Vince Biegel making progress, several other Wisconsin starters on the injury report

MADISON | Vince Biegel is making progress in returning from foot surgery.

After already being ruled out for the Ohio State game at this time last week, the senior is listed as questionable for Saturday’s game at Iowa.

“As far as chances (he’ll play), we’ll see how the week goes,” coach Paul Chryst said when he met with the media early Monday afternoon.

Biegel has missed the last two games after undergoing surgery to fix a cracked bone in his right foot. The initial timeline from Wisconsin on his return was “several weeks,” and the three-week mark from the procedure will be this Thursday.

The outside linebacker went through a workout on the field prior to the Ohio State game, and looked surprisingly mobile for someone that had surgery so recently. Biegel, one of Wisconsin’s two captains, was a visible figure on the sideline during the game, and Chryst can tell how much it’s hurting him to not be out on the field.

“I do think Vince loves playing the game. He really, in all the right ways, cares about this team,” Chryst said. “Once you go through the procedure, and you’re making progress, to me, it’s less anxious, and it’s more looking forward to when he can go again. He’s been taking good steps forward, and we hope that continues.”

In Biegel’s absence, junior Garrett Dooley has filled in, collecting 11 tackles and one tackle for loss.

The only player that’s listed as out for the Iowa game is cornerback Natrell Jamerson. He suffered a leg injury late in Wisconsin’s win over Akron on Sept. 10 and was expected to miss four-to-six weeks. Saturday will be the fifth game he’s missed.

“No setbacks and not longer than we anticipated,” Chryst said when asked about the delay in Jamerson’s return.

Injury report:

QUESTIONABLE:
OLB Zack Baun (leg)
OLB Vince Biegel (foot)
S Keelon Brookins (leg)
RB Taiwan Deal (leg)
OL Jon Dietzen (leg)
NG Olive Sagapolu (arm)
WR Rob Wheelwright (leg)

OUT
CB Natrell Jamerson (leg)

OUT FOR SEASON
K Rafael Gaglianone (back)
ILB Chris Orr (knee)

Balanced attack leads Wisconsin past Akron

MADISON, Wis. — A six-game winning streak came to an end for Akron, as the Wisconsin Badgers pummeled the Zips 54-10 Saturday afternoon at Camp Randall Stadium.

Wisconsin converted 10-of-15 third down attempts, racking up 294 rushing yards and 292 passing yards. That’s 586 total offensive yards for the Badgers, compared to Akron’s 224.

Bart Houston got his first career start at Camp Randall, converting 15-of-22 pass attempts for 231 yards and a pair of touchdowns, both to receiver Jazz Peavy. The junior out of Kenosha, Wis. led Wisconsin with seven catches for 100 yards. Rob Wheelwright would finish a yard shy of the century mark on four receptions.

The running attack got started early, with Corey Clement leading the Badgers with 111 net yards on 21 carries. He’d find the end zone twice, but leave just before halftime with an apparent lower leg injury. While he was held out the remainder of the game, he said if the score were closer, he could have returned. Bradrick Shaw and Taiwan Deal added 77 and 59 yards, respectively.

Not to be outshined by the offense, the Badger defense forced turnovers in nearly every way possible. It started with an early safety, followed by Derrick Tindall’s forced fumble just as it looked like Akron would make a run at the end zone. That ball was scooped up by Soujourn Shelton. Leo Musso capitalized on an overzealous Thomas Woodson, picking off the second-year starter late in the first half.

Wisconsin welcomes Georgia State Sept. 17 at 11 a.m. CT.

Wisconsin football: Practice report 8/15

MADISON — The Wisconsin football team held their first scrimmage of fall camp on Monday at Camp Randall Stadium. It lasted about 90 plays, with the final 20 or so belonging to the freshmen and other young players.

“Obviously we ran a lot of plays against each other. And when one side has success the other side isn’t,” head coach Paul Chryst said. “I think this is a huge week for us.

“I thought today was a good start, but (we) have a long way to go.”

Defense rules much of the day

The two-hour scrimmage went largely in favor of the first- and second-team defense. They forced a pair of turnovers, allowed just two touchdown drives and piled up four sacks.

Of the five drives the first-defense was on the field, four of them ended in three-and-outs. Among the standouts were juniors Chikwe Obasih, Alec James and T.J. Watt. The trio accounted for three of the four sacks and were constantly getting push into the offensive backfield.

Secondary coach Jim Leonhard said on Sunday he was looking for his guys to make more plays, and safety Joe Ferguson obliged, making a tiptoe grab near the sideline for an interception.

Hornibrook impresses with the first-team offense

It’s getting closer and closer to decision time for head coach Paul Chryst and the Badgers when it comes to choosing either redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook or senior Bart Houston to be the starting quarterback. And if you were to judge the competition on just this day alone, Hornibrook was the better player. He moved the offense, and Chryst has said that when it comes down to it, that’s what matters.

In his two drives with the first-team offense against the second-team defense, the Pennsylvania product led a pair of scoring drives. The first went 98 yards in 16 plays, and was capped off by a 3-yard touchdown run courtesy of redshirt freshman Bradrick Shaw. Hornibrook was 5 of 6 for 65 yards on that possession, and was able to overcome a sack and a holding penalty to still get the team in the end zone.

Later, he put together a 57-yard drive in which he was 4 of 4 for 39 yards, including a pretty 18-yard touchdown to senior Rob Wheelwright, who had gotten a step on cornerback Titus Booker.

For the day, Hornibrook was 11 of 14 for 119 yards, the one touchdown and one interception.

“I think Alex did some good things,” Chryst said afterwards before mentioning some of the not so good things Hornibrook did, including taking a sack on first down.

As for Houston, he was just 6 of 14 for 72 yards. His best drive came against the second-team defense. He drove them 59 yards, including a 15-yard completion to junior George Rushing and a 12-yard toss to senior Reggie Love. But he missed a chance for a touchdown, one-hopping a pass to a wide-open Wheelwright by the goal line.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do on it,” Chryst said of the offense as a whole before singling out the two signal callers. “I thought both of them did some good stuff today.”

Wheelwright returns

Wide receivers coach Ted Gilmore suggested on Sunday that he needs to sometimes remind Wheelwright that, “his skirt is showing,” in reference to him not being available to play due to injury. Wheelwright has been in and out of practice in camp, but he took part on Monday and looked good. He finished with three grabs for 50 yards and one touchdown and should have had another if not for a poor pass.

“We’re challenging Rob to take that next step,” Gilmore said. “We’re challenging Rob not to get comfortable.”

In and out

The offensive line has been in constant flux through the first week of camp. Some of that was planned as right tackle Jake Maxwell and left guard Dan Voltz were each coming off injuries and the team is being cautious. Other players – like right guard Beau Benzschawel and backup guard Jon Dietzen – have missed time due to injuries. But on Monday we got a glimpse of what the coaching staff hopes is the starting lineup against LSU – and it looked pretty good.

When Voltz, Benzschawel and Maxwell joined left tackle Ryan Ramczyk and center Michael Deiter along the line, the offense had success moving the ball. The activity with those five will continue to ramp up as Sept. 3 gets closer, as will the attempt to build depth behind them.

“We have been missing them,” Chryst said of the guys being in and out of the lineup. “Ideally you got a clear five and they play together a ton because there are so many nuances and intricacies. But I think we’re doing a good job of making it work.”

On the mend

Running back Corey Clement didn’t take part in the scrimmage, but the senior appears to be getting closer to returning after missing the last four practices with a hamstring injury. His rehab during the session included full speed sprints, followed by work on a stationary bike. Wisconsin is obviously being cautious with him after a 2015 that saw him forced to sit eight games with a sports hernia.

In his absence, most of the carries went to redshirt sophomore Taiwan Deal and redshirt freshman Bradrick Shaw. The pair had varying levels of success, though Shaw did score the lone rushing touchdown of the scrimmage.

Here’s the rest of the injury list:

Limited:
WR Jazz Peavy (chest) – Wore a yellow no contact jersey

Out
S Keelon Brookins (groin)
WR Quintez Cephus (leg)
OL Jon Dietzen (head)
LB T.J. Edwards (foot)
OL George Panos (shoulder)
OL Logan Schmidt (head)
LB Mason Stokke (head)
LB Nick Thomas (head)

Injured in the scrimmage
RB Taiwan Deal (arm)

Getting his kicks

A slimmed down Rafael Gaglianone still has plenty of leg. The Wisconsin junior, who lost about 30 pounds in the offseason, drilled all four of his field goal attempts during a special teams portion of practice, including a 50-yarder. In the scrimmage, he also hit from 28 yards.

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: 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)

After bitter disappointment in 2015, it’s all about the word ‘finish’ for Jazz Peavy.

MADISON | Jazz Peavy isn’t running away from what happened last November. He probably could – he posted the fastest 40-yard dash time of any player on the Wisconsin football team this summer. But the junior isn’t using that speed to leave the pain and agony behind of what many still feel was an unjust act.

Flashback to the afternoon of Nov. 21, 2015. With Wisconsin trailing Northwestern 13-7 in the final minute, the Badgers offense awoke from a game-long slumber for one final drive to try and win the game. And they thought they had. Peavy caught a 1-yard touchdown from quarterback Joel Stave. The stadium erupted only to be quieted minutes later when officials overturned the call, saying Peavy didn’t complete the process of the catch.

Reactions from bewilderment to rage poured across the Wisconsin sideline, with Peavy’s hands going from giving the touchdown signal to on top his helmet in essence asking, “How is that possible?”

A sullen Peavy handled the post-game interviews the best a 20-year-old could, answering every question the media posed, while maintaining his belief – and that of many others — that it was a catch.

“The whole time I knew that was a catch,” Peavy said that day. “I don’t know what else to say about that. Absolute catch.”

Jazz

Now back to the present and Wisconsin is going through their third day of fall camp. Peavy is gliding around the field, seemingly with ease, as he goes up over a cornerback to haul in a sideline pass. He quickly raises the ball up in the air to show a non-existent officiating crew he had caught it, an involuntary reaction that has become commonplace after the gut-wrenching disappointment of getting his first career touchdown taken away. It’s a play that is never too far away.

“I always keep it in the back of my mind. It’s always there,” Peavy said on Wednesday, sweat from the 2 ½ hour session still pouring down his face. “It’s not like I let it affect me or anything, but I definitely let it drive me.”

Watching from the sideline that day was fellow receiver Rob Wheelwright. Still working his way back at that point from a broken leg suffered in late October, Wheelwright felt Peavy’s pain like it was his own.

“That sucked for me,” Wheelwright admitted this week. “[But] I just feel it motivated him so much more. He’s just taken that anger, [the] frustration and brought it in, and [he’s] really letting it out [in the form of] motivation and working hard.”

Peavy is attached to the play. Ask an average fan what they think when they hear Peavy’s name and it’s almost universally associated with the catch that wasn’t. And the Kenosha native knows it. But he has no intention of letting the play define his time in Madison. No, he believes the play will be a mere footnote when fans look back at his career, and he can start changing the narrative by helping replace last year’s leading receiver, Alex Erickson, who’s in the process of fighting for a roster spot with the Cincinnati Bengals.

“I thought that he did a heck of a job last year, much more as a complimentary receiver,” head coach Paul Chryst said of Peavy, who had 20 catches for 268 yards. “He’s got an opportunity now to step into another role.”

Seizing the moment and stepping into a bigger role is a top priority for Peavy. Whether you thought he caught the ball or not — the Big Ten maintains he didn’t — even he admits he could have made a cleaner play and left no doubt in the replay official’s mind.

“It’s one of those things where I know it’s just about finishing,” he said. “Finishing is the main word. That’s the thing that comes up in all caps – FINISH. On that catch, the play, the game or the quarter – anything. Just finish all of it because you never know.”

Wisconsin football: Practice report 8/10

MADISON | The intensity of fall camp took at step up on Wednesday for the Wisconsin football team, as the players were sporting shoulder pads for the first time this year.

Forcing turnovers

In the spring, the Wisconsin defense forced a ton of turnovers, a lot of them coming via interceptions. That continued on Wednesday as there were at least four interceptions during team periods – two by senior Sojourn Shelton and and two more by junior Natrell Jamerson. Shelton took both of his interceptions back for would-be touchdowns.

Splitting reps

The quarterback competition really started on Wednesday as senior Bart Houston and redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook faced defenders for the first time in fall camp. They split first-team reps, with Houston usually going first. Hornibrook had the best throw of the day, finding freshman Quintez Cephus in tight coverage for a 40-yard gain.

In pads

It doesn’t really feel like football season until the pads go on, which happened on Wednesday. On the first play of full speed action this fall, junior defensive end Chikwe Obasih tossed a lineman aside, and gobbled up running back Corey Clement for what would have been a 3-yard loss.

Later in practice, tensions nearly boiled over when Cephus was blocking Derrick Tindal on a screen play and did so a little too long for Tindal’s liking. There was some pushing and shoving before the two got separated.

So far, Cephus has been the most impressive of the three true freshmen receivers.

“I can tell he wants it,” senior Rob Wheelwright said of Cephus. “Right after practice he was asking, ‘Man, we need to go look at this film. I want you to tell me what I did [right and wrong].’ He’s hungry. He’s ready to learn. And that’s really good seeing him compete.”

Making a change

Redshirt freshman David Edwards is making the move from tight end to right tackle this fall. Many schools recruited the former high school quarterback to be an offensive lineman, but Wisconsin said they’d give him a shot at tight end first. However, once the weight started going up – he’s put on 50 pounds since coming to Madison last summer – it was almost a foregone conclusion.

“I knew it was coming,” Edwards said of the move. “Everybody kind of joked about it since the day I got here.

“When I got here I was pretty skinny. I was about 240 [pounds]. By the end of [this past] spring I was about 260. Got back from [summer] break at 270. So it was just a natural progression.”

Edwards is working as the No. 2 right tackle behind redshirt sophomore Jake Maxwell. He’s looked solid in the first few practices, and even got some reps with the first-team line as the training staff tries to limit Maxwell’s workload coming off a leg injury in the spring.

Looking good

It’s not clear how much Taiwan Deal will be used this season, but the redshirt sophomore looks much quicker this fall than a year ago. On several plays, the 220-pound Deal made defenders miss in the hole and accelerated into the second level.

Transfer Chris James also look very much the part of future big-time weapon for the Badgers. He’ll have to sit this season due to NCAA rules, but James showed off his big-play potential on an outside run where he got the edge and took off for what would have been at least a 20-yard gain.

Held out

Wheelwright hasn’t made it through a single fall or spring practice without getting injured. So when the senior didn’t take part on Wednesday some eyebrows were raised. But he said there’s nothing to worry about, and they are just trying to give his body a chance to recover and be healthy for the season. Still, having to watch from the sideline is a bit frustrating for the Ohio native.

“Me having to watch these guys, first day of pads on, going against the defensive backs, and the DBs are hollering. You want to be out there to be like, ‘OK, lets quiet ya’ll up.’ But it’s all good for the long run.” Wheelwright said.

Wheelwright said he feels like he’ll practice on Thursday and Friday, and that sitting out will be just a “here and there” thing.

You can listen to the full post-practice interview with Rob Wheelwright below:

 

Injuries:

Still out:
ILB T.J. Edwards (foot)
OL George Panos (shoulder)

Limited:
Keelon Brookins (groin)

Wisconsin football: Practice report 8/8

MADISON | The University of Wisconsin football team hit the practice field for the first time of fall camp on Monday.

It was a non-padded session and most of the two-and-a-half hours were spent in individual drills.

Some observations:

— As they did in the spring, quarterbacks Bart Houston and Alex Hornibrook each got some time with the first-team offense, though Houston was first up. All the routes they threw were with no defensive backs present, but it’s still obvious the advantage Houston has when it comes to arm strength. When you throw defenders into the mix, which should happen on Tuesday, Hornibrook’s anticipation on throws evens the playing field.

Should also be noted that true freshman Kare Lyles made his debut after hip surgery kept him out of spring practice. He and fellow freshman Garrett Groshek will likely compete for the No. 3 quarterback job.

Former Edgewood athlete Bobby Dunn, who was brought in to play quarterback in the spring with Lyles out, is no longer a member of the team but is serving as a manager.

— Corey Clement weighs 227 pounds and plans to play at 225, which is up about five to 10 pounds over last year. But it doesn’t seem like it has impacted his quickness or speed. He showed the same difference-making burst through the hole on Monday that he’s put on tape over the past three seasons.

“I still feel the same,” Clement said of the weight gain during media day on Sunday. “I don’t think I can help it. I’m short already as it is, so I guess [my body] adds on pounds easier than the leaner wide receivers.”

— The first three wide receivers in during team drills were senior Rob Wheelwright and junior George Rushing on the outside, and junior Jazz Peavy in the slot. The second trio included senior Reggie Love, redshirt freshman Henry Houden and redshirt sophomore Ricky Finco. Quintez Cephus was the first of the three true freshman receivers to get reps in team drills.

— Along the offensive line, it was expected that senior Dan Voltz and redshirt freshman Jon Dietzen would be sharing the first-team reps as Voltz makes his way back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament. But on Monday, with it being a non-contact practice, Voltz took a majority of the reps with the starters. It’s the first time he’s lined up anywhere other than center since coming to campus in 2012.

The rest of the line saw junior Ryan Ramczyk at left tackle and then three redshirt sophomores — Michael Deiter at center, Beau Benzschawel at right guard and Jake Maxwell at right tackle.

The second-team line included a pair of newcomers – true freshman Patrick Kasl and former tight end David Edwards – sharing snaps at the right tackle spot. Though offensive line coach Joe Rudolph is excited about both guys, their presence so early speaks to the lack of depth at the tackle spots.

Head coach Paul Chryst talked about the young offensive linemen, including Kasl, following Monday’s practice.

 

And one note on Edwards: Rudolph said on Sunday that he could see Edwards being a part of a jumbo package where he would line up at tight end. It’s something head coach Paul Chryst used during his time as Wisconsin’s offensive coordinator.

— There are not very many jobs open on the defensive side of the ball outside of safety.

On Monday, it was senior Leo Musso and junior D’Cota Dixon lining up with the starters, while sophomore Arrington Farrar and junior Jake Ferguson took snaps with the second team.

Finding the answer at safety is probably trails only the quarterback question in terms of importance for the Badgers in fall camp.

Injuries:

The only player listed on the injury report was inside linebacker T.J. Edwards. He’s expected to be out for most of fall camp with a broken foot.

Potential is there for several true freshmen to help Wisconsin

MADISON | No one associated with the Wisconsin football team has seen the true freshmen class in a single practice yet, but based on the way some of the coaches talked on Sunday during the team’s annual media day, there appear to be several that could help this season.

Among the positions where that could happen is at wide receiver, where only senior Rob Wheelwright and junior Jazz Peavy have what would be considered significant playing experience. Junior George Rushing and senior Reggie Love have also seen some time, but they are veterans in class only.

“They’re old, yet young,” wide receiver coach Ted Gilmore said of a group that has a bunch of upperclassmen but few proven options. “For them, it’s taking that next step. All those years they sat back and watched and wished they were in a certain position, now is a great opportunity to seize that moment.

“I really feel they are ready to do that … Whatever their role is, they’re going to earn it.”

The same could be said for the true freshmen at the position, especially A.J. Taylor. One of the top rated recruits in Wisconsin’s 2016 class, the speedy Taylor played mostly running back in high school, and he did it at a high level, earning first-team all-state honors in Missouri as a senior. So when he stepped on campus in June there was some doubts about the position change swirling around in his head, but those have since subsided and he’s feeling more and more comfortable by the snap.

“I was a little hesitant coming in,” Taylor admitted. “But this summer has 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.”

Though Taylor will learn all of the wide receiver spots, he could be most dangerous working in the slot, where Wisconsin could use him on jet sweeps and in other situations with the goal of getting him the ball in space.

Down in the trenches is another area on offense that will see an infusion of young bodies that might be able to help, at least when it comes to providing depth. Cole Van Lanen and Patrick Kasl are further along physically than normal first-year players. And they play a position – tackle – that currently lacks much experience after the starters. So offensive line coach Joe Rudolph wouldn’t be surprised to see them among the two-deep.

“I think those guys will both get reps with the second team early in camp, and we’ll kind of see where they’re at,” Rudolph said. “They aren’t far off in some areas [physically]. You need that.”

On the other side of the ball there are a couple defensive backs that could push to get on the field, especially at safety. Both Eric Burrell and Patrick Johnson appear physically ready, and they’ll get their shot at a position that is clearly the most wide-open due to the departure of Tanner McEvoy and Michael Caputo.

The most intriguing of the true freshmen is Garrett Rand. A defensive lineman, the Arizona product is already one of, if not the strongest player on the team. Much was made about his strength after video surfaced of him benching 500 pounds in high school. The tape didn’t lie, and when he showed up this summer, he managed 33 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press – the highest total on the team. What’s more, he called it an off day.

Rand is proud of what he can do in the weight room, but added, “I want to be known for more than [my bench press numbers].”

Defensive line coach Inoke Breckterfield said Rand plays with a fire and will be given every opportunity to contribute at defensive end, and possibly at the nose guard spot.

Other potential first-year possibilities include punter Anthony Lotti and cornerback Caesar Williams.

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