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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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)
LG Dan Voltz (knee)
RT Jake Maxwell (foot)