Wide receivers Jazz Peavy and George Rushing not currently with Wisconsin

MADISON — Wide receivers Jazz Peavy and George Rushing are not currently with Wisconsin’s football team, head coach Paul Chryst announced Thursday morning.

Peavy played in four games this season, totaling five catches for 55 yards and three rushing attempts for seven yards. He last played in week five against Northwestern. He had been appearing on the injury report handed out by Wisconsin with a right leg injury beginning in week six. Thursday, we was absent from the list.

Rushing injured his left leg in the preseason and has not appeared in a single game this season. He was taken off the injury report Thursday as well.

“For different reasons both are not with the team right now,” Chryst said Thursday. “Certainly different reasons. There’s a lot going on in these guy’s lives. All that matters is that they’re doing alright. It was kind of decided for both to kind of help them navigate everything to take some time away.”

Peavy is a fifth year senior and Rushing is in his fourth year at the program. Since Rushing has not appeared in a game this season, redshirting is a possibility.

“This is his fourth year and he’s going to graduate this year, but we haven’t had those discussions,” Chryst said about Rushing.

Wisconsin football: Practice report 8/19

MADISON | The Wisconsin football team took to the turf at Camp Randall Stadium on Friday afternoon for their second scrimmage of fall camp. They left with plenty of questions still to answer and time running out to do so, as they are now just two weeks from the season opener at Lambeau Field against LSU.

Quarterback battle

The biggest question still facing head coach Paul Chryst is who will be under center against the Tigers when the first-team offense takes the field. On Friday, senior Bart Houston and redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook shared reps with the starting unit, and it appeared that the veteran had the better day.

Houston’s arm strength has always been his calling card and he showed it off, drilling passes into receivers over the middle and not giving the defense an opportunity to make plays on them. He doesn’t always have the greatest touch on deeper passes, but he laid one right on freshman A.J. Taylor in tight coverage for a big gain.

Hornibrook had one touchdown pass, but also a pair of interceptions. One was into triple coverage, and the other came of a tipped ball. It’d be fair to say the Pennsylvania native’s first scrimmage on Monday was better than what he showed on Friday.

Chryst has not given any indication when a decision on a starter needs to be made or will be made. It seems likely that whoever he chooses, it won’t be something that gets announced prior to opening day, especially with practices being closed to the media after Monday.

Musical chairs

The matching and switching of groups along the offensive line continued on Friday. With presumed starters Dan Voltz (left guard) and Jake Maxwell (right tackle) sitting out to rest — they haven’t practiced since Monday — the duo of Micah Kapoi and Jon Dietzen took snaps at left guard, while Brett Connors and even starting right guard Beau Benzschawel saw time with the first-team line at right tackle.

“The execution isn’t where we want it to be yet, so we’ve still got work to do,” Chryst said after practice. “We’re making some strides. I’m not discouraged with them, but I don’t feel like we’ve come close to arriving.”

Assuming Voltz and Maxwell are good to go on Sept. 3, Wisconsin likes the starting group. But if injuries pop up, especially at the tackle spots, the level of concern increases significantly.

Receivers flash

Junior George Rushing and freshman A.J. Taylor each had big days, with both nearly at or above 100 yards receiving. Rushing’s most electric play came on a perfectly-timed slant route from Houston, who put it right on him, and it resulted in a 50-yard gain.

Taylor is the only one of the true freshmen receivers to practice every day and seems to be settling in, especially as he learns the playbook in more detail.

“Those are two guys that have grinded all the way through camp,” Chryst said. “And I think they’re feeling more comfortable with what they’re doing. Both of them have ability.”

True freshmen collide

A bunch of first-year guys made plays on Friday, and in some cases, did so against each other.

Running back Sam Brodner is a load at 220 pounds and not easy to tackle. He caught a swing pass and safety Patrick Johnson came up to meet him, and promptly got run over, eliciting ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from those in attendance. But not more than 10 minutes later, Brodner attempted to do the same thing to the other true freshman safety, Eric Burrell, only to crushed by the Maryland product, eliciting even more reaction from the players and coaching staff.

“They’re still young and there’s mistakes that need to be corrected,” Chryst said of Johnson and Burrell. “But they’re not making the repeated mistake, and that part has been encouraging.”

Other class of 2016 guys that flashed, included cornerback Caesar Williams. He went up high to pick off a Hornibrook pass, and later saw time with the first-team defense when they went to their nickel package.

Later, outside linebacker Griffin Grady had the good fortune of a tipped Hornibrook pass falling right into his hands, and he knew what to do with it, returning it about 50 yards for a touchdown.

Good start

Like he was a year ago in fall camp, kicker Rafael Gaglianone has been nearly automatic. Despite working with a new holder — redshirt freshman Connor Allen — the slimmed-down junior continues to knock them through, seemingly with ease, and did so again on Friday. He was 6 of 6, including hits from 52 and 51 yards.

“I think that’s what (he) should be doing right now,” Chryst said. “He’s played a lot of football. He understands the importance of it. All kicks, not necessarily just the game-winner but the one in the second quarter that you look back and say, ‘That was a game-winner as well.’ I think he has the right approach, which has been fun to see and be around.”

Chryst then took a playful shot at the native of Brazil.

“He’s been working at it, which is also good,” Chryst said. “But he should. He doesn’t do anything but kick.”

Addition to the 105

Wisconsin is now at 105 players on their fall camp roster, which is the limit. That’s after transfer linebacker Christian Bell took part in his first practice on Friday. Bell, who spent his freshman season at Alabama, must sit out this season but will have four years of eligibility left starting next fall.

Ditching the boot

Inside linebacker T.J. Edwards has ditched the boot he’d been wearing for the past month to protect his broken left foot. It happened Thursday, and now the sophomore is on to the next step in the process, according to Chryst.

Normally, injured players that are unlikely to take part in camp aren’t put on the roster and can’t be around for practice. But Chryst felt with the importance of Edwards on the field, and what he does when he’s in the film room, it was worth giving him a spot on the 105.

“He’s been working. That’s who he is. That’s why he’s in camp,” Chryst said of Edwards time spent in the facility. “We knew there would be a chance he’d miss most, if not all of fall camp. And yet (we) wanted him from day one. He does a great job with that. You appreciate it.”

Chryst did not give a timeline on a potential return for Edwards.

Injuries:

Limited:
CB Dontye Carriere-Williams (leg)
WR Jazz Peavy (chest) – Wore a yellow no contact jersey
RB Taiwan Deal (arm) – Wore a yellow no contact jersey
WR Kendric Pryor (arm) — Wore a yellow no contact jersey

Out
WR Quintez Cephus (leg)
LB T.J. Edwards (foot)
WR Henry Houden (head)
OL George Panos (shoulder)
OL Logan Schmidt (head)
RB Bradrick Shaw (leg)
LB Mason Stokke (head)

Rest:
LG Dan Voltz (knee)
RT Jake Maxwell (foot)

It’s still early, but Wisconsin’s young wide receivers have shown they can play

MADISON | Ted Gilmore was very excited about the three wide receivers the Wisconsin football team signed last February as part of their 2016 recruiting class. But even he admitted he wouldn’t know exactly what he had in them until they stepped on the field this fall.

“So many times in recruiting you think you have an idea of what you see on tape, and then once they get here, they’ve got to put it all together,” the second-year wide receivers coach said Sunday afternoon. “Is it what you thought it was? And it’s what we thought it was.”

Yes, after seven practices of fall camp it’s become clear that Quintez Cephus, A.J. Taylor and Kendric Pryor all have the potential to contribute sooner rather than later for the Badgers.

“I like all three of those guys,” Gilmore said. “I think we hit the jackpot.”

With last year’s leading receiver Alex Erickson catching touchdowns and returning punts for scores with the Cincinnati Bengals this preseason, the gaping hole of production left behind needs to be filled. It’s believed that senior Rob Wheelwright and junior Jazz Peavy will be the top two options, and it’s likely they will be when healthy. But neither of them are right now, and that’s left the door open for junior George Rushing, senior Reggie Love and the three first-year guys. And it’s the latter of that group that have stood out.

Head coach Paul Chryst said on Saturday that the trio deserved more reps, while also cautioning they still have a way to go. And Gilmore echoed that statement.

“They have earned more reps,” he said. “They’re flashy. They’re having some moments, and they have those freshmen moments where they turn right and should have went left. But the athleticism is there. The ability is there.”

And Gilmore is coaching that ability up, likely more so than a year ago when he had veterans in the lineup. He can be seen sprinting from spot to spot on the field, telling guys if they are lining up wrong or what route they’re supposed to run. He’s the first to congratulate them on good plays and also the first to make corrections. It’s all part of a process that will take a step up on Monday when the team scrimmages for the first time this fall.

“I can’t assume anything. And not that I do with the older guys, but sometimes they’ve earned the right to fail,” Gilmore said. “Right now I’m not giving (the young players) a chance to fail. I’m steering them the whole way and helping them out. When we scrimmage (on Monday), they’re on their own. I’m not going to stand behind them. I’m just going to see who knows it for speed.”

Cephus has flashed the most of the three, beating defensive backs with regularity. That’s he’s adapted so quickly is a tad surprising, simply because he played just one year of varsity football at his high school in Georgia. His first love was basketball and had scholarship offers from a number of schools, and even committed to Furman last September. Search Youtube, and you’ll find plenty of videos where the 6-foot-1, 195-pound, Cephus is throwing down rim-rattling dunks.

Though the skills he showed on the court don’t transfer seamlessly, his competitive spirit does. He’s battled the veteran defensive backs throughout the first week of camp and didn’t cede an inch.

“I knew there would be a learning curve, and there is,” Gilmore said. “He knows the base concepts, but when we have an adjustment he’s still struggling with that. But he’s a competitor. That’s what comes out. Even if (he) doesn’t know what he’s doing, he’s competing. I love that.”

While Cephus was a basketball star, Taylor was the star running back and the No. 1 ranked player in the state of Missouri. But Gilmore saw him and thought wide receiver.

“I was a little hesitant coming in,” Taylor admitted of the position switch. “But this summer really changed my whole mindset. I’ve been working and working, trying to get more consistent. And actually, I feel a lot more comfortable playing receiver now than I did my whole four years playing running back [in high school]. I feel more confident [now] than anything.”

And when he has a question, he’ll ask it. Though Gilmore sometimes tells him to shut it down and just play.

“A.J.’s a very smart kid. A.J. is one of those kids that can overthink things,” Gilmore said. “I just tell him stop being smart for a moment. Don’t overanalyze it.”

Pryor was recruited by some to be a defensive back, and he could still end up there at some point for Wisconsin. But just like the other two players, the Illinois product has flashed play-making ability that could see him and his fellow freshmen get on the field early.

“All three of them are in the conversation,” Gilmore said of potential playing time. “What that looks like, obviously we don’t know yet. But all three of them are in the conversation whether it’s with special teams (or) whether it’s in the rotation with the main wide outs. They have put themselves in position to talk about them when we talk personnel.”

Wisconsin football preview: Quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers

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 we’ll take a look at the quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers.

Quarterbacks

For a fifth time in the last six years, Wisconsin will enter fall camp without having named a starting quarterback.

The two options are senior Bart Houston or redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook. Each had their moments during spring ball, but very little will separate the two when they hit the field next Monday for practice.

Houston is the more experienced of the two, playing in 13 games over the last three years. But it wasn’t until last season that he saw extended action, filling in for an injured Joel Stave against Illinois. The California native threw for 232 yards and two touchdowns, but he also tossed a pair of interceptions in the end zone.

Entering his fifth fall camp, Houston has been through a lot in his time in Madison, including undergoing shoulder surgery as a freshman and being relegated to punting duties as a sophomore under the former coaching staff. Now, in his second year under the guy (Chryst) who recruited him it’s now or never.

On the other side is Hornibrook, who appeared in serious jeopardy of knocking himself out of contention for the job midway through spring. In one practice alone he threw five interceptions. But he closed nicely and is definitely going to give Houston a run for the starting gig against LSU.

Starting prediction: Bart Houston

I’ll go with Houston simply because of the experience, but it won’t be shocking to see Hornibrook win it. The coaching staff loves the mental aspect of his game, as well as an already well-developed ability to throw with anticipation.

Running backs

Wisconsin’s running game was not its usual self a year ago. The 150.3 yards per game they averaged on the ground was the fewest for a season since 1995. Some of that had to do with the revolving door of lineups along the offensive line, but not all the blame can go there.

Not having Corey Clement for nine games (eight with injury, one for an off the field incident) was a major factor. But he’s back now, fully healthy and weighing a robust 227 pounds. And unlike a year ago, when he was talking about rushing for 2,000 yards and heading to the NFL draft, Clement appears focused solely on the team.

If Clement stays healthy, the 1-2 punch of him and senior Dare Ogunbowale could make for an offense that is much more dynamic. A former walk-on defensive back, Ogunbowale ran for a team 819 yards and seven touchdowns a year ago, but was also a factor in the passing game catching 36 passes. Expect his role in that capacity to be expanded.

Redshirt sophomore Taiwan Deal was solid in his first of action, even though injuries cost him time midway through the season just as he was looking to become the lead back. Still, Wisconsin likes their top three players at the position.

Meanwhile, at fullback there will be three guys – junior Austin Ramesh, sophomore Alec Ingold and senior Leon Jacobs — vying to replace Derek Watt, who is now blocking for Melvin Gordon with the San Diego Chargers.

Starting prediction:
TB – Corey Clement
FB – Alec Ingold

Clement and Ogunbowale will see a lot of time on the field, and don’t be surprised if they are on the field at the same time. Wisconsin didn’t use the fly-sweep very much a year ago, but it could make a big comeback this season.

Ramesh is probably the best blocker of the three fullbacks, but it wouldn’t be a shock to see the position get the ball more this year. If that’s the case, then it’s advantage Ingold, who had 131 yards and six touchdowns as the short-yardage back last season.

Wide receivers

Before going down with an injury against Illinois, Robert Wheelwright was becoming the No. 2 target Wisconsin needed. He had 25 catches and three touchdowns through seven games. But he missed the rest of the regular season with a leg injury, leading Alex Erickson to end up with more catches (77) than the rest of the group combined. But Erickson is gone now, and it’s time for Wheelwright to live up to the promise he’s shown since stepping on campus.

Helping him do that will be Jazz Peavy. The redshirt junior was really good at times last year, including grabbing what should have been the game-winning touchdown against Northwestern. Now, with a full offseason void of injury, the Kenosha product will play a big role this fall.

Behind those two are where the biggest questions remain. Can senior Reggie Love put it together in his last go-around? Will a visibly stronger and bigger George Rushing build off a strong spring game and give the Badgers a deep threat? Can wide receivers coach Ted Gilmore get sophomore Krenwick Sanders to play up to his ability?

If Wisconsin doesn’t get the answers they want on those questions, they could turn to the three true freshmen – Quintez Cephus, A.J. Taylor and Kendric Pryor — that arrived this summer. Gilmore has said he’s not afraid to play first-year guys if they’re ready.

Starting prediction: Rob Wheelwright, Jazz Peavy

The battle for the starting spots really isn’t a battle. If both guys are healthy – and that is a big if – they’ll be UW’s top two targets on the outside.

As for the third wide receiver spot, I think it goes to Rushing. He’s got the ability to get behind a defense, and it appeared things started to click for him at the end of spring, including grabbing a pair of touchdowns in the spring game.

After that, it’s easy to envision Love, Sanders, sophomore Ricky Finco, redshirt freshman Henry Houden and potentially Taylor battling for the rest of the reps.

Tomorrow: Offensive line, tight ends