With Melvin Gordon not taking any hits for Wisconsin in practice this spring, Corey Clement found an opening to get more reps in Friday's practice. Though earlier in the offseason coach Gary Andersen had said that both Gordon and Clement would not see contact, Clement convinced Andersen to let him participate in Friday's scrimmage. Clement took full advantage of the reps he received.
"The offense ran the ball well, especially with Corey; he did a nice job," Andersen said. "[Corey] was excited about having the opportunity to run a little bit. He had definitely asked for it as we went through the last couple days of spring. It was good for him. He wanted to do it and I kind of agreed with him."
Clement saw limited action in the scrimmage, but broke off a string of nice runs. At one point in practice he ran for 7, 18, 6 and 4 yards on consecutive plays. He also unleashed a 19-yard scamper along with a 5-yard run before his best run of the day, an impressive 68-yard touchdown run.
Clement showed great poise and vision, waiting for UW's depleted offensive line to open the necessary holes for him to find gaps in the defense. He also showed the elusiveness that was seen in glimpses throughout his time on the field last season.
Defensive shake-ups aplenty this week
After practice, safeties Bill Busch confirmed that Mike Caputo is moving back to safety permanently after playing the hybrid safety/linebacker role for parts of last season and the early parts of spring. This move spurred more switching on the defensive side of the ball.
"We made a couple of moves [on defense]," Andersen said. "Joe [Schobert] moved from inside linebacker to outside linebacker. You are constantly looking at things in spring and right now we are definitely a better team with Michael back at safety and Joe at the outside linebacker spot. Both the Trotter boys now play inside linebacker.
"You mesh the team together every single year and you mesh the positions together to best fit the needs of the team and the opportunity to win and those are some moves that we made on defensive. I feel pretty good about it."
Chikwe Obasih, Michael Trotter, Devin Gaulden lead hungry first-team defense
The defense spent time after Tuesday's practice running sprints following a poor showing. Thursday's practice the unit as a whole looked much better, and Friday showed much of the same.
The defense looked to be more in sync during the scrimmage, no matter which string unit was on the field. Three players that stood out were Chikwe Obasih, Michael Trotter and Devin Gaulden.
"Chikwe and [Alec James] are getting a lot of reps, and they need to," Andersen said. "It's obviously by design because they are deserved reps and number two they need those reps. They need every rep they can possibly get at the youthful state they are at.
"The last three days, both of those kids have really gotten themselves more production, more technique sound and more fundamentally sound, which in turn they will become better players. It's still a work in progress, but I like those kids."
Obasih had five tackles, including one for a loss, and took first-team reps alongside Warren Herring and Konrad Zagzebski. He looked extremely comfortable and sealed the edge very well, allowing the outside linebacker to pursue on the play.
Gaulden had a few tackles on the day, and showed great ball skills when he deflected a pass on a well-thrown ball to the slot receiver on an out route.
"Number one, he has continued to stay healthy, which puts a big smile on my face for a kid who has fought that hard to come back, and number two, he is our third corner right now," Andersen said. "When we go to our nickel, he is in the game as a starter and he is really getting better every day and continues to shake the dust off. It's been a while since he has played. He is getting better and more productive every day."
Michael Trotter had a near interception when an underthrown Joel Stave pass came his way. He also filled the gaps at linebacker with great instincts on running plays.
The offense had four straight opportunities to punch the ball in from the 1-yard line. The first-team defense stuffed Austin Ramesh on four consecutive runs for an impressive goal-line stand, the clear highlight of the day for the defense.
Quarterbacks give lackluster performance
All spring, there has been ample opportunity for a quarterback to challenge Joel Stave for the starting role with Stave just being fully cleared to practice this week. Friday's practice showed Stave's obvious rust, yet nobody took full advantage.
"[The quarterbacks] threw the ball just okay; got to throw it better," Andersen said. "From all the quarterbacks, I would say that not one quarterback stood out throwing the football. It's a work in progress. [They form a] good, hard-working group and we will keep them going."
Andersen did acknowledge it is somewhat difficult to evaluate the quarterbacks because the wide receivers are only rotating four players. That has led to quarterbacks having some dropped passes that he expects normally would have been caught. Andersen did like the progress he has seen in D.J. Gillins, though he practiced with the second-string offense and defense.
"D.J. did some good things," Andersen said. "He made a couple plays with his feet. He converted a couple of third downs. He is playing with a very young crew. He made a lot of plays that he had, too.
"He continues to get better every single day. The way he handles the amount of offense coming at him, he improves daily and studies hard at it. It means a lot to him, which is a good sign for him."
-- Thad Armstrong saw limited action. He took three snaps and was 1-of-2 passing.
-- Gillins was 4-of-7. An interesting trend is the amount of quarterback read options he runs. Friday, he had three. He established a great pocket presence from the start and threw the day's only passing touchdown. Gillins ran with and against the second units. He also scrambled for a 33-yard gain when he had no wide receivers open.
-- Houston only saw six snaps, or one series. When asked, Andersen said he did not know the reasoning and that it was Andy Ludwig's decision. He practiced with the second team, throwing one incompletion.
-- McEvoy was 2-of-9. He had more passes dropped than any quarterback and again saw a designed run called for him.
-- Stave was 5-of-11 on the day. He underthrew many balls and was sacked once by Vince Biegel. He threw a great ball to Kenzel Doe on his first pass of practice, but did not wow after that throw. He later threw a ball nearly intercepted by Sojourn Shelton.
Gary Andersen addresses pay raise
Earlier this week, the UW Board of Regents approved a $300,000 salary increase for head coach Gary Andersen. This comes after the Cleveland Browns pursed him to potentially be their next head coach.
"All I can say about that stuff is I have a great boss and I love the situation that I am in," Andersen said. "[Athletic director Barry Alvarez] takes care of people and I think it is a great working environment for all of us. I am looking forward to the future."
-- Practice was outdoors for the first time at a balmy 39 degrees.
-- Andersen said that beginning next week, the team will start to implement game planning for LSU. He said he believes the two offenses are similar, so that will help out the defense significantly.
-- Andersen also acknowledged that this opening game is on the players' mind because it is different than any other opening they have faced. He went on to say it will motivate the Badgers.
-- Andersen said he expects to have Rob Wheelwright back next week. All other injured receivers will be out the rest of camp.
-- That leaves still only four healthy receivers: Jazz Peavy, Doe, Lance Baretz and A.J. Jordan.
-- Jordan looked settled in at wide rceiver after practicing for the first time there on Thursday.
-- McEvoy and Stave received similar numbers in snaps with the first-team offense.
-- Shelton was burned on a pass from Stave to Kenzel Doe. Right after, Shelton regained composure and defended a similar play well. He came close to intercepting a Stave pass later in practice.
-- Nate Hammon looked to play the hybrid linebacker/safety position in some defensive sets similar to what Caputo did last year.
-- Eric Steffes caught Friday's only passing touchdown from Gillins.
-- Ramesh ran the ball rather well, aside from the goal-line stand where he was denied a touchdown. He picked up good yardage and continued to fall forward for extra yards.
-- A scuffle between Bryce Gilbert and Logan Schmidt broke out on a screen pass to Doe. The players were separated and continued playing.
-- Gilbert penetrated well upfield in practice at the nose guard position.
-- Both kickers were shaky, but Andrew Endicott displayed a much better leg than Jack Russell. Russell was 3-of-5, hitting from 35, 40 and 45 yards, but missing from 35 and 40. He was 1-of-2 on extra points. Endicott was 2-of-4 on field goals, converting from 35 and 40, while also missing from 35 and 45. He was 2-of-2 on extra points. Endicott was more accurate despite the two misses.