MADISON—Injuries have kept several would-be starters limited on or completely off the field this spring for the Wisconsin Badgers, most notably at inside linebacker and the offensive line.
While redshirt senior Jack Cichy and sophomore Chris Orr have both practiced sparingly in non-contact drills or snaps, redshirt juniors T.J. Edwards and Ryan Connelly have not practiced this spring.
There’s a silver lining in their limited capabilities or complete absences, however, as younger players like sophomore Griffin Grady and redshirt freshman Mike Maskalunas have gained significant reps through 12 of the 15 allotted spring sessions heading into Tuesday’s practice.
“I think if you’re talking about the inside linebackers, I think it’s been really good for Mike Maskalunas and Grif Grady,” head coach Paul Chryst said on Monday, when asked which younger players have stepped up. “He’s gotten a lot of work. Heck the other day, [redshirt freshmen] Noah Burks was getting quite a bit.
On the offensive line, left guard Jon Dietzen (ankle) and right tackle Jacob Maxwell (shoulder) were ruled out for the spring. That has allowed a trio of redshirt freshmen to work in and rebuild a depth that’s been lacking at times the first two seasons under Chryst.
“I think upfront and o-line, I think it’s been great for Tyler Biadasz and Patrick Kasl,” Chryst said. “I thought this the other day that Cole Van Lanen was starting to playing a little bit faster in certain areas. I think that’s the product of a lot of reps, getting that work.”
Chryst inherited an offensive line that had a different philosophy under the regime of current Oregon State head coach Gary Andersen. It’s taken some time to rebuild a group stereotypically known for being a strength of the offense—imposing their wills on opposing defenses—and churning out consistent NFL-caliber linemen.
When asked about gaining ground in the weight room and on the practice field will help that position group for the 2017 season, Chryst acknowledged it would but believes they still have a ways to go.
“I remember if you go back, there’s a lot of good guys that played really good football and players for us that got their first starts for us as redshirt juniors,” Chryst said. “We got Michael Deiter, who’s going into his redshirt junior year, and he’s got a ton of starts under his belt. I think the guys, you appreciate the time they’re putting in the weight room. They’re putting time in the film room, and certainly they’re putting in the time at practice—and that has to help them.”
Format for spring game
Chryst gave some direction as to how the spring game will proceed on Friday night (6:30 p.m. CT, Camp Randall Stadium, Big Ten Network).
Described as being in “two phases,” the first half appears to be more a standard practice, with the second section playing live.
“We’re going to do some practice where we’re not tackling, and we’ll do some team, we’ll do a skele, do another team,” Chryst said. “We’ll do a punt period and then at some point we’ll go in. They want the field for 15 minutes, game management does, so we’ll leave the field and then we’ll play what looks like football hopefully.”
- On Thomas’ injury: “Fortunately for Nick, you’ll miss him the rest of the spring but he should be healthy and ready to go for summer workouts. Same with [fullback] Austin Ramesh—he should be good for summer workouts. Knock on wood at this point. [Cornerback] Faion [Hicks] has something that could take him out of the summer workout program.”
- On encouraging early enrollees and how Chryst and coaching staff handle that with incoming class of recruits. “I think it’s really an individual decision. For instance, Jake Ferguson his basketball team goes to state. That’s pretty neat. Danny Vanden Boom’s had a really good basketball team and a good baseball team. I remember [fullback] Alec Ingold. He played in state—won state in wrestling. We talk about this, if senioritis is gonna hit in, and you’re gonna be that guy—then let’s start early. If you’re going to maximize the rest of your senior year, there’s nothing wrong with that either.”
- On two young quarterbacks and their progression: “They’ve been able to get a lot of work, and to their credit, I think they’re getting something out of it. Kare’ was here last year, but he missed it because of injury, so it’s his first spring. And Jack’s as well, and are getting good work. We talk to them—you guys aren’t competing yet for a spot, you’re just trying to learn it and get enough reps to where they can learn it. They can screw up, come back to it. I’ve liked what they’ve done—I think they’ve both progressed. I think Jack’s done a really good job of learning the playbook so that he doesn’t have ultra-limited selection of plays, so I think he’s done a nice job. I think there’s a ton for him being comfortable with the guys even, and I think I’d say the same for the six of the seven that came in early should still be in high school. I think they’ve done a good job of adjusting and just being around the guys. I think that’s as much of the transition as it is playing. Izayah Green-May’s got a better idea of the speed of it. Madison Cone has done a nice job of studying it and giving himself a chance, so he’s going out and playing and that helps his confidence.”