Spring Practice Report: Day 14

With perfect temperatures and a clear sky above, the Wisconsin football teams dressed in full pads and went through its final walk through before the Badgers open the doors of Camp Randall for their annual spring game on Saturday.

MADISON - One year ago, the underlined theme of Wisconsin's spring practices was injuries, capped by senior Matt Shaughnessy breaking his leg one practice before the spring game. This time around, UW, despite a couple dings, got through the 14 practices before the spring game without a serious injury to a starter, allowing the Badgers to make plenty of strides with their personnel.

That in itself was a victory for Wisconsin.

In year's past, the Badgers have spent the practice prior to the spring game in half pads, practices that weren't always as productive as the coaching staff would have liked. One thing the Badgers did this year was after a lengthy scrimmage last Saturday, make Tuesday their helmet day and make Thursday a full-dress practice for Wisconsin. Going just shy of two hours, Bielema got what he was looking for.

"I really like the work that we got Tuesday and Thursday this week," head coach Bret Bielema said. "We did some good things today and will be interesting how (we) respond and move into Saturday."

Plan for the Spring Game

"It's going to be a normal, real game-like situation. We're going to have all phases of the kicking game except for kickoff and kickoff return. We'll have punt and punt return, as well as PAT and field goals. It will be a normal game from there on." - Bielema

From the Infirmary

No major injuries to report, a positive theme that UW coaches have to be pleased about.

Even the players that were supposed to miss spring got some work in Thursday. While his teammates were decked out in full pads in preparation for the spring game, sophomore Bradie Ewing was do some individual work on his road to recovery. Ewing, who had off-season shoulder surgery, did some basic footwork drills and ball handling drills in just shorts and his No.20 jersey.

Proudly wearing his No.42 white jersey, senior Erik Prather made an appearance Thursday, sporting a full right leg brace and two crutches under each arm. The same goes for Lewis Nzegwu (MCL tear), but the sophomore didn't need the crushes to move around. Freshman Tyler Westphal also was floating around with his left arm in a sling.

In Attendance

Knowing that it's their son's last spring game, Gordon and Eileen Graham flew in from New Jersey for a couple of days to watch practice and the spring game. A couple other parents made the trip as Curt Phillips' dad (Jim) came along with Jon Budmayr's father (Rick) to watch their son progress.

7-on-6 Skele Drills

Dustin Sherer

1-1 - hit John Clay on a left to right crossing route

2-2 – hit Zach Brown on a check down route

3-3- Nick Toon was able to shake off Aaron Henry on third-10 as Sherer delivered a perfect 12-yard out pass, prompting Bielema to chime, "Come on Aaron, that's a play you got to make."

Scott Tolzien

1-1 - hit Lance Kendricks check down route

2-2 – hit Elijah Theus on a comebacker that went for a healthy gain

2-3 – attempted a pass to Erik Smith on a crossing checkdown route, but Smith already had his focus up the field and forgot to catch the ball

Curt Phillips

1-1 – Phillips came out firing, hitting Garrett Graham between linebacker Matthew Groff and Shane Carter in the middle of the field for 15 yards.

2-2 – hit Gilreath on a 10-yard out route, Gilreath made a solid stop and pivot in front of Niles Brinkley

2-3 – Henry atoned for his earlier mistake by getting a hand in to break up an inside slant route intended for Isaac Anderson

3-4 – Phillips saw Jake Byrne sneak into the secondary and get behind the linebackers near the right hash, making himself an easy open target

4-5 - Checkdown completion to Zach Brown in the flat

5-6 - Phillips uncorked a bullet to T.J. Williams on an inside slant route, one of the hardest thrown balls he delivered in the spring as he threw his full body behind it

Jon Budmayr

1-1 – hit Clay on a checkdown route

2-2 – from the shotgun, hit kendricks on an inside crossing route for nine yards. The completion could have been more had Kendricks not slipped, but he maintained his focus to make the catch from his knees

3-3 – Budmayr was about to unload a pass into traffic, but made the smart decision by quickly pulling back the ball and finding Theus open on a 12-yard crossing route

3-4 - overthrew tight end Rob Korslin in the flat

3-5 - forced a low pass to David Gilreath, who was surrounded by five defenders

3-6 - threw a slightly wobbly deep sideline pass to Kyle Jefferson, but Jefferson would have hauled in it if it wasn't for Antonio Fenelus swiping his hand in to rake the ball away as Jefferson started to come down with it

Redzone Scenario

Sherer went 2-for-3, including a five-yard touchdown pass to Gilreath in the back of the end zone. All of Sherer's primary targets were covered and he didn't spot Sherer until a good three seconds had elapsed. Gilreath hauled the pass in despite taking a shoulder to the chest courtesy of Chris Maragos.

Jon Budmayr went 0-1 and always seemed to be under pressure. Anthony Mains got the better of freshman Peter Konz, who has struggled with his pass blocking this spring and registered the sack when he accidentally pushed Konz into Budmayr. The defensive line continuous put pressure on the freshman, who was forced to make a couple decisions well before he was ready.

Scott Tolzien went 0-1, but his only pass could have had a five-yard touchdown pass if it wasn't for Shane Carter getting his left hand in to punch away a sure touchdown catch.

Curt Phillips went 2-2 with his first pass being delivered to John Clay on a checkdown route to John Clay but had it been a real game situation, O'Brien Schofield would have registered the sack, as his rip move would have taken down the freshman.

Nick Toon, once again, turned in the catch of the afternoon. On a ball that was thrown where it was Toon's to lose, the sophomore wide receiver elevated over Henry and hauled in the pass with Henry right in his face.

Phillips did try some redzone runs himself, twice going out to his right on a bootleg pass option and once going up the middle on the quarterback draw. Both options were snuffed out by the quick closing J.J. Watt, forcing incomplete passes, and Phillips run up the middle only grabbed a couple of yards.

Punting Problems?

After seeing the Badgers 36.8-yard average drop the team to eighth in the Big Ten in punting last season (the worst finish in three years under Bielema), the Badgers and their special teams coach (Bielema) are continuing to fine tune a new formation. Three players line up on each side of the long snapper, with large gaps between them, while the three other players line up five yards clear of punter Bradley Nortman, sort of personal bodyguards.

The formation has potential, but some gabs that are too big easily invited the opposing defense to charge right through the first line of defense unblocked.

11-on-11 Drill Notes

Any questions about Culmer St. Jean's ability to play the mike linebacker position were put to rest during UW's first 11-on-11 session. St. Jean seemed to always be around the football. The same goes for J.J. Watt, who looks like he is trying to set a school record for most batted balls at the line of scrimmage for a spring season. Watt, who now wears number 51, has been one of the most impressive players in spring.

Scott Tolzien sold the run, something UW had done on its previous five plays, to get the linebackers to crash forward and hit Lance Kendricks on a 20-yard route over the middle, dropping the pass between safeties Maragos and Valai. Later in practice, Tolzien sold the fake again, this time finding Toon on a sideline slant route.

Jon Budmayr looks fully recovered from a nagging groin injury that limited him over the course of the past week. During 11-on-11, Budmayr was able to dance around in the pocket a couple of times to avoid the blitz, even once throwing across his body to hit Zach Brown on a crossing route.

Budmayr did look a little rusty, as the freshman lost a little zip on his fast ball when he underthrew Nick Toon on a deep crossing route; a pass that would have resulted in an interception by sophomore Devin Smith had he not collided with senior Aubrey Pleasant.

One of the pleasant surprises in camp (and perhaps UW's answer to its fullback vacancy) has been senior Mickey Turner. Turner was the lead blocker multiple times on sweeps and receiver end-arounds and while the emphasis was not on tackling, Turner was hardly pushed around by any opposing defender.

The quarterbacks faired well in team drills until the very end of practice. It started when Sherer and Clay botched a handoff attempt and, much to the delight of defensive line coach Charlie Partridge, was recovered by his group, continued when Henry showed Bielema that he can makes plays, stepping in front of a wide receiver screen and taking it untouched into the endzone and ended when Jon Budmayr's pass to Elijah Theus bounced off his hands and into the waiting arms of Shane Carter.

There were two standout plays of the day and both of them involved Nick Toon. During the second set of 11-on-11, Tolzien poorly underthrew a deep inside slant route that should have been the first interception of the day. Freshman defensive back Shelton  Johnson, unfortunately, had other ideas, as he couldn't haul in the pass and saw it deflect off his hands. The deflection went right to Toon, who showed solid hand-eye coordinator by hauling in the pass and turning on the speed to breakaway down the field for a long gain.

Scrimmage

Wisconsin ended its 14 practice with an abbreviated scrimmage, giving the offenses the chance to move the football. Each quarterback got one set to move the ball. Here's a look at what happened.

- Drive Number One -

The Dustin Sherer led offense ran five plays against the first team defense, gaining 34 yards. The drive ended on 2nd-and-6 with Henry's interception.

- Drive Number Two -

The Scott Tolzien led offense ran six plays against the second team defense, gaining 59 yards, but couldn't put the ball in the end zone. On fourth down, Devin Smith ended the drive by breaking up a throw into the end zone.

- Drive Number Three -

The Jon Budmayr led offense ran nine plays against the second team defense, gaining 30 yards, but the drive ended with Shane Carter's interception.

- Drive Number Four -

The Curt Phillips led offense ran only four plays against the first team defense, gaining just seven yards and turning the ball over on downs.

Notes

Anybody who doesn't think that Bielema is taking penalties seriously this year just has to watch a spring practice. After a penalty-filled scrimmage last week, the Badgers committed three penalties, two by Isaac Anderson, who lined up wrong twice and received the wrath of Bielema.

"You just plain don't give a (expletive)," Bielema said. "You don't give a (expletive) to what is going on."

Anderson was benched the remainder of practice by Bielema, who even stopped the next play after Carter's interception to remove Anderson from working in the drill.

After given the chance to make an impact at a new position, Prince Moody is still learning the ropes of what it takes to be a solid wide receiver. During individual drills, the senior struggled keeping his eyes on the ball, as wide receivers coach DelVaughn Alexander was seen explaining that it was necessary to watch the ball all the way into the chest before looking to turn up field.

Spring practice is never easy on the specialists, especially when kicking indoors through the majority of the 14 practices. However, Wisconsin sophomore kicker Philip Welch has been solid in field goal drills when UW does make it outside, including an impressive early performance Thursday.

Welch has shown, with the wind at his back, that he can make a 60-yard field goal, as he hit a 38-yard field goal during warm-up drills that went clear out the back of the end zone.

Up Next

The 2009 spring season will come to a close when the Badgers' 15th practice is their annual spring game at Camp Randall, which is 2:00 p.m. Saturday.


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