With such a youthful roster (the Badgers had 51 freshmen and 20 sophomores) on their initial 105-roster) and few seniors, the Badgers are going to be counting on underclassmen to fill the opens spots or give quality depth.
After appearing in 11 games primarily on kickoff unit, Smith has taken steps to mold himself into a solid cornerback. He was one of the few defenders that wasn't fooled by a dive up the middle, staying home on an Isaac Anderson end-around and got rewarded for it, putting his hat on the ball on and popping it loose as Anderson headed to the ground. Jay Valai, a hit man in his own right, was right there to hop on the fumble, giving a point to the defense.
Smith also provided solid coverage on Anderson during 11-on-11, blanketing the junior wide receiver with solid coverage on corner and deep routes. He also has shown over the last three practices that his speed can be used as a weapon. Twice coming in untouched on a corner blitz and registering a ‘sack' on the QBs blindside, Smith came again, but snuffed out a run play and quickly made the adjustment.
Next to Brinkley and Henry, Smith provides another solid option in the secondary.
After tweaking his hamstring last week, freshman Kraig Appleton was back in action for the Badgers and lived up to the hype. Appleton looked like a veteran running routes during 7-on-7, hauling in a couple challenging passes with ease over the middle, and catch virtually everything that came his way during individual work.
Appleton is a huge target (6-foot-3, 202 pounds) and has massive hands, which he told Tolzien, "allows me to be a catching machine." UW has a lot of quality depth at wide receiver, but it would be a shock if the East St. Louis product didn't see the field.
After admitting yesterday he was starting to hit the freshman wall, Missouri running back Montee Ball broke through it, and the UW offensive line, a number of times in red-zone drills. Ball took a stutter step in the backfield, waiting for the opening to develop, and then cut through the defense on his way to the end zone.
Of course, one play after finding the end zone, redshirt freshman linebacker Matthew Grow redeemed the defense by breaking through the second-string offensive line and stopping Ball in the backfield.
The left side of UW's first-string offensive line was overhauled on Wednesday morning due to the injury to Carimi and junior Jake Bscherer out with an unknown ailment.
In his place of Carimi with the first-string offensive line was converted tight end Ricky Wagner, who did an admirable job, and sophomore Jake Current, who returns from a concussion, stepped in for Bscherer.
Robert Burge, Ryan Groy, Peter Konz, Joe Schafter and Casey Dehn made the second-string offensive line from left to right (all freshmen), while Brian Wozniak and Zach Davison were the tight ends usually in motion.
No changes with the first-team defense either. Schofield, Stehle, Moore and Watt on the line from left to right, McFadden, St. Jean and Sorensen as the backers and the secondary was Henry, Valai, Maragos and Smith/Brinkley.
The Daily QB Report
For the fourth straight practice, freshman Curt Phillips found himself to be the first one under center. Unlike other days when he impressed with his throws, Wednesday morning he impressed with his maneuverability. Phillips faked the handoff and showed speed running around the end, once getting a solid block from Appleton to earn a solid gain. It was his work in the pocket, however, that was impressive.
Twice during team drills did Phillips avoid potential trouble and turned the end result into a positive. He clearly avoided a near sack by doing a spin move to his left and completing the pass downfield. He also avoided a blitz by sprinting out to his left and hitting an open receiver in the flat. Later on, Phillips sensed J.J. Watt coming from his blind side and took off through a hole in the middle for an easy 15-yard gain. Oh yeah, he also put on a series of moves that resulted in a 55-yard touchdown.
Phillips is working on becoming more of a pocket passer, but he's showing his legs can be an added weapon.
The only bad thing Phillips did all day was when the Wisconsin offense tried to impersonate Brett Favre. On a play from the five-yard line, Phillips tried a jump pass/toss to his right end. However, Phillips put too much touch on the pass, which was easily picked off by Shelton Johnson
Scott Tolzien also got some work in, continuing to work on his new quick release. Senior Dustin Sherer took very few reps as did freshman Jon Budmayr. It's unknown if Sherer has an injury, but Head Coach Bret Bielema is expected to address reporters tonight.
Building Safety Depth
Stepping into the fold has been redshirt freshman Shelton Johnson and sophomore Kevin Claxton, both of whom struggled Wednesday morning on containment. Johnson was late getting to the ball a couple times on an out route, a misstep that incurred the wrath of safety coach Randall McCray, and Claxton looked lost on some route plays.
Even so, Johnson made a nice interception in the red zone and Claxton did provide some solid coverage on run plays, stepping up to fill the gaps voided by the linebackers.
True freshman cornerback Dezmen Southward is healthy and has removed the green jersey. To this point, however, Southward continued to take reps with the cornerbacks, telling me he's going to stay there until he's told otherwise. Southward was recruited from St. Thomas Aquinas to play safety.
As reported last night by Bielema's twitter account, starting left tackle Gabe Carimi suffered a mild sprain of his right knee and should be out no more than two weeks, a huge break for an offensive line that already has to replace three starters. Carimi wore an immobilizer on his knee but did not have crutches, another good sign.
Walk-on Ethan Armstrong continued to recover from a shoulder injury, still sporting a sling. Linebackers Conor O'Neill and Michael Taylor along with defensive lineman Dan Cascone, Pat Muldoon and Brendan Kelly all spent time on the bike and jogging during individual drills.
At the tail end of one of Wisconsin's team sessions, senior wide receiver Richard Kirtley got the wind knocked out of him and needed a couple minutes to compose himself.
On the offensive side of the ball, Bradie Ewing and Kyle Jefferson were able to return to practice. Ewing looked decent in run blocking drills, appearing to be fully healed from a soar growing, and Jefferson made some good catches in position work.
It looks like the shoulder problem Jeff Duckworth has experienced since the start of camp is almost behind him. Duckworth, who still wore a green no-contact jersey, ran some solid routes and made some solid catches during individual work, opening the door for him to return to practice sometime this week.
Wisconsin returns to the practice field tonight at 7:40 p.m. for fall practice number 12.