After a 7-6 season, it's evident that the Badgers can't afford to be taking things easy.
Wisconsin is taking advantage of every practice the NCAA allows them to have full pads on, meaning UW's players were fully dressed for the fifth-straight practice.
"I think if I didn't do it, they were asking for it," Head Coach Bret Bielema said post practice. "Quite a few guys after our practice in the morning, I didn't even make a big deal, I said, ‘We'll be in full-pack this evening.' There was a lot of (positive) reaction, but I think they expected it, which is a good thing."
A New Leader?
If anybody thought that senior quarterback Dustin Sherer would get the job simply based on his seniority, familiarity with the offense or his game experience last season, that person hasn't seen the capabilities of freshman quarterback Curt Phillips.
Although it's still early in camp, Phillips looks to be neck and neck with Sherer, and vastly improved his stock Monday night.
After all the quarterbacks struggled in the wet conditions Monday morning, Phillips bounced back and had a standout practice, as the redshirt freshman made plenty of solid throws through the air and smart decisions on the ground.
Just like the morning, Phillips was the first quarterback to perform when the first-tem offense worked during red-zone, 7-on-7 drill and 11-on-11 drills. Phillips not only went first in the rotation, he got the majority of the snaps.
Although he still needs to quicken his release and tighten his throws, Phillips appeared to have taken a big step forward, showing he can bounce back after a so-so performance.
"He looked good," Bielema said of Phillips. "I watched a lot of different things out here, but I know the one thing Curt can do – and you guys know – is if something breaks down, he has the ability to make something out of nothing. He has the ability to make something out of nothing. He was pretty creative on Saturday; he had a little Brett Favre flip. He's just got those little to him."
Junior Scott Tolzien also had plenty of good throws Monday night, throwing three touchdowns in red-zone drills, and followed Phillips in 11-on-11. Tolzien's throwing motion has gotten a lot better since the spring, which was evident by his perfect pass down the middle of the field that hit senior Elijah Theus in the numbers for a touchdown.
Sherer was the third quarterback during 11-on-11 and red-zone drills. Sherer played poorly during red-zone drills, but improved during 11-on-11, connecting on several pass attempts with better throws.
Brown Working with First Team
It was hard not to notice Zach Brown's contributions to the offense on Monday night. In what was a challenging 2008 season for him, Brown looks like he's answered his coach's challenge and will be a focal part of the offense.
After projected starting running back John Clay got the majority of snaps last week, Brown received the majority of the workload with the first-team offense during Monday's morning and evening practice.
"What I saw this year is he came in, and Zach is oblivious to what's going on around him," Bielema said. "A lot of people have different opinions who's going to be running the football, but Zach knows what he does (and) we know what he does well. So we gave him a lot of reps and he took advantage of them."
One play Bielema is referring to is a draw play during the last session of practice. Brown was patient, burst through the whole and streaked down the sideline, out-running his pursuers, for a 60-plus yard touchdown.
"John Clay has probably practiced Saturday and today as good as he's practiced all fall," Bielema said. "Zach really performed well, as you saw today on that little draw play. Zach's really taking into camp, in my opinion, as good as he's ever been."
Bielema also mentioned that true freshman Montee Ball has run the ball very well over the last week and he expected him to be a contributor this season.
The Center of Attention
With junior John Moffitt out with a strained pectoral muscle, true freshman Travis Frederick had been getting most of the reps at center with the No. 1 offense, and has been doing an admirable job. According to Bielema, through Saturday, he could only recall two quarterback-center exchanges in seven practices that did not fluidly.
Frederick played tackle with limited exposure to guard at Walworth Big Foot High School, but was recruiting by offensive line coach Bob Bostad to play guard. Upon arrival in January, Frederick was also reped at center, putting even more responsibilities on his plate.
On Monday, Frederick was given the night off from center and redshirt freshman Peter Konz filled in. What's ironic is Konz has seen even more diversity that Frederick, as he's practice at all three positions on the offensive line and has even played some defensive line when UW's depth was stricken with injuries.
"Travis has a lot on his plate, and we just felt that Pete's beginning to make some strides, too," Bielema said. "We want to recognize guys that made strides."
While the injury list is growing, Bielema clarified a number of the injuries that kept many Badgers sidelined for one or both of the Badgers sidelined on Monday, although nothing was deemed incredibly serious.
True freshman quarterback Jon Budmayr, who missed time in the spring with a lower leg injury, did not practice in team drills in the morning practice and was limited during the night session. According to Bielema, Budmayr tweaked part of his arm that has limited his ability to throw the football.
"He came out here and threw a little bit here tonight," Bielema said. "He should be back. He just threw a lot of balls and was a little bit sore, so they backed off him."
Junior wide receiver Kyle Jefferson practice in the morning, but got really dehydrated between practices and was held out for precautionary measures.
"We didn't want to push him out there until he felt good enough to get back in the mix," Bielema said of Jefferson.
In addition to Jefferson, Bielema made note of many players the Badgers are holding out for one practice of two-a-days to rest specific injuries, something Bielema calls giving a ‘limited pitch count.' That group consists of Aaron Henry, Sam Spitz, Bradie Ewing, Jaevery McFadden and Kevin Rouse.
Bielema is also hopefully that freshman Mike Taylor will finally be able to get healthy and be able to practice 100 percent.
Lastly, Bielema was pleased to get the medical report that projected starting right guard Bill Nagy and backup safety Dezmen Southward got positive medical reports on their casted hands and are progressing nicely.
"They can get cleared for contact," Bielema said. "Billy still has a little bit of an issue with his foot, so he isn't back out there yet, but I expect him back hopefully by the end of sometime this week, but definitely next week."
Bielema's Quote of the Night
"I'll never forget the first time I ever saw Kevin Zeitler. I was watching him do the weight room workout. He has 100 conversations with himself every day. He was over there just going about his business and very focused. "I remember last summer I came in and he was in the indoor facility and we talked about playing him at center, so he was snapping the ball up against the wall. And he said, ‘Coach, can I put some tape on the wall to create a strike zone.' (I said), ‘Knock yourself out.' I came in an hour later and he had tape up and he was still snapping, on his own. If you come down and you get real close to the cage work, he's grunting, he's straining, he's competing and that's why he's in a position he's in right now. He carries a little chip on his shoulder. He is a little bit undersized maybe height-wise, but he's got really long arms, so he can probably play like a 6-5 guy."
Wisconsin returns to the practice field Tuesday at 3:50 p.m.