Badgers excited for a healthy Taiwan Deal at running back

MADISON — Paul Chryst doesn’t normally offer up information on his own. Ask him a question about his team or a player and you’ll usually get something from the third-year coach, but he rarely volunteers anything without prompting. That’s what made his comments a few months ago about Taiwan Deal noteworthy.

Following the spring game in April, the Wisconsin coach was asked about the battle at running back between sophomore Bradrick Shaw and junior Chris James. After talking about those two, though, he brought up Deal’s name, saying they were excited to get him back after he missed the entire spring following offseason surgery.

The answer caught a few people off guard considering Deal had all of 12 carries in the final three months of the 2016 season and finished the year with 164 yards and no touchdowns. While it was known he’d been dealing with an ankle injury, most didn’t know how bad it actually was. It happened early in the year, and he never felt right the rest of the way. But Deal had surgery on the ankle after the season, took part in summer workouts and is now ready to push for time in a backfield that needs to replace 405 carries and 1,881 yards of production from a year ago.

“He healed up in the spring, had a great summer,” running backs coach John Settle said Friday. “The strength staff is fired up about how he finished the summer. Nobody is happier than he is to take the field without the worries of his ankle popping out on him.”

LISTEN: RBs coach John Settle talks Chris James, Bradrick Shaw and Taiwan Deal

Deal has rarely been healthy in his time at Wisconsin. He suffered a broken hand as a true freshman that led him to redshirt, had 503 yards and six touchdowns in 2015 but was plagued by an ankle injury over the second half of the year, and then was barely heard from after the month of September last fall.

“That’s been the frustrating thing for us,” Settle said of Deal’s injury issues. “Talent-wise, he’s probably the most natural of a guy we’ve had on the roster. But he’s always had something that’s been nagging him and couldn’t reach his full potential, in my mind.”

At 6-foot-1, 219 pounds, Deal has show an ability to run with power and averaged 5.1 yards per carry in his limited action as a sophomore. While Shaw and James both had strong springs, the belief at this point is there won’t be one back that dominates the carries, with the Badgers willing to spread the wealth to all that deserve it and that should include Deal — if he can stay healthy.

“He now feels good about where he is,” Settle said. “He’s chomping at the bit and ready to go.”

Practice No. 1

Wisconsin hit the field for the first practice of fall camp on Saturday. Here are a few things that stood out.

— As we first reported on Friday, junior Michael Deiter did indeed line up at left tackle with the first-team offense. Splitting his time between center and guard the last two years, Deiter has started 27 straight games and is now being asked to fill the void left by All-American Ryan Ramczyk, who was taken in the first round of the NFL draft in April. But the move, at least according to Chryst, isn’t that big of a deal and may not even be permanent.

“It was permanent today,” the coach said. “But he’s still going to have to do some center stuff and guard [stuff]. As we go through camp you’ll see a lot of guys moving. I wouldn’t try to make that any [kind of] lead story for anybody.”

The rest of the first-team line had sophomore Jon Dietzen at left guard, redshirt freshman Tyler Biadasz at center, junior Beau Benzschawel at right guard and sophomore David Edwards at right tackle.

The second line consisted of redshirt freshman Cole Van Lanen at LT, junior Micah Kapoi at LG, junior Brett Connors at C, sophomore Jason Erdmann at RG and redshirt freshman Patrick Kasl at RT.

LISTEN: OC Joe Rudolph is very high on center Tyler Biadasz

— The closest thing to a play of the day was quarterback Alex Hornibrook hooking up with wide receiver Jazz Peavy for a long touchdown in 7-on-7 drills. The senior put a double move on the cornerback and had 10 yards of separation by the time the ball found him.

— There were no surprises on the defensive depth chart with the first-team looking like this:

DL: senior Conor Sheehy, junior Olive Sagapolu, senior Alec James
OLB: seniors Garrett Dooley, Leon Jacobs
ILB: senior Jack Cichy, junior T.J. Edwards
CB: senior Derrick Tindal, junior Nick Nelson
S: senior Natrell Jamerson, junior D’Cota Dixon

— During the special teams period, Peavy, Nelson and a pair of true freshmen — WRs Danny Davis and Cade Green — were back as punt returners.

Badgers will be without K Gaglianone; RB Clement listed as questionable

MADISON | The Wisconsin football team will be without their starting kicker on Saturday at Michigan State.

Junior Rafael Gaglianone was one of four players on the Badgers injury report to be listed as out for the game. Gaglianone is apparently dealing with a back injury.

So far this season, he’s 10 of 10 on extra points and 7 of 8 on field goals. His lone miss came last week against Georgia State on a 30-yarder just before halftime. His last kick, which gave the Badgers a 6-point lead in the fourth quarter, barely got inside the right upright.

Without Gaglianone, Wisconsin will turn to senior Andrew Endicott to handle the kicking duties. Endicott has played in 33 games over his career, but he’s never attempted a field goal in college and had just two as a senior in high school, both of which he hit.

“I think he did have a good camp,” coach Paul Chryst said of Endicott.

“Got complete confidence in him. We wouldn’t put a guy out there if we didn’t have confidence in him.”

Chryst was asked if Gaglianone’s absence would impact his decision making on longer field goals.

“We’ll see what happens with the game,” he said. “Situation matters, weather matters, all those (things).”

The other players that won’t play this week include left guard Jon Dietzen, running back Bradrick Shaw and cornerback Natrell Jamerson.

As for running back Corey Clement, he’s listed as questionable with his ankle injury.

“He was able to do more, so I do feel better,” Chryst said of the senior. “He’s done more this week than last week. I think there’s a chance (he plays).”

Also listed as questionable is Clement’s backfield mate, Taiwan Deal (ankle) and starting left guard Micah Kapoi (foot). If Kapoi can’t go, redshirt sophomore walk-on Brett Connors would get his first career start.

Six players ruled out, Clement questionable for the Badgers

MADISON | The Wisconsin football team will be without at least six players when they take the field on Saturday against Georgia State.

The school released an injury report Thursday afternoon that listed a half dozen players already ruled out for the game, including left guard Jon Dietzen (leg), defensive end Billy Hirschfeld (leg) and cornerbacks Natrell Jamerson (leg) and Caesar Williams (leg). They also listed running back Corey Clement as questionable as he deals with an ankle injury.

“He was able to do some stuff on Monday and hadn’t done a lot since,” Chryst said of Clement. “If guys can play, we’re going to play them. I think they need to play, and they worked too hard for these opportunities to not play, but if (Clement) can’t go, I feel good with the ones at that position. I think we’ve had a good week of practice at the running back spot with Taiwan (Deal) and Dare (Ogunbowale) and Bradrick (Shaw).”

Chryst was asked if a decision on Clement’s health would be treated differently if they were playing Ohio State or Michigan as opposed to an 0-2 Georgia State team.

“It’s not different at all. That’d be pretty arrogant,” Chryst said. “If a kid can play, he’s going to play. Pretty simple, pretty straightforward.”

Without Dietzen, sophomore Micah Kapoi will likely get the start at left guard, while Williams being out means he won’t be a part of the group looking to replace Jamerson as the nickel defensive back. Instead, it’ll be junior Lubern Figaro or redshirt freshman Titus Booker.

Meanwhile, freshman A.J. Taylor is expected to get Jamerson’s kick return duties.

Kickoff on Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium is set for 11 a.m.

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.

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