Spring Practice Report: Day Nine

The quarterbacks continue to be a work in progress as they were put to the test in breezy weather on Tuesday. On the bright side, the wide receivers and defensive players grasped the opportunity to shine.

MADISON — Tuesday's spring ball session was outside on the Camp Randall Stadium turf, but post-practice interviews were conducted inside the Dave McClain Center.

Curt Phillips and his quarterbacking mates probably wish both occurrences could've been indoors.

The University of Wisconsin practiced for the ninth time this spring, but Tuesday marked just the second outdoor excursion. Despite blustery 40 degree temperatures, the Badgers donned shoulder pads and shorts (except for a few noble players like Culmer St. Jean, who intelligently wore sweatpants).

The effects on the guys flinging the ball around were apparent, and Phillips admitted it was tough goings getting used to leaving the climate-controlled McClain Center and its comforts.

"You kind of get spoiled indoors here," Phillips said. "But that's the way it is, that's real football. We've got to get adjusted to it."

UW coach Bret Bielema was intrigued to see how his passing quartet – Phillips, Dustin Sherer, Scott Tolzien and Jon Budmayr (who was mostly a spectator Tuesday) – would react to running his offense on a chilly evening. Overall, the results weren't pretty, with a plethora of overthrown, underthrown and well-wide passes throughout the 22-period practice.

"One of the things we try to do during the first two weeks is try to have stable conditions; I wanted to give all four quarterbacks an opportunity to have the same environment to throw in," Bielema said. "It was interesting going out there today because there were a couple balls that were affected by the throws, as well as some guys trying to catch it."

Bielema didn't feel confident enough to name any one quarterback who passed the weather test better than the others, electing instead to point out how well some of the wide receivers handled the tough throws.

"I thought Nick Toon had a good practice, Isaac (Anderson) had a good practice," Bielema said. "And Kyle Jefferson did some good things battling through the illness from yesterday."

As of Tuesday evening around 9 pm, a picture of Toon at the Champs Sports Bowl dominates the top headline on ESPN.com's college football page. Toon, the son of Badger great Al Toon, is the subject of an Adam Rittenberg feature on the father-son combo.

From the Infirmary

For those who missed the news from Monday, linebacker Erik Prather's Wisconsin career is likely over after sustaining a serious right knee injury in Saturday's scrimmage.

As for Tuesday's work, there were several players getting dinged up below the waistline, but nothing serious to report. Aaron Henry ran back to the locker room for a few moments, but returned quickly and seemed fine ... could have been a equipment issue, if nothing else.

David Gilbert, who entered the program as an early enrollment student this spring, hurt his right knee during practice and was attended to by a trainer off on the sidelines for several minutes. After stretching it out, Gilbert did return to action, and even dragged back Sherer on a pass rush during split team work.

While Gilbert received attention, Erik Smith was on the ground nursing his leg, but wasn't overly alarmed by the minor injury. Dan Moore had the brace on his left knee removed and replaced, and Coddye Ring-Noonan was jogging along the sidelines. But again, nothing long-term from Tuesday.

7-on-6 skeleton plays

The Badgers continue to make corrections on an area that crippled them in 2008: pushing the ball across the goal line when they get into the red zone, rather than settling for Phil Welch chip shots for three points.

And instead of relying on John Clay's thunder or Zach Brown's lightning, they're trying to increase their paltry 64 percent touchdown conversion rate in the red zone through the air.

Only problem is, the quarterbacks aren't making the proper throws to get six points, and the receivers aren't consistently completing the play ... at least not yet.

Sherer overthrew his first ball, and was bailed out on a low throw by a nice Isaac Anderson catch (though Anderson dropped the ball on the next play). Tight end Garrett Graham toed the line in the back of the end zone for a nice TD catch, but the 6-foot-4 security blanket was swallowed up by tight defense from 5-foot-9 safety Jay Valai on the next play and couldn't bring in Tolzien's throw.

Tolzien was also shaky inside the 20. After hitting Anderson with a nice two-handed grab, Tolzien rolled right, overlooked a wide open David Gilreath and threw it wide right of Kyle Jefferson, prompting the ire of offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Paul Chryst ("Finish it!", Chryst bellowed at Tolzien).

Phillips was 1-for-5 inside the red zone, nearly getting picked by Shane Carter and Niles Brinkley and also missed T.J. Williams in the flat by a wide margin.

Split team work

With Sherer starting with the ones on the south side of the field, and Phillips working with the twos in the north side (and the pair switching sides halfway through), there were numerous near-picks and tipped passes, with just a couple interceptions thrown in.

Antonio Fenelus had an easy interception when Phillips badly misfired on the right flank. Blake Sorensen and Jae McFadden each had pass break-ups, and on a high throw from Sherer, Eric Kossoris would have been lit up by Valai if it was a real game (but of course, the hard-hitting safety let up).

Phillips did have a nice deep throw that was dropped by Toon, but Toon made up for it on the final play of split work. Sherer's long ball appeared to be too long down the middle of the field, but Toon raced down and caught up to it – hauling it in with just a single paw. That brought whoops and hollers from all uniformed players on the field.

11-on-11 action

On the very first play of the first 11-on-11, Clay bolted up the middle for what would have been a long gain, perhaps a touchdown. The sophomore continues to prove he'll be the focal part of the team's operation, despite a lingering ankle injury. Zach Brown has also made some very nice shake-and-bake plays to pick up extra yards, including a slashing 20-yarder up the gut.

In the passing session, the quarterbacks continued to combat the chilled footballs and sudden wind gusts as day turned into night. On Sherer's third throw, the ball went off Graham's hands and up into the air, coming to rest in the waiting arms of safety Aubrey Pleasant for an interception. Chris Maragos almost made it back-to-back turnovers on the next play, diving on an overthrown ball intended for T.J. Theus. After J.J. Watt deflected a pass at the line of scrimmage and Lance Kendricks dropped a pass, Sherer's tally was 1-for-6 with a completion in the flat to Clay for no gain. Phillips fared a little better. Patrick Butrym tipped a pass and Phillips went long when Theus buttonhooked, but the Tennessee native did complete two passes to Graham and another to Toon for first downs.

Later on, Phillips rolled right and threw it low, but Aaron Henry dove and made a sliding pick on the right sideline, with both the defensive ones and twos right there to surround and shower him with praise. However, when Henry chucked the ball upward in a fit of joy, linebackers coach Randall McCray insisted Henry do ten pushups.

Feisty, are we?

Finally, the Badgers might be raising the intensity bar ... or are getting a little sick of each other after nine practices. However you interpret it, there was a little jawing and some big hits on Tuesday.

When Brown broke left for a long run up the sideline, Toon threw a vicious block on cornerback Devin Smith, knocking Smith's helmet up. While the offensive boys in red cheered Toon's effort, which drew a "nice job" from Bielema, Smith was none too pleased and got in Toon's face about it. When Tolzien connected with Toon on the next play, Jefferson and Smith were still jawing about it.

But Smith would get his revenge, just two plays later. Sherer dumped a short pass on the left side to Gilreath, and Smith took his frustrations out on the Badgers' leading receiver from 2008. While the defense congratulated Smith on sticking with it, the mild-mannered Gilreath simply got up and completed the run to show he was OK.

Meanwhile, another mild-mannered Badger who has been needing some ill temper in him showed a little of the latter late on Tuesday. Right tackle Josh Oglesby, whose wide smile is exceeded only by his 6-foot-7, 238-pound frame, was seen getting into some extracurricular action with defensive end O'Brien Schofield.

When asked about that, Bielema grinned and admitted he liked seeing the gentle giant get a little nasty.

"A lot of times I'll step in and intercede when I see a little spirited activity going on," Bielema said. "But today, when I saw that happening with Josh, I didn't stop it. There were defensive players yelling to Josh, that was a good thing."

In attendance

Former defensive tackle Jason Chapman stuck around for a few minutes ... but left quickly, probably in search of some warmth. Very quiet otherwise on the sidelines Tuesday.

Up next

The Badgers will take Wednesday off before heading back to work on Thursday at 3:45 pm, and to the quarterbacks' chagrin, temps are supposed to be in the mid-50s, so another Camp Randall practice is a viable option.

Just five practices remain before the annual Spring Game on Apr. 18, and early (okay, very early) weather forecasts are looking good for a sunny, fairly warm Saturday.


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