Six offensive players for Wisconsin receive All-Big Ten recognition

MADISON | A day after the Big Ten announced its yearly honorees on the defensive side of the ball, the conference flipped over to the other side on Wednesday with several Badgers being recognized.

Following his first real year as the marquee running back and gaining 1,140 yards and scoring 13 touchdowns, senior Corey Clement was named first-team All-Big Ten by the coaches and second team by the media.

The only other first-team selection for the Badgers was left tackle Ryan Ramczyk, a consensus pick by the coaches and media in his first year of playing Division I football after two years at Division III UW-Stevens Point.

Meanwhile, tight end Troy Fumagalli was a second-team pick by the coaches and a third-team selection by the media, while guard Beau Benzschawel also received second-team honors from the coaches and third-team from the writers.

Garnering honorable mention from both block of voters was center Michael Deiter and wide receiver Jazz Peavy.

Wisconsin’s opponent in Saturday night’s Big Ten title game, Penn State, had several players honored, including running back Saquon Barkley, who was named the Big Ten offensive player of the year.

You can find a full list of the award winners here:

Wisconsin football: Practice report 8/13

MADISON | The Wisconsin football team was back on the field Saturday morning for the first of two practices on the day.

Getting testy

A pair of scuffles ended the practice about 15 plays early, with head coach Paul Chryst shutting things down and forcing the entire team to do wind sprints back and forth across the field.

The first altercation came at the end of a long catch and run by wide receiver Reggie Love. A defensive back knocked the ball out of his hands late, a scrum for the fumble ensued and Love came up swinging, first at safety Joe Ferguson and then at cornerback Titus Booker.

On the very next snap, tight end Kyle Penniston got into it with a defender and once again punches were thrown as the tussle spilled over into the bench area. Seconds later, every player was lined up on the sideline and doing multiple gassers.

“We’ve got (only) so much time, and how we use that time is up to us,” Chryst told reporters after practice. “I thought we had a couple of undisciplined things and that maybe we needed to address the discipline part of it. So, that’s how we’re going to spend our energy. I’d prefer that we do that in other ways, but that was the purpose behind that.”

Following the sprints, Chryst gathered the team up on the opposite side of the field from where reporters were standing and appeared to rip into them about the opportunities lost by their actions. That was followed up by sophomore linebacker Chris Orr asking and being allowed to address his fellow players, and do so with emphatic gestures.

“Reps are valuable,” Chryst said. “That’s what makes you mad when we use our time elsewhere. That’s 15 more reps that we can get. That’s 22 guys, 15 more reps — my math isn’t quick — but it’s a pretty good number.”

It wasn’t just the fights that bothered Chryst. For the first time in fall camp, there were officials present and there were a number of mental errors that resulted in flags being thrown, something Chryst considers to be a discipline matter.

“Discipline comes in so many ways,” the second-year coach said. “There’s great [teaching] moments and you want to learn from them.”

Injuries and rest

Wisconsin was without eight players on Saturday that are currently projected to be starters.

Four of them – safety D’Cota Dixon, left guard Dan Voltz, right tackle Jake Maxwell and wide receiver Rob Wheelwright – were held out for rest as part of a schedule to limit their reps in fall camp. Those four, along with tight end Eric Steffes, were expected to take part in Saturday night’s practice that is closed to the media.

The other four – running back Corey Clement (hamstring), right guard Beau Benzschawel (shoulder), inside linebacker T.J. Edwards (foot) and wide receiver Jazz Peavy (chest) – are dealing with injuries.

Up and down

It wasn’t a great day by either of the starting quarterback candidates, but Alex Hornibrook had the best throw. Rolling to his left, the redshirt freshman found Love streaking behind the defense for a 70-yard touchdown. Hornibrook doesn’t have the fastball of senior Bart Houston, but his deep balls are on point more often than not.

As for who will be under center come Sept. 3 against LSU, a decision, as expected, still hasn’t been made, according to Chryst.

“No, if I would have [chosen a starter] I would have started with that, and then I wouldn’t have to talk about all this other stuff,” Chryst said half-jokingly in reference to the discipline issues that dominated his post-practice press conference.

Asked what he saw from the two quarterbacks this week, Chryst simply said, “They’re working. I like it.”

Two-way player?

For the first time in fall camp, cornerback Derrick Tindal got some time running routes as a wide receiver. The junior was impressive in limited opportunities in the spring, and might be a part-time possibility for Chryst and company.

Young receiver continues to make plays

True freshman Quintez Cephus abused one of Wisconsin’s veteran defensive backs on a slant and go route during 1-on-1’s, resulting in a touchdown. When the wide receiver caught the ball, the defensive back was nearly 10 yards behind him.

It was the continuation of a strong first week for Cephus, who along with fellow freshman A.J. Taylor, has turned some heads.

“I think they’ve done some good things to where they’ve earned the right to keep getting more reps,” Chryst said. “[But they] absolutely have a long way to go.”

Watt causing havoc

Second day in a row that T.J. Watt forced a fumble in team drills. This time he took his blocker and slammed him right into running back Dare Ogunbowale, jarring the ball loose and the defense recovered. Later, the junior battled a ball down at the line of scrimmage. When Watt is around the ball, good things usually happen for the Badgers.

Listen to Chryst’s full post-practice press conference with reporters:

Wisconsin football: Practice report 8/12

MADISON | For the first time this fall the Wisconsin football team put on the full pads for practice, and the 2 ½ hour session saw plenty of contact and bodies flying around.

Stepping up

The quarterback battle hasn’t been decided yet, but Alex Hornibrook made a pretty convincing case on Friday. The redshirt freshman has such great touch on his deep ball, and showed that off on a 35-yard completion to Rob Wheelwright, floating the ball over the corner and right into the receiver’s waiting arms. He had one interception but also threw four touchdowns during a red zone period.

Big catches

Wisconsin threw the ball all over the field on Friday and more often than not, when it was a contested ball, the offense was able to come down with it. That was never more true on a touchdown from Bart Houston to Wheelwright. Cornerback Sojourn Shelton had perfect coverage, but the ball was just placed right where it had to be and Wheelwright was able to maintain his concentration and bring the pass in.

Play-maker

T.J. Watt has big shoes to fill this fall in replacing All-American Joe Schobert. But the outside linebacker showed a propensity to cause havoc when he was around the ball in limited playing time a year ago, and he showed it once again on Friday. In the first drill of the practice, Watt fended off a block and managed to strip running back Dare Ogunbowale of the ball with a tomahawk chop, and the defense recovered.

Always around the ball

Perhaps no player has more interceptions in fall camp or spring practice over the last three seasons than safety Leo Musso. He got his first of this camp when a ball from Houston sailed over Troy Fumagalli’s head and into Musso’s waiting arms.

The Waunakee product is running with the starters to this point, something he did as a redshirt freshman and again last year before losing out before the season began. Now, in his final go-around, he’s hoping this is the year the job belongs to him.

“This could be my last year of football and that’s how I’m approaching it,” Musso said after Friday’s practice. “Obviously, I hope I’m starting. But if it’s not me, then it’s what’s best for the team. At the end of the day, that’s all that matters.”

Injuries

Running back Corey Clement didn’t take part in practice as he deals with a hamstring injury. The senior took part is some rehab at the beginning of the session, but was mostly a spectator the rest of the day.

Clement is coming off a season in which he missed eight games due to a sports hernia that required surgery.

Another starter, right guard Beau Benzschawel, left practice late and was being evaluated for a shoulder injury. The redshirt sophomore was injured in last year’s fall camp, too, and missed the first six games of the season.

Out:
LB T.J. Edwards (foot)
OL Jon Dietzen (head)
OL George Panos (shoulder)
S Keelon Brookins (groin)

Wisconsin football preview: Offensive line, tight ends

MADISON – The Wisconsin football team will open fall camp on Aug. 8, so over the next few days we’ll be going position-by-position to preview head coach Paul Chryst’s second team in Madison.

Today it’s the tight ends and offensive line:

Offensive line

Perhaps no positional group was more impacted by the Gary Andersen era at Wisconsin than the offensive line. When Chryst and several other assistants left for Pittsburgh after the 2011 season, the line was the strength of the team, constantly among the best units in the country. By the time Chryst returned to Madison in January of 2015 he barely recognized the group that for so long had been the driving force behind Wisconsin’s power run game. It was a contributing factor to the Badgers struggling to move the ball on the ground a year ago, averaging just 150.3 yards per game – their lowest since 1995.

Now there was some bad luck that led to what took place, namely career-ending injuries to several highly-rated recruits over the last three years. It forced young guys to play earlier than they were ready. Still, rebuilding the group, especially in the weight room, has been among the top priorities for the Badgers. And though the nucleus that makes up this year’s line is still relatively young, it’s hoped the trials and tribulations they overcame a season ago will bear fruit this fall.

What we know for sure as camp opens is that redshirt sophomore Michael Deiter (13 starts: seven at left guard, six at center in 2015) will man the center spot. He was so impressive last year after replacing an injured Dan Voltz, that even Voltz – an All-Big Ten player — told the coaching staff that Deiter was better than him and should remain the starter.

It’s also believed that junior Ryan Ramczyk will get the start at left tackle after transferring in from Division III UW-Stevens Point. Though forced to sit out last year due to NCAA transfer rules, Ramczyk earned high praise for his work on the scout team. Former linebacker Joe Schobert called him the best offensive tackle he faced last year.

Meanwhile, it seems likely that sophomore Beau Benzschawel, who added 15 pounds to his frame after starting eight games a year ago, will get the nod at right guard.

Redshirt sophomore Jacob Maxwell, who started three games a year ago at right tackle, is the favorite to win that spot, though a leg injury suffered at the end of spring impacted his summer workouts. If he struggles, Benzschawel could be bumped out there.

The one spot that appears a bit uncertain is left guard. When spring practice ended, redshirt freshman Jon Dietzen was with the first-team offense, while redshirt sophomore Micah Kapoi worked with the second-team at both left and right guard.

Where the uncertainty comes in is what to do with Voltz. The senior has dealt with injuries throughout his career, and suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in late October of last year. He missed all of spring practice and was also noticeably lighter than the 303 pounds he was listed at last season. With Deiter entrenched at center, Voltz volunteered to move to guard – a position he’s never played in college. It remains to be seen if he can make the transition.

Two-deep projection:
LT: Ryan Ramczyk, David Moorman
LG: Jon Dietzen, Dan Voltz
C: Michael Deiter, Dan Voltz
RG: Beau Benzschawel, Micah Kapoi
RT: Jake Maxwell, Brett Connors

Many have pegged Voltz as the starter at left guard. While I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if it happens, I struggle with the idea that it’ll be an easy move. He’s supposed to play a new position after missing most of the offseason and do so at less than 300 pounds? Wisconsin will play its best five linemen, but it’s not a foregone conclusion that Voltz will be among them.

Though not in the two-deep, it’s possible that true freshman Cole Van Lanen – the top recruit in UW’s 2016 recruiting class – could end up there by the end of camp. He’ll start his career at left tackle, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

Tight ends

Entering his junior season, Troy Fumagalli is poised to become one of the better tight ends in the Big Ten. At 6-foot-6, 248 pounds, the Illinois native is the perfect target for an inexperienced quarterback and should serve as a nice security blanket. Last year, he had 28 catches for 313 yards despite being limited early in the year with an ankle injury. With Austin Traylor now trying to earn a job with the Dallas Cowboys, Fumagalli is far and away the top target at the position.

That said, redshirt freshman Kyle Penniston could steal some of his action. A four-star recruit out of California, Penniston is a talented receiver that can be a mismatch for a linebacker. He averaged nearly 14 yards per catch as a senior in high school and should be a nice option for whoever wins the quarterback battle.

Eric Steffes returns for his senior season. Battered by injuries throughout his time, Steffes is a solid run blocker and will be effective when Wisconsin goes to the two and three tight end sets that Chryst likes.

Behind those three is a lot of intrigue. With redshirt freshman David Edwards moving to offensive tackle, it leaves room for one of the young guys to perhaps earn some time. The most likely candidate is Mitchell Herl, who has put on 40-plus pounds since arriving last summer. He showed glimpses of being able to get open during fall camp last year, and if he can still do that while having gained the necessary weight to play the position, he could be a contributor in the near future.

Two-deep projection

TE1 – Troy Fumagalli, Kyle Penniston
TE2 – Eric Steffes, Mitchell Herl

Monday: Quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers
Tuesday: Offensive line, tight ends
Tomorrow: Defensive line