Working on kickoff, kickoff return and split team work, the Badgers are starting to fine tune some areas heading for their season opener September 5. And just like so many other practices this season, they had a light rain to deal with.
But unlike other practices, the Badgers are heading into tomorrow's scrimmage with a clear idea who is going to be Wisconsin's starting quarterback – junior Scott Tolzien. With fall camp now being closed to the media, Tolzien's performance on Tuesday showed onlookers that he is worthy of the starting position.
Tolzien completed his first three passes during the drill, including a 17-yard pass to Appleton over the middle of the field. When Sherer came in, Appleton looked just as solid. He ran a crisp slant route toward the sideline, caught the pass in stride, and got both feet down in bounds to complete the catch.
Appleton has battled back after a trying week, adjusting to the speed of the game and overcoming a sore hamstring, to make some solid plays in the last three practices. In addition to his completion to Tolzien, Sherer also went 3-for-3 on his attempts.
Phillips went 4-for-9, his five misses being when he overthrew Kyle Jefferson and Kraig Appleton on a go route down the middle of the field, overthrew Brian Wozniak down the left sideline, saw Shelton Johnson make a good defensive play to knock the ball away and saw a pass tipped by A.J. Fenton over the middle of the field. His best pass can on an inside slant route to Lance Kendricks across the middle.
Since throwing four interceptions in Saturday's scrimmage, Phillips has struggled with his accuracy and appears to have fallen behind Tolzien on the depth chart.
Team Drill Notes
Tolzien was the first quarterback up with the first-team offense, and he got off to an auspicious start, getting ‘sacked' by J.J. Watt and proceeding to throw the ball into Louis Nzegwu's helmet. Tolzien did live up to his reputation as a smart player though. As he was about to get leveled by a defensive tackle, Tolzien spotted Wozniak wide open in front of the secondary and unloaded a pass to him off his back foot.
Tolzien also adjusted when he read blitz. Seeing Valai race up from his safety spot on a blitz, Tolzien unloaded his pass quickly to Appleton on an inside slant route, a pass Appleton hauled in with ease.
Tolzien finished 11-for-16 (68.8 percent completion percentage) during team and skeleton drills, making five straight completions at one points. His numbers could have been better had Toon been able to haul in a bullet pass and Rob Korslin hadn't dropped another.
Tolzien also doesn't seem to get rattled. When his primary receiver was locked down in coverage, Tolzien scanned the field and saw Lance Kendricks had a step on his linebacker defender, making him an east target for Tolzien.
Phillips went 1-for-3 in replacement of Tolzien, getting plenty of help from his offensive line on a seven-player blitz for his one completion, as the line gave him enough time to find Kyle Jefferson open in the flat.
Moving the Chains
Tolzien didn't cool down when the Badgers started to move the chains, as his first completion went to Nick Toon for a 20-yard gain. Only when Toon missed a diving catch did Tolzien finally throw an incompletion. In what has been a rarity all camp, Zach Brown coughed up the football on a dive up the middle and it was recovered by the defense.
Phillips came in next after the sudden change and promptly hit Appleton on a rollout to the right but two failed run plays caused Tolzien's unit to come back on to the field. Additionally, Phillips was given the last opportunity of practice in the opponent's red zone, but overthrew Brian Wozniak on third down. Dustin Sherer did not participate in the team or move the chains drill.
Firing his first pass high to Appleton, and nearly being interception by safety Chris Maragos on the deflection, Tolzien fired wide to Toon, trying to put the ball where only he could catch. On third-and-10, Tolzien finally connected with Toon over the middle for a 15-yard gain. The coverage was solid on Toon, but Tolzien fired a rocket in what needed to be a perfect pass.
Tolzien also showed some gusto. On third-and-two, Tolzien easily had the first down with a pass over the middle to Toon, but decided to get greedy by going downfield for Kendricks. Another perfect pass hit Kendricks midstride and gave the Badgers a 26-yard gain down to the 26.
Tolzien's only bad decision on the drive was on first-and-10 from the 15 when Tolzien went for the touchdown toward Isaac Anderson, despite Anderson being heavily covered by Devin Smith. The pass was slightly underthrown, allowing Smith to nearly pick off the pass with a leaping try, but ended up deflecting off his shoulder pads.
Tolzien made up for it on third down, splitting two defenders to hit Toon for the touchdown. John Clay was also a big contributor to the drive, as three of his rushes went more than six yards.
Jon Budmayr gave onlookers a double take Tuesday evening when he did ball carrying drills with Wisconsin's running backs and fullbacks. Is he thinking of a change of positions? Not really, as the freshman quarterback was simply working on ball security and agility after having a sore arm throughout spring. Is it an interesting thought though?
Kraig Appleton continued to build his impressive catch list. During one-on-one drills, Appleton simply reached over the head of sophomore cornerback Antonio Fenelus, hauling in the pass after a brief juggle.
The hardest hit all evening arguably came from safety coach Randall McCray. During 9-on-9 (no wide receivers or cornerbacks), Valai read the play right, rushing up to the line of scrimmage to fill the gab and laid a good hit on the ball carrier. McCray came up screaming with glee from 15-yards out and put a good slap on Valai's helmet that echoed in the empty stadium.
Wisconsin has four more practices this week before camp closes.
Bielema is expected to release his depth chart for the season opener Thursday morning, instead of the originally scheduled Wednesday evening deadline. Bielema wants to let everything sink in and have a personnel meeting sometime after to make final decisions. Bielema will also hand out Northern Illinois scouting reports to the team Thursday morning.