Zach Brown: Although he said his confidence never wavered, it's hard to imagine Zach Brown felt really good about himself after ball-security problems dropped him down to the third string. But after a positive offseason in which Brown added some weight and confidence, the senior from Palm Beach, Florida, is running with a purpose again, showing poise and speed in the offense for Wisconsin.
A week ago, Brown's burst was the best of the day when he cruised right through the defense, not stopping until the whistle was blown 30 yards down the field. Add his four runs up during that set without the whistles and Brown could have pushed 60 rushing yards. A season ago, Brown's season high was 63 yards, but he didn't have the quickness or shiftiness in his game since he was a freshman.
Brown started to turn heads a day earlier with not only his speed, but his physicality. On third-and-two, the senior let his lineman initiate their blocks and then muscled into for a first down. Brown has also shown he can provide a solid pass-catching option out of the backfield, catching a number of passes in front of the linebackers throughout camp – a part of John Clay's game that is still in development.
With the Heisman hopeful on the sideline, Brown is taking advantage and pushing towards getting back into the mix.
Jon Budmayr: When redshirt Curt Phillips tearing the ACL in his right knee, sidelining him for possibly the entire 2010 season, it means redshirt freshman Jon Budmayr will be the No.2 quarterback. Budmayr has battled the injury bug in the last two years, missing virtually his entire senior year of high school after suffering a fractured collarbone in his right shoulder and suffered a partially torn muscle in his right forearm during the first week of fall camp that shut him down for eight weeks.
One never would know it with the way he's thrown the ball during two weeks of spring camp. Sure he still makes some bad throws, tries to force things and shows lack of experience, but one thing Budmayr has is confidence. Budmayr routinely goes through his progressions, isn't afraid to step up in the pocket with his sub 6-foot frame and make a confident throw and, most importantly, can uncork a deep ball on time and on target, something he has routinely done with Jared Abbrederis.
"(Jon's) got an arm," Head Coach Bret Bielema said. "He's not afraid to throw it, you can tell that. I like the ability that he has. I thought Scotty and Jon both today stepped up in the pocket real nice. Jon knows that he's limited on the height, but the great thing is this is his second spring practice. Guys that come in early really benefit from this time."
Aaron Henry: Initially, Henry was sad about the move to safety, saying that he didn't like the change at all because he grew up playing cornerback and enjoyed the challenge of playing one of the toughest positions in football. Henry started working on the new safety role on scout toward the end of the season and during bowl prep, but didn't get satisfaction from the role until sitting down in the film room with Jim Leonhard and Chris Maragos.
"I have never met Peyton Manning and I am sure he is pretty smart, but I would almost put it on the house that Jimmy Leonhard is as smart as he is man," Henry said. "It's really like a chess game. Listening to him and what he's telling me and his progressions presnap, it goes along with the game of football."
The work has shown, as Henry has showed poise, as well as timing to take timely swipes or plays on the ball. Henry has gone toe-to-toe often with Nick Toon, causing for some highly competitive battles and circus catches. Henry is the early favorite to start opposite Jay Valai at safety, as he has started to find a level of comfort and confidence in the secondary.
Scott Tolzien: It would have been interesting to see what role Phillips would have played in the offense if he would have stayed healthy. The injury to Phillips means Tolzien should run the show from start to finish, foregoing the two-quarterback system Wisconsin used at parts during the non-conference season. Thank goodness for that, because Tolzien has looked calm, confident and precise more times than not.
The year under center has certainly made Tolzien look more polished in his throws with more zip on his fastball. The chemistry he has developed with returning starters Lance Kendricks and Nick Toon is easily noticeable, and that has to excite Wisconsin fans about the potential he's bringing to the table.
Jared Abbrederis: Do we have a young Luke Swan in the making? It may be too early to see, but it's clear the redshirt freshman walk-on is making heads turn with his abilities through two weeks of spring practice. A track star at Wautoma High in Wisconsin, Abbrederis is the favorite target of Budmayr, and the two have routinely made defensive backs pay.
Abbrederis has used his track speed to consistently get behind defensive backs and catch Budmayr's long passes, a product of the two working long hours on timing during the winter. Abbrederis spent all of last season on the scout team with a knee brace, a comfort factor for him as he got over the psychological recovery of a torn ACL and a broken femur he suffered in high school.
"I feel a lot quicker without my brace on," Abbrederis said. "That might be something for them (the DBs) to think about. They are a great group of guys and we just go out there to compete every day and have fun."
It's hard to tell if Abbrederis will get playing time in the receiving corps with three seniors and Nick Toon in line for a breakout season, but Abbrederis certainly is one to watch in the seasons to come.
Kevin Claxton: With Wisconsin experiencing a shortage at linebacker, the Badgers felt that moving Claxton into the linebacker position would help with depth issues. So far, the move seemingly has paid off nicely. Nicknamed everything from ‘the wild card' to the ‘hybrid,' Claxton has shown more jump and made more plays in two weeks of spring practices than he's made in his first two seasons.
Increasing his weight up to 220 pounds, Claxton has shown a good jump on the ball and has embraced the role after having never played it in high school. Currently backing up at the Sam linebacker position, Claxton's role may change when Mike Taylor comes back into the lineup. For the meantime, Claxton has shown that the linebacker position is a more natural fit for him, especially since he hasn't shied away from contact in the least.
Ryan Groy: Missing Gabe Carimi and John Moffitt for a good portion of camp is nothing new to the Wisconsin, as the veteran duo was virtually sidelined throughout fall camp, allowing newcomers to step into the fold and potentially contribute. Of those rookies, Groy has been decent lining up against Patrick Butrym, giving him a realistic game experience.
Groy has added 15 pounds, mostly muscle, and looks to be a solid up-and-coming lineman.
"It's been good," Groy said. "I've gotten a lot more reps than I did in the fall and I am developing more as a player. I am getting into the playbook more and getting help from the older guys."
Kevin Rouse: It seems simple, but it's amazing what being healthy can do for a player. The junior has been plagued with injuries during his first two seasons, but the linebacker is starting to take a stand, especially with Chris Borland and Mike Taylor on the sidelines. Rouse has shown his ability to read what the offense gives him and to pick his spots.
He's looked solid in coverage with his deceptive speed, including covering Brown step-for-step on a flair route in a recent practice. Rouse also has registered a plenty of tackle for losses and sacks in 11-on-11 coverage, giving the Badgers another healthy option at linebacker.
"He's fun to watch," Defensive Coordinator Dave Doeren said. "I just told him that he has had the best eight practices he's had since he's been a Badger. He's nowhere near what winning football is for us right now. He's got to be better, but he's finally healthy and understanding the scheme."
Stuck in Neutral
Montee Ball and Company: It's hard to put a guy that finished second on team in rushing yards (391), rushing touchdowns (4) and rushing attempts (98) a year ago on the neutral list, but Ball is in a tough spot. Ball bruised his right shoulder during a scrimmage on a hit from Valai, forcing him to wear a green non-contact jersey in three practices last week.
Ball isn't alone in the injury department, as freshman Brian Wozniak (strained MCL) has missed valuable time, sophomore Brendan Kelly (undisclosed surgery) and senior Niles Brinkley (hamstring) have all missed significant time through two weeks of camp. You can easily put any of them in the neutral category but with Ball missing 11-on-11 time, it hurts him in the short run.
"I wouldn't say John being out is good, but I do get the opportunity to get more reps and get better as an individual," Ball said. "I think after a week off, I'll be good. For this upcoming season, I'll be ready, I'll be prepared and be use to the speed of the game."
Marcus Cromartie: One the second day of camp, Bielema said he approached roughly 15 guys and told them that they need to do something this spring or others are going to move past them in the rotation. Cromartie was one of those guys.
"You know, Marcus is a work in progress," Bielema said. "It's time (to play). It's going to be interesting to see (him) when the pads show up."
So far, the only real hit Cromartie has made is getting into a shoving match with Gabe Carimi. Cromartie didn't have a stellar practice and has struggled in coverage, only intercepting one pass and that was on a deflected pass courtesy of a heads-up play by Claxton.
A year after he had plenty more good practices than bad ones by showing good technique and footwork, Cromartie seems to have Secondary Coach Chris Ash in his ear more than anybody else, which is saying something. This next two weeks will be vital for him in pushing for playing time in the defense instead of special teams.
Antonio Fenelus: After one week of spring practice, Fenelus looked to be in the same rut that he was in his sophomore season. Although he started in five of the 13 games he played in, Fenelus' up-and-down play eventually pushed him on to the special teams units, a place where he found some success. Still, Fenelus was brought to Madison to play cornerback, a position he has yet to master consistently.
Fenelus look very amateur in his first week, getting beat on a variety of routes and looking frustrated. In week two, Fenelus started with three passes broken up and one interception. During the scrimmage, Fenelus made a number of solid tackles, including one on a quick screen to Toon where he wrapped up and stopped him for no gain.
Fenelus is certainly capable of being a good cornerback, but needs to show the coaches and himself that he has the consistency to be an every-down player in the Big Ten.
Tues. April 6: Practice closed to the media
Thurs. April 8: Practice closed to the media
Sat. April 10: Practice open to the media
Tues. April 13: Practice closed to the media
Thurs. April 15: Practice closed to the media
Fri. April 16: Practice open to the media
Sat. April 17: Spring game – 2 p.m.