Badgers: A look inside spring practice

MADISON — The Wisconsin football team was on the practice field for a fourth time this spring Tuesday morning, but it was the first time the media was allowed in to watch.

Over the roughly 2-hour, 20-minute practice, we got our initial look at freshman quarterback Graham Mertz, saw how things could play out at linebacker with three starters gone and got a glimpse at some of the younger players that may see increased roles in 2019.

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The quarterbacks

Paul Chryst said the goal this spring isn’t to determine which quarterback will be starting in the fall, but the distribution of reps on Tuesday suggests junior Jack Coan is the leader at this point. He ran the first-team offense throughout practice and was always the first quarterback up in any team drills.

His best drive of the day came near the start of practice, leading the offense right down the field and finding wide receiver A.J. Taylor for a 20-yard touchdown. Coan barely missed two more big plays to Kendric Pryor later on with both passes just glancing off the wide receiver’s fingertips.

The other three quarterbacks — redshirt sophomore Danny Vanden Boom, redshirt freshman Chase Wolf and Mertz — split time after Coan. Each had their moments, though the highlight play of the day came courtesy of Mertz. He dropped a perfect deep ball right on wide receiver Aron Cruickshank for what would have been a 50-yard touchdown.

We have no idea how it’s going to play out, but Mertz’s talent is apparent. With some true freshmen that have come in, you could tell after one or two passes that it wasn’t going to work that year or perhaps ever. With Mertz, the highest-rated quarterback recruit in UW history, it’s the opposite. He’s physically on the same playing field, and in some cases, higher than what is on the rest of the roster. The biggest question, and not one we’ll get an answer to anytime soon, is will that equal out to him starting at some point this fall?

Still, pretty, pretty, pretty good

We’ve seen remarkable things from Jonathan Taylor through his first two years on campus and he continued to dazzle on Tuesday. On a play during team drills, the junior looked as if he was about to burst through one hole only to stop on a dime and cut through another for what would have been at least a 50-yard touchdown. Perhaps it’s being three months clear of any contact, but Taylor looked leaner and quicker than he did at the end of last season.

Making plays

Few guys made more plays in fall camp last year than Scott Nelson. As a redshirt freshman, the safety was all over the place picking off passes and knocking down the ones he didn’t catch. For whatever reason, that didn’t transfer over to the regular season. Some of it was the result of a knee injury he dealt with all year, but the Badgers didn’t get the guy they thought they had coming into the year.

Well, on Tuesday, the redshirt sophomore was back to being all over the field and making play after play. Among the many was plucking a tipped pass out of the air for an interception in the end zone.

The early enrollees

Mertz isn’t the only early enrollee. Linebackers Leo Chenal and Spencer Lytle are also going through spring ball.

As you’ve certainly heard, Chenal doesn’t look like a true freshman. At 6-foot-2, 239 pounds, he’s built more like a senior and has the strength of one as well. He came up with one of the plays of the day, going low to grab an interception.

Missing in action

Notable players that missed practice or were limited:
C Tyler Biadasz (out for spring)
LT Cole Van Lanen (out for spring)
OL Jason Erdmann (limited)
RB Bradrick Shaw (knee/hip, limited)
WR Danny Davis (leg, out)
TE Luke Benzschawel (leg, out)
DE Garrett Rand (out)
CB Madison Cone (out)

How they lined up

As you’d expect in spring, the Badgers rotated a ton of guys at a bunch of different spots during team drills. They were also missing quite a few players (see above) that will play significant roles this fall. With that said, here’s our best effort at a rough depth chart based on what we saw Tuesday.

OFFENSE

QB |
1) Jack Coan (JR)
2) Danny Vanden Boom (RS SO) OR Chase Wolf (RS FR) OR Graham Mertz (FR)

RB
1) Jonathan Taylor (JR)
2) Garrett Groshek (JR)
3) Nakia Watson (RS FR)

FB
1) Mason Stokke (RS SO)
2) John Chenal (SO)

WR
1) A.J. Taylor (SR)
2) Kendric Pryor (JR)
3) Aron Cruickshank (SO)
4) Jack Dunn (JR)
5) Adam Krumholz (JR), Taj Mustapha (RS FR), AJ Abbott (RS FR)

TE
1) Jake Ferguson (RS SO)
2) Gabe Lloyd (JR)
3) Coy Wanner (RS SO)

LT
1) David Moorman (SR)
2) Cormac Sampson (RS FR)

LG
1) Josh Seltzner (RS SO)
2) Andrew Lyons (RS FR)

C
1) Kayden Lyles (RS SO)
2) Alex Fenton (RS SO)

RG
1) Logan Bruss (RS SO)
2) Michael Furtney (RS FR)

RT
1) Tyler Beach (RS SO)
2) Aaron Vopal (RS SO)

DEFENSE

DE
1) Matt Henningsen (RS SO)
2) Isaiah Mullens (RS FR)

NT
1) Bryson Williams (SO)
2) Gunner Roberge (SR)

DE
1) Isaiahh Loudermilk (JR)
2) David Pfaff (SR)

OLB
1) Zack Baun (SR)
2) Tyler Johnson (SR)

ILB
1) Chris Orr (SR)
2) Mike Maskalunas (JR)

ILB
1) Jack Sanborn (SO)
2) Seth Currens (JR) OR Leo Chenal (FR)

OLB
1) Noah Burks (JR)
2) Izayah Green-May (RS SO)

CB
1) Caesar Williams (JR)
2) Rachad Wildgoose (SO)

S
1) Scott Nelson (RS SO)
2) Reggie Pearson (RS FR)

S
1) Eric Burrell (JR)
2) Collin Wilder (JR)

CB
1) Deron Harrell (RS SO)
2) Donte Burton (RS FR) OR Alex Smith (RS FR)

Slot
1) Faion Hicks (RS SO)

What’s next?

Wisconsin will be back on the field on Thursday for a practice closed to the media.

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