gino Cruse and Antonio Freeman, neither of whom have practiced with the Badgers at all this spring). Teams typically undergo some attrition in the summer, however.
"A former walk-on myself, things change over the course of summer," Bielema said. "You never know what's going to happen with guys. You never know if the same guys that leave here in spring on scholarship are going to be the same ones that are returning. So that's something we'll do right before camp."
Bielema said the team will always use the full 85 scholarship allotment.
Captains could be named in spring or fall
Bielema said the coaching staff is currently debating whether to name captains this spring or wait until the fall.
"There's obviously some things that you know as a coach that you probably have a good understanding of the way things will go," he said. "I hate to make decisions too early because I don't want to force things, but on the same account there's positives for having captains during the summer."