The grind of the spring practice season looked to be getting the best of the University of Wisconsin football team’s offense at points Saturday.
The 12th practice of the month saw a trio of interceptions and moments in which quarterbacks couldn’t find an open receiver. A lot of that credit goes to the defense, which was able to get pressure and has more experience than the offense as a whole, but the feel of the practice wasn’t as crisp as other open sessions. UW practiced without shoulder pads, which also had an affect on the tempo and intensity of practice.
UW coach Paul Chryst acknowledged the difference and the departure from other years in which Saturday practices in the spring featured a scrimmage.
“Kind of where we’re at with it … we’ll kind of gauge it next week and see if we can get one (scrimmage) in,” Chryst said. “Thought we could still some work done today. I’m anxious to look at the film, I know we got some stuff done out of it.”
Depleted RBs affecting practice
It’s difficult for the offense or defense to get a gauge on how they stand in the run game right now. Injuries at tailback left UW without any true running backs on Saturday — only Isaac Guerendo was suited up after Brady Schipper was out with a left leg injury, but Guerendo didn’t participate in 11-on-11 drills.
“I thought ‘Schip’ was having a heck of a spring, and taking the coaching and applying it,” Chryst said.
Fullbacks John Chenal and Quan Easterling have taken tailback reps, and former walk-on linebacker Jacob Heyroth has joined the running back group. Chenal getting more tailback reps was part of the plan, Chryst said, but missing players such as Guerndo, Jalen Berger and Julius Davis has slowed the team’s ability to evaluate the position group.
“A lot of the guys that you were hoping to get those reps, and what a great time for them, were not able to take advantage of it,” Chryst said. “Can’t do anything about it. Obviously, we’ve got meeting time with them and we can do some field work with them … it’s unfortunate because spring is such a great opportunity for them.”
Zachman settling in at safety
Preston Zachman was one of the only players to make a position change this spring, moving from inside linebacker to safety. But he’s done some good things at his new position, having his best open practice of the spring on Saturday.
He had an interception off Graham Mertz during an early team session and had a pass break-up in a red-zone period toward the end of practice. Chryst said that when the Badgers recruited Zachman, they knew finding his position was going to be the first challenge because he played quarterback and all over the field defensively.
“I thought we could get a good number of reps for him at safety; certainly like the way that he started spring,” Chryst said. “As you go through spring and you keep adding differnet defenses and what not, I think he’s done a pretty good job of staying up with it.
“You’re just looking at a guy that’s, in our opinion, a good football player and trying to find what might be the best fit for him.”
Williams shows promise
Redshirt freshman Amaun Williams made a few plays this week that makes it appear he could push for a spot in the rotation if he continues to improve.
Last week, he intercepted a pass from Chase Wolf during an 11-on-11 session. On Saturday he showed solid fundamentals in press coverage against a number of receivers.
“Right now, what I like out of Amaun is he's a competitor,” cornerbacks coach Hank Poteat said. “Love his mindset. He takes it really serious, he comes up every day, he’s always asking me questions.”
He’s had his down moments as well, allowing a touchdown to Chimere Dike on a jump ball last week and then was beat deep on by senior Danny Davis on Saturday, though the ball wasn’t caught. Williams’ tenacity has earned the respect of senior cornerback Caesar Williams.
“I say his energy’s different,” Caesar Williams said. “He hates to lose and he refuses to lose. And no matter how many times he wins or loses, he's going to get back up and keep fighting with you. Amaun plays like he has nothing to lose, so therefore he leaves it on the field every day and even after practice, still wants to try and get better each and every day.”
More predictable Vujnovich
Last season, punter Andy Vujnovich proved he can be one of the top specialists in the Big Ten Conference when he’s performing his best. Problem was his best punts would be followed by a shank.
The former Division III player says he’s working hard to eliminate the bad boots from his game, and so far at open practices there haven’t been any glaring misfires from the senior.
“My first punt as Badger was pretty good (60 yards). And I know the next punt (36) after that, I kind of got in my own head as ... I felt like I needed to match that,” Vujnovich said. “So I’ve just got to remember to just relax and just enjoy the moment and just do the same thing and just not think about the past because the only thing that matters is the next kick.”
From the infirmary
Here’s a look at who didn’t participate or was in Saturday’s practice. If an injury is not listed, it has not been confirmed by UW.
- CB Al Ashford
- RB Jalen Berger (leg)
- S Travian Blaylock
- WR Stephan Bracey
- RB Julius Davis (leg)
- TE Jake Ferguson (right arm)
- CB Deron Harrell
- CB Max Lofy
- DE Isaiah Mullens (left leg)
- WR Cooper Nelson
- OLB Riley Nowakowski (right leg)
- OL Cormac Sampson
- RB Brady Schipper (left leg)
- DE James Thompson Jr. (right leg)
- OLB Aaron Witt (right leg)
- NT Keeanu Benton (left leg)
- RB Isaac Guerendo (leg)
Breaking down the Wisconsin Badgers 2021 recruiting class by position
Number of players: 1
Who are they: Deacon Hill (Santa Barbara, Calif.)
Quick analysis: Hill has a strong arm and shown enough in camps to rise to a four-star recruit on Rivals. Competition level is a question mark at the high school level, but he’s got the tools to be a good college quarterback.
Rudolph’s thoughts on Hill: Quarterbacks coach Jon Budmayr “identified him really early. We thought he had great arm strength when you compared him to the best players in the country who were out there. We thought he was right there from the jump. … We really liked him, we felt personality-wise the people that surrounded him and supported him, how he worked, all those things were a great fit for us.”
Number of players: 3
Who are they: Jackson Acker (Madison), Loyal Crawford (Eau Claire), Antwan Roberts (Nashville, Tenn.)
Quick analysis: There’s been talk about Acker switching positions at the college level, but UW listed him as a running back Wednesday. Acker didn’t play in the fall due to COVID-19, but he has shown a good mix of speed and power as a ball carrier. … Crawford has a James White-level ceiling as a third-down back and the most shiftiness of the bunch. … Roberts has explosion and proven ability to run through tackles.
Rudolph’s thoughts on the group: “I think they’re all kind of unique. Jackson’s a guy that obviously would have position flexibility, but he kind of is explosive. … Then you see Loyal, and Loyal’s got great speed, great change of direction, a chance for a home run hitter. I think he’s got great quicks in and out and, again, I think all these guys, we’ll find out exactly where they’re at when they come in, but I think guys that are just really good football players as well. … Antwan, what he does to this point, complete back and had a great senior year.”
Number of players: 2
Who are they: Skyler Bell (Bronx, N.Y.), Markus Allen (Clayton, Ohio, expected to sign Wednesday evening)
Quick analysis: The Badgers landed two players who possess good speed and agility at arguably the biggest position of need in the class. … Bell has a suddenness to his cuts that makes him dangerous as a receiver and returner. … Allen shows good ball skills when making contested catches and great body control.
Rudolph’s thoughts on Bell, who wasn’t able to visit campus before committing: “I just think you take the time to reach out. Whether it was Zoom meetings with him and his family, or whether it was phone calls, you took the time to be able to answer questions that pop up in their minds. I think those things are always huge.”
Number of players: 1
Who are they: Jack Pugh (Columbus, Ohio)
Quick analysis: He has long strides that help him cover a lot of ground and he’s shown an array of route-running skills from both an on-line and split-out positions.
Rudolph’s thoughts on Pugh: “Jack played his first year of football last year. This was his second year. Really a guy that was a hoop player that jumped into it. Watching his film, I thought he was really physical for a guy that hadn’t played football. He was physical at D-end as well as tight end. I think he’s got the ability to separate. I think he’s got really a lot of speed and explosiveness.”
Number of players: 3
Who are they: JP Benzschawel (Grafton), Riley Mahlman (Lakeville, Minn.), Nolan Rucci (Lititz, Pa.)
Quick analysis: The Badgers are set up to continue churning out great O-lines for years to come after an impressive haul of linemen in 2019. … Benzschawel is the third of his brothers to come to UW, and he’s shown great power and strength as a blocker. … Mahlman might be the most athletic of the bunch, having played tight end for a time in high school and as a basketball standout. … Rucci, the lone five-star recruit in the class, has all the tools to become an All-American tackle.
Rudolph’s thoughts on the group: “I think they’re big, athletic guys that you have to have as defenses are pretty darn athletic and being able to keep up with them. … I think those guys match in their work ethic and their mind-set, I think they’ll make a major impact here.”