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Wisconsin spring football: Badgers kick off first of 15 practices

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Welcome back, oh hallowed pigskin.

Paul Chryst talks Alex Hornibrook as Wisconsin’s starting quarterback, and more

MADISON — Inside the McClain Center on Tuesday morning, the Wisconsin Badgers started their spring football campaign. Over the next two months, 15 practices will culminate with the intra-squad spring game on April 21, this is the time head coach Paul Chryst and his staff can mix and match with the roster and build players up for fall camp starting in August.

On Tuesday, players practiced with helmets, jerseys and shorts (as they will on Thursday as well), and most of the work was done by position, though there were some modified team drills in the second half.

This was the first practice of the spring, and there are bound to be different combinations of players witnessed through these 15 sessions.

“The goal is to see who are the best players, and another advantage of spring ball is getting a lot of reps so you can really find out players and playing and playing and playing,” Chryst said. “You got every other day, so you got time to practice, to meet and clean up and teach it, so just trying to figure out what’s the best use of our talent. Position changes are shuffling or moving from one side to the other, I think those are all part of spring ball so that you then know going into fall camp what’s the best place for that kid and how does he help the team.”

Those position changes announced on Monday were put into good use on Tuesday, though. Redshirt sophomore (B5Q is using 2017 eligibility years moving forward) David Edwards worked at left tackle. From left to right included Edwards, Michael Deiter/Micah Kapoi at left guard, Deiter/redshirt freshman Tyler Biadasz at center, Beau Benzschawel at right guard and Patrick Kasl at right tackle. Kasl, up 24 pounds from what was listed on the 2016 game notes, appears to be getting the first look on the right side of the line with Jacob Maxwell out for the spring.

“Right now, I think when you look at your offensive line, you got to get your five best players out there, and I really liked a lot of things David did last year,” Chryst said. “It’s a combination of David and then making sure you kind of got the depth balance so you’re getting enough work for Patrick Kasl and David Moorman and Cole [Van Lanen] and where they feel comfortable. Certainly he was on the right side, felt comfortable. Spring’s a really good time to try something a little bit different for him and then we’ll see where it all ends up.”

81st Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic - Western Michigan v Wisconsin Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Now a safety, senior Natrell Jamerson worked with the first-team defense at free safety alongside D’Cota Dixon. Hawaii transfer Nick Nelson, expected to be the starter alongside Derrick Tindal, also worked with the first team in 7-on-7 drills.

“Nick Nelson’s a really good football player,” Chryst said, “and as a cornerback, we were with his transfer year and sitting out, he didn't play in games—but we saw him play a lot of football. I think he makes us better in the back end. How does he complement DT or any of the other guys? I don’t know, I mean he’s a really skilled cornerback.”

Chryst did caution that it’s still way too early to discuss matchups.

Both injured inside linebackers Chris Orr (knee) and Jack Cichy (shoulder) worked in position and some team drills on Tuesday—all non-contact work—a day after it was noted they wouldn’t participate.

“Today, we were able to do quite a bit of work with them. There’s no contact. They won’t get a lot of contact this spring, but they can still get a number of periods or opportunities in the spring to get some work,” Chryst said, also noting the two ‘backers provide energy and “juice” to the team. “Whenever we can get that, we’ll squeeze it in and it was good, just even today, just seeing them out there and running around with the group.”

Judging by the pairings during position drills and later in team drills, redshirt sophomore Zack Baun and redshirt senior Garret Dooley were first-team outside linebackers. It should be interesting how Christian Bell, Max Praschak and Andrew Van Ginkel figure into the rotation. Both Bell and Van Ginkel also received some first-team reps during 7-on-7s.

Observations

  • Left guard Jon Dietzen, out for the spring with an ankle injury, has also cut his mullet. This leaves Ricky Finco with the best hair on the team.
jon dietzen headshot uw athletic communications UW Athletic Communications
  • It’s one practice—you’re going to hear this disclaimer a lot—but I liked some of the zip on passes by the quarterbacks. BadgerBlitz.com’s John Veldhuis mentioned his impressions of starter Alex Hornibrook, and the southpaw’s arm appeared stronger. Karé Lyles looks to have possibly the strongest of the three quarterbacks, but true freshman Jack Coan has a nice spin on his passes as well.
  • Tight ends had a nice day in 7-on-7 “skelley” drills. Troy Fumagalli, Kyle Penniston and Zander Neuville all came up with nicely contested catches, Penniston in particular.
  • Walk-on inside linebacker Mike Maskalunas intercepted a Coan pass over the middle of the field in 7-on-7s
  • Cornerback Caesar Williams also participated.
  • Former Badgers Corey Clement and Connor Udelhoven, along with Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, stopped by practice.

Weight changes

Doing a vast cross-checking between the 2016 fall and 2017 spring rosters, there are some significant changes. Note, however, that Wisconsin only checks weight twice a year, according to a UW official—once before the season and once right after winter conditioning, which was last week. Weights can fluctuate throughout the season; it’s also highly doubtful someone can gain 20 “good” pounds in two months.

Here are some of the differences seen on the spring roster:

  • Biadasz up 16 pounds from 291 to 307
  • Burks up nine pounds from 231 to 290
  • Edwards up 21 pounds from 285 to 306
  • Kicker Rafael Gaglianone up 11 pounds from 219 to 230
  • Defensive end Billy Hirschfeld up 10 pounds from 290 to 300
  • Running back Chris James up eight pounds to 216
  • Free safety Patrick Johnson up 11 pounds to 214
  • Kasl up 24 pounds to 315
  • Defensive end Isaiahh Loudermilk up 19 pounds to 296
  • Lyles up 10 to 224
  • Maxwell up 10 to 323
  • Nose tackle Olive Sagapolu up eight to 348
  • Inside linebacker Nick Thomas down 18 pounds to 222
  • Van Lanen up 16 pounds to 303

Jersey changes

  • The most notable change is Orr going from No. 50 to No. 54 to honor his brother, Zach, who had to retire early from professional football due to a serious injury.
  • Sagapolu will stick with No. 99. He wore that number in Wisconsin’s 54-10 victory over Akron last season to play fullback. The next question is will he get a carry this season? Can we agree this is something we all want to see out of the 348-pound, very athletic lineman?
  • Outside linebacker Hegeman Tiedt from No. 68 to No. 45
  • Cornerback Cristian Volpentesta from No. 20 to No. 42
  • Cornerback Caesar Williams from No. 18 to No. 21
  • On that note, safety Arrington Farrar is now No. 18 from No. 21 last season
  • Lyles from No. 9 to No. 19
  • Cornerback Titus Booker also from No. 9 to No. 19
  • Tight end Luke Benzschawel from No. 90 to No. 47
  • Wide receiver Jack Dunn from No. 19 to No. 18
  • Tight end Mitchell Herl from No. 48 to No. 37
  • Wide receiver Henry Houden from No. 82 to No. 26

New players

  • There is now a longsnapper on the roster. Madison La Follette graduate Josh Bernhagen (6’2, 243 pounds) will be a redshirt freshman wearing No. 91. As a reminder, prep standout Adam Bay arrives in June for summer conditioning.
  • Another in-state product Franklin’s Kobe Knaak (5’9, 180 pounds) is a redshirt freshman and will be with the defensive backs.
  • De Pere’s Nikolas Ohuafi (6’1, 201 pounds) will be at inside linebacker.