The Wisconsin Badgers’ spring practice season is over, with summer conditioning and fall camp approaching soon ahead. Football doesn’t really end anymore, does it?
Fifteen practices have come and gone, but there have been injuries or rest needed for several key contributors.
Whether getting snaps in the trenches as a lineman or a redshirt freshman working with the first-team with four key linebackers limited or out, certain players have taken advantage of valuable reps since mid-March. Some are young, and one or two are upperclassmen.
Here’s B5Q’s list of those players who maybe are not projected starters but made a solid impression during spring football.
Tyler Biadasz (center)
Maybe one of the top two “surprises” in fall camp, the 6’3, 307-pound Biadasz has taken advantage of his opportunity with left guard Jon Dietzen out for the spring. The redshirt freshman has worked himself into reps with the first-team offense, allowing the likes of redshirt junior Michael Deiter to bump out to left guard (and recently left tackle this past week with redshirt sophomore David Edwards not practicing due to an ankle issue).
“Tyler’s done a great job stepping into that, and obviously Deiter’s a guy that’s been there, played that before, so he’s helping him out a little bit,” redshirt sophomore quarterback Alex Hornibrook said on Friday. “Tyler’s taken some steps on his own to grow, too, and it’s great to see.”
Biadasz admitted on Friday that he never snapped before, something he noted was one of the major adjustments he had to make to the position.
“Repetitions, constantly repping it last June and July,” Biadasz said when asked about making the transition so quickly. “Obviously during the season, repping it every day. You’re just focusing on one thing each day, like last fall camp, just getting better one percent every day. Just making marginal gains on working on one thing, whether it’s my first step that day or if it’s just second step power that day—just get better somehow, some way each day.”
Both Biadasz and fellow redshirt freshman Patrick Kasl have taken advantage of reps with the first team, with Kasl working at right tackle with Jacob Maxwell out for the spring (shoulder).
“I think the biggest thing for both of them have become smarter,” Deiter said last Tuesday about both Biadasz and Kasl. “They’re not playing as young as they used to. Mentally, they’re coming around big time, and physically, they’re making strides in technique and stuff like that. They’re seeing the game a lot better—they’re seeing it through a little more of an older player’s eyes to get right fits, right calls. It ultimately slows down for you when you can see it.”
How Biadasz fits into Wisconsin’s plans this fall remains to be seen, but it appears the Amherst standout has given offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Joe Rudolph more flexibility in his options with a position group still rebuilding in terms of numbers and game-ready linemen.
Redshirt freshman Tyler Biadasz on working at center (B5Q/YouTube)
Isaiahh Loudermilk (defensive end)
The second “surprise,” if you will, is the 6’7, 296-pound Kansas native making an impact on the defensive line during these 15 practices. Initially working with just the second team at the beginning of spring camp, Loudermilk appeared to make plays in the backfield and be a thorn in the side of the offensive linemen.
As the spring progressed, he worked in with the first-team defense with Conor Sheehy not receiving reps and Chikwe Obasih out for the spring.
Chryst mentioned a couple of weeks ago how he like Loudermilk’s development but there was still some refinement needed. The redshirt freshman said after the spring game he had a good spring, but admitted there’s more to learn.
“There really hasn’t been one thing that’s kind of stuck out,” Loudermilk said on Friday about his adjustments. “One of the biggest things is probably the run—I’ve had to work on the reads, different run blocks, things like that. That’s probably been the toughest, but I still need to work on everything.”
Though still young, Loudermilk could be a wild card for playing time next season in what’s one of the deepest position groups with James, Sheehy, Obasih and sophomore Garrett Rand.
“My goal is just to work and be as good as I can be, and wherever I’m at, when that happens, I’m fine wherever I’m at,” Loudermilk said. “I hope to have a role in the season next year, but I’m just going to work and improve every aspect of it.”
Wisconsin DL Isaiahh Loudermilk on developing, 2017 season goals (B5Q/YouTube)
Mike Maskalunas and Griffin Grady (inside linebackers)
Jack Cichy and Chris Orr have been limited this spring and T.J. Edwards and Ryan Connelly have been out altogether due to injury. That’s allowed some youngsters to step up and gain some significant reps.
“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.
Grady, who found himself in the two-deep at the position last year while playing in 12 games as a true freshman, and Maskalunas, a walk-on, played with the first team primarily during the spring.
Injuries have taken a toll on the inside linebackers the past two seasons on one of the deepest positions in the program. The experience will help them both if called upon in the fall.
“I see a lot of grit. They’re young, they’re not scared to go in there and make a big hit or whatever,” free safety Natrell Jamerson said on Friday. “They’re learning, still learning, but they’re pretty good. I got a lot of confidence in them.”
Joe Ferguson (safety)
Ferguson, a former walk-on and consistent special teams contributor, received snaps often as a first-team strong safety with redshirt junior D’Cota Dixon resting for portions of the spring. The grandson of Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez appeared to perform well, especially during the middle of the practice schedule.
The Madison Memorial product recorded some interceptions and looked solid in the run game.
“Hands down,” defensive coordinator and secondary coach Jim Leonhard said in an interview with UWBadgers.com, “he’s playing his best football here at Wisconsin. He has been highly productive and making a lot of plays. He’s playing very fast, which is great to see.”
A redshirt senior, Ferguson is experienced and can definitely bring a lot to the secondary next season.
“Joe, he’s a good guy. He keeps everyone laughing, keeps everyone in good spirits,” Jamerson said. “On the football field, he knows what he’s doing, and if somebody isn’t too sure what they’re doing, he’ll help them out. He’s just a great teammate.”
Kendric Pryor (Wide receiver)
Gaining some first-team reps but working a lot with the backups, the redshirt freshman stood out to me on several locations. It seemed like he found some rapport with the likes of Jack Coan and Karé Lyles in making a few catches each practice I attended.
During Friday night’s spring game, he also showed the ability to make receptions near the sidelines in one of the few offensive highlights of the scrimmage portion of the game.
With the loss of Robert Wheelwright, it’s assumed that Quintez Cephus, George Rushing, and A.J. Taylor would step up to fill the void as the complement to Peavy. When looking at a possible fifth wide receiver next season, the redshirt freshman appears to have put himself into good position to contribute.
Others to note
Cornerback Dontye Carriere-Williams: On Friday, senior Derrick Tindal noted both Cephus and his position mate in Carriere-Williams as players he thought impressed him during the spring sessions. It appeared Carriere-Williams, a redshirt freshman, received some reps as the team’s nickel back along with senior Lubern Figaro. Regardless, he appears to be readying himself a spot on the depth chart in some capacity if his development continues.
Running back Garrett Groshek: Which role the walk-on from Amherst plays next season and down the road remains unclear, but Groshek looked solid for it being his first spring at tailback. During practices, he appeared to run hard and make some plays. Judging from Chryst’s remarks about the 5’11, 209-pound redshirt freshman, it seems like he helped himself during the 15 practices.
“There's a guy that puts in a ton of time, and he’s smart, and he’s always up in coach Settle’s office,” Chryst said when asked about Groshek on Friday. “He wants to be the best he can, and he’s got some athleticism. He’s got some size to him. So it was fun to see him this spring and see him develop and grow. There’s a lot that goes into that position, particularly trying to find maybe could he be a third-down back. He did, he put himself in the mix pretty quickly.”