The main storyline from the third day of Wisconsin fall practice Wednesday were the injuries to both starting inside linebackers. But, on the other side of the ball, the Badgers' passing game is starting to take its form, which, from early indications, could stretch opposing defenses.
Leon Jacobs and T.J. Edwards both suffered injuries during Wednesday's practice, further thinning out Wisconsin at the position where they were already fairly thin. The junior Jacobs injured his right foot in a one-on-one blocking drill against running back Corey Clement. He had been providing valuable experience to the Badgers inside linebackers, having played in all 27 games over the past two seasons.
Edwards, a redshirt freshman, won the starting spot after an impressive spring performance. He hurt his left shoulder and later emerged with his arm in a sling.
Wisconsin did not release any additional information regarding the severity of the injuries.
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Gone are two mainstays of the "Chevy Bad Boys," but in their place, Leon Jacobs and T.J. Edwards could shine even brighter.
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Redshirt sophomore Keelon Brookins and freshmen Nick Thomas and Chris Orr split reps with the first team, with Thomas seeing the most action. The highlight from that group came when Brookins penetrated the line on a blitz for a what would have been a sack. Freshman Alec Ingold was bumped up and saw reps with the second team
Injuries aside, the Badgers' passing game continued to show signs of improvement as action on the field intensified during the first practice with pads.
Quarterback Joel Stave was in top form as the Badgers continued to throw deep against the defense.
The redshirt senior found Tanner McEvoy for 23 yards, Robert Wheelwright for 23, Troy Fumagalli in the middle of heavy traffic for 30 and Alex Erickson for 50 on deep pass plays. During Monday's and Tuesday's practices, the highlights had come from McEvoy and Jordan Fredrick on big gainers through the air.
That part of the offense has been noticeably missing from the Badgers' offense over much of the past two seasons. Through three days, it appears head coach Paul Chryst is looking to break that trend.
"I think Chryst looks at it as it needs to be done," Fredrick said of Wisconsin being able to attack defenses over the top. "So they've thrown it and it's a good thing that multiple guys have made plays, is really the thing. So we're going to keep progressing that way.
"We can't go two, three, four years and never throw a deep ball, so some people have to step up and that's how we look at it."
Fredrick has been one of the standouts from camp during the early going. After reeling in passes of 35 and 55 yards during seven-on-seven drills Tuesday, he hauled in receptions of 15 yards from Stave, 37-plus from Bart Houston and 25 from Gillins, which he grabbed over tight coverage from D'Cota Dixon on the sideline. Fredrick stayed in bounds and could have possibly outraced the defense for a touchdown had it been a game.
Not a bad couple of days for a guy who joked with Stave earlier in the day about his longest career catch being 20 yards.
"It's been a while since getting deep balls and everything like that," Fredrick said. "I think coaches kind of settled on what I could do and obviously injuries hinder that, too. Looking into this camp, there's fresh new coaches who don't really know you. You can start over almost, so that's how I've approached it."
The Troy Fumagalli Show continued, as well. He was a popular target when the tight ends and running backs squared off against the linebackers. His 30-yard reception from Stave was the play of the day, as he fully extended to catch a frozen rope from Stave between three defenders.
"With Joel, I just have to trust him and come over the middle," Fumagali said. "I know he makes the right reads."
Wisconsin liked what it was seeing from the quarterbacks and receivers -- one of the primary questions coming into camp.
"Our offense is cleaner than it was in the spring," Fumagali said. "We're starting to hit the ground running a little quicker than we did in the spring."
Observations and notes:
• Defensive end Chikwe Obasih (heat) and Sojourn Shelton (shoulder) both left practice, but are expected to return Thursday.
• Defensive end Arthur Goldberg made the biggest impact defensively. With pads on and tackling allowed, he made the first two hits of the camp on Clement runs. Goldberg was the most consistent front-seven member to penetrate into the backfield.
• The cornerback position is shaping up well. Opposite Shelton, Darius Hillary was strong in coverage and sparsely attacked by the quarterback. Derrick Tindal was beat deep by Erickson, but had tight coverage and continued to play physical coverage. Natrell Jamerson broke up a pass and saw first-team snaps when Shelton went down with injury. Freshman Titus Booker was another standout from practice with a solid play on a deep ball (surprise!) down the sideline and a sack off a blitz on the last play of practice.
• Clement showed some serious burst on a 67-yard touchdown run. Sunday, he noted that he was looking to improve his stamina during camp. He finished each run by sprinting downfield after the play was over.
• Taiwan Deal is a bruiser.
• Stave looked to Clement multiple times in the passing attack. I counted Clement with three more catches today, including a designed screen.
• Houston stayed with the second team and performed better than on Tuesday. Gillins remained with the third team, with Alex Hornibrook and Thad Armstrong at fourth and fifth on the depth chart, respectively.
• Inside linebacker Kellen Jones, recently transferred from Clemson, saw limited action against the offense as he continues to learn the playbook.
• McEvoy once again practiced exclusively with the wide receivers.