As the snow melted throughout the course of practice, the Wisconsin defense started to heat up (terrible pun, I know), making a number of good plays on the ball and gaining penetration into the backfield.
After a solid outing yesterday, senior quarterback Scott Tolzien picked up right where he left off, as his play-action pass found its mark. With David Gilreath creating enough room against Niles Brinkley for a passing lane, Tolzien didn't miss his opportunity, firing a 15-yard strike that Gilreath hauled in right at the sideline boundary.
It worked so well that the duo tested Brinkley again two plays later, and got the same exact result. After the team drill, Brinkley got his revenge by breaking up a couple of intended passes in one-on-one drills, including one for Gilreath.
Jon Budmayr and Curt Philips each started the first 11-on-11 portion of practice with some passes that sailed well out of bounds on them, but Budmayr looked confident stepping up in the pocket to deliver his throws and Phillips connected his receivers while rolling out of the pocket.
In round two of 11-on-11, Louis Nzegwu showed why he can be a successful rush end, out muscling Lance Kendricks to collapse the pocked around Tolzien to register a ‘sack.' Kevin Rouse followed suit, helping collapse the pocket around Tolzien to deliver another ‘sack.'
Budmayr delivered the best throw of the second session when he stepped up into the pocket amidst pressure to deliver an 18-yard strike to Nick Toon down the middle.
Round three started better for Tolzien and his pocket protection, hitting Toon in stride on a slight roll out to his right, but a huge gap on the left side of the line was compounded with a blitz from Culmer St. Jean forced Tolzien to quickly unload his pass. The rushed throw landed into the hands of a leaping Antonio Fenelus for the interception, although the pass never would have been thrown should it been a game situation.
After J.J. Watt got the better of Casey Dehn on a bull rush for a sack and Nzegwu did the same on the other end against Robert Burge, Budmayr took the reigns and quickly ran a QB option through a gap on the left end. His next drop back wasn't as pretty, as the freshman tripped over himself dropping back in the pocket, causing a, ‘What the hell was that?" comment from Offensive Coordinator Paul Chryst.
Budmayr responded by stepping up in a collapsing pocket and hitting Isaac Anderson in stride on a deep crossing route, somehow managing to see the receiver over the chaos in front of him.
Don't be surprised to see Phillips continue to have a role in the offense moving forward. On back-to-back plays with his secondary covered, Phillips used his legs to get out of the pocket, survey the field and run for a 10-plus yard gain when nothing presented itself.
Aaron Henry showed some poise, as well, waiting for the right time to take a poke at Kendricks on a deep ball across the middle from Tolzien. With the pass being slightly overthrown, Kendricks had to turn around to adjust. After he caught it, Henry took a shot at him before Kendricks hit the ground, a move that jarred the ball loose for an incompletion. In three practices, it looks like Henry is starting to find a level of comfort and confidence in the secondary.
Practice finished with the second-team offense moving down the field and the offense had its usual Budmayr to Jared Abbrederis 40-yard completion, as the freshman-duo beat Dezmen Southward in coverage. It's only been three practices, but Abbrederis could easily be over 300-yards receiving in team drills.
Although the big play got UW a first down inside the 15, the UW defense – thanks to the first team cheering them on – forced Zach Brown out at the 10, a high throw from Budmayr that sailed over Rob Korslin and a ‘sack' from Antony Mains. Budmayr did make a throw after the ‘sack' in the direction of Brown, who appeared the scoop the ball just after it nicked the turf. The debate between the offense and defense whether it was a touchdown is probably still being debated.
7-on-7 skelly drills
Budmayr had some good throws, including a tight spiral to Gilreath that snuck between four defenders, but was the victim twice of Conor O'Neill, who proved that you can take the person from the linebacker but you can't take the linebacker out of the person.
On a pass play in the flat to Bradie Ewing, O'Neill popped Ewing as soon as he turned up field, causing a fumble which he fell on. On the next play, O'Neill dropped into coverage and jumped a Budmayr pass intended for Abbrederis for an interception.
Phillips was also a mixed bag. He finished 4-f-5 but overthrew a wide open Jeff Duckworth in the middle of the field. To his credit, Phillips bounced back quickly to connect with Duckworth despite tight coverage.
On the Road Back
In his spring press conference, Bielema mentioned several players who would not participate in spring practices due to a variety of injuries. While they are not taking part in the reps, many of them are still contributing or conditioning on the field.
Center Peter Konz took snaps during the 7-on-7 drills to sharpen his footwork, offensive lineman Gabe Carimi exercised by doing a shuttle drill, defensive lineman Brendan Kelly worked on his running back John Clay alternating from jogging, watching and doming some light cutting on his left ankle.
Secondary Mic'ed Up
You don't need to put a microphone on secondary coach Chris Ash to know what he's saying to his players. Ash is always talking to the secondary members about something important and making sure the group develops good habits. When Brinkley made a catch during interception drills and started jogging to the middle of the field, Ash stopped him immediately and made him run toward the sideline.
"We intercept, we want to go score," he yelled. "Practice good habits."
Ash also spent time with redshirt cornerback Dezmen Southward, helping the raw former St. Thomas Aquinas athlete focus on his man first, then look for the ball. Southward is an impressive athletic specimen, as his leaping ability shows that he was a good basketball player.
Backing up the Twit
With the loss of both starting defensive tackles last season, there was rumor that due to his versatility, junior lineman J.J. Watt would be moved from the outside (where he had 44 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks) to the inside to help fill the void. Watt silenced those doubts by posting on his Twitter page that he'll be staying at defensive end.
He showed why he's staying there on Tuesday. During run-stopping drills, Watt was consistently gaining pressure into the backfield. Although he only made the ‘tackle' on a handful of occasions, Watt's presence forced the running backs into the waiting arms of Jordan Kohout and Patrick Butrym.
After a day of meetings tomorrow, Wisconsin returns to the practice field for spring practice number four on Thursday at 4:45 p.m.