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Wisconsin spring practice recap No. 9

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Mertz leads a couple touchdown drives and the defense makes some picks!

Jake Kocorowski

MADISON—Despite some cloudy skies and cooler temps, the Wisconsin Badgers conducted their ninth spring practice outdoors inside Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday.

First with the injuries, offensive lineman Logan Bruss had a sling around his left arm and a UW official told reporters it was a left thumb injury. Former walk-on Josh Seltzner stepped up to take snaps with the presumed “first-team” offensive line at right guard with Bruss out.

Fullback Mason Stokke was out of practice today with a right leg injury. Sophomore John Chenal took a lot of reps in his place, including some on those patented Wisconsin fullback dives. Nakia Watson also wore a yellow no-contact jersey on Saturday.

Graham Mertz leads two touchdown drives

The true freshman performed pretty well with two touchdown drives. On one “backed up” possession where the ball was placed inside the five-yard line—believe it was the two—he moved the offense (reserves) down the field for a touchdown against the defense (also reserves). During that series, his arm strength showed with placing the ball in tough windows but allowing the receiving targets to make the catches.

On the last drive of the practice, Mertz led the team down the field (did not track the distance) but found wide receiver Adam Krumholz for a touchdown to end Saturday’s session on a positive note.

One note on Mertz. He appeared to have some trouble with a snap exchange between him and redshirt senior Jason Erdmann during one series.* The two worked on it on the sideline thereafter, and when he entered the game with Erdmann under center once again, the exchanges looked smoother.

*You could potentially call Mertz’ time during this series as with the first-team because the “starting” offensive line was there and Coan had stopped taking reps, but again remember, some players were not participating during this time of practice (it’s why I’m always hesitant calling them “first-team” or “second-team” snaps, but I digress. Please keep reading!).

Jake Kocorowski

QB observations

All of Jack Coan team reps were with the first-team on Saturday. In one team session, he executed a nice screen pass to Jonathan Taylor, who took it for a “touchdown.”

As in all the practices the media has seen, the quarterbacks threw some interceptions. Cornerback Caesar Williams intercepted a Coan pass during the first team drive after some individual positional work. Later in practice, outside linebacker Noah Burks intercepted a Danny Vanden Boom pass and returned it for a presumed “pick-six.”

During red zone skeleton drills (think 7-on-7 with inside the 20-yard line), it appeared divided with Coan and Vanden Boom working with the ones and contributors heading towards the north end zone. In this period, Mertz and Chase Wolf threw to and against more of the younger reserves going towards the south end zone. Some highlights from that:

  • Wide receiver Taj Mustapha made a nice catch on a Wolf throw for a touchdown
  • Mertz threw a nice pass that wide receiver Mike Gregoire reeled in for a touchdown
  • Vanden Boom threw what appeared to be a nice back shoulder throw to Krumholz for a touchdown
  • Wolf threw a touchdown pass to redshirt freshman wide receiver A.J. Abbott, who jumped to haul in the throw
  • Gregoire made a nice catch on a Mertz pass, essentially tipping it to himself for a touchdown
  • Coan threw a nice touchdown pass over the middle to Jack Dunn. I turned my head around too fast on this, but I believe he also had a touchdown to rising junior to A.J. Taylor early in the period. Could be wrong, but Taylor had the ball in his hands in the end zone. ::shrugs::

Later in practice during a team period, Vanden Boom led a drive ending with a touchdown pass to tight end Coy Wanner.

Wolf showed his strong arm and some mobility, especially on the latter with a scramble during one series that drove deep inside “opponent” territory. However, he fumbled the ball. Redshirt freshman cornerback Alexander Smith picked it up and returned it all the way to the north end zone for a touchdown.

More observations

  • Rachad Wildgoose worked with Williams as appeared to be first-team cornerback tandem. That is the first time I’ve seen the rising sophomore do so in the sessions open to the media. It looked like Smith and Burton both took second team reps, but again, Wisconsin mixes and matches in the secondary and its defense in general a lot.
  • B5Q laid out our positions to watch prior to spring ball, and outside linebacker was one of the top two. Combinations I saw today included Zack Baun and Noah Burks, Baun and Izayah Green-May (saw this one maybe more during nickel looks but I could be wrong), Burks and Tyler Johnson, Johnson and Green-May, Spencer Lytle and Jaylan Franklin, Green-May and Lytle, Burks and Green-May.
  • Baun made a nice read on Coan when the quarterback kept the ball on a “read-option” look. Franklin also recorded a sack against Wolf.
  • I thought redshirt freshman defensive lineman C.J. Goetz had a nice day. Working with the reserves, he sacked Wolf on one series, then stuffed running back Isaac Guerendo in the backfield for a loss.
  • As in one previous practice, the Badgers performed some offense vs. defense hitting drills before more prolonged team work. Players would stand several yards apart and turned away from each other. At the whistle, both turned around with the ball carrier trying to get past the defender into the end zone. My notes state the offense won 4-1. Abbott and Kendric Pryor had some notable successful attempts for the offensive side of the ball, while Burton recorded the defense’s only “win” with sticking Mustapha and not allowing him to get to the goal line.
  • Abbott, for that matter, I think has had a decent spring catching the ball. He made some more receptions on Saturday.
  • In the last drive of the game, redshirt freshman safety Reggie Pearson made two impressive pass breakups. I called it out earlier this week, but I like how the two-deep is shaping up in the defensive backfield.

What’s next?

  • Wisconsin will conduct its 10th practice of the spring on Tuesday morning. B5Q will be there once again.
  • Also, B5Q will hopefully have notebook-style articles up in the coming couple of days on Garrett Rand’s return from injury, Zack Baun’s thoughts on the outside linebackers, and more.