The Wisconsin Badgers head into their fourth week of spring practices, and with that, reporters will be able to view two of the three sessions on Tuesday and Friday.
Last week, we called out the performances of true freshman inside linebacker Leo Chenal, the potential depth at safety, and initial quarterback reps with the two practices B5Q was able to witness.
This week among those that popped out: A couple wide receivers making an impression, a key offensive lineman returning to team periods, a true freshman quarterback performing the best that we have seen so far, and more.
Let’s break it all down.
Graham Mertz’s Saturday’s performance
That was a solid showing by the Wisconsin quarterback. He led a drive down nearly the entire length of the field, 98 yards, on Saturday while showing the ability to complete some passes in tight windows. He also ended the practice with a touchdown to Adam Krumholz on a nicely thrown ball.
We know he has the physical toolset at his disposal. Going into his ninth practice, it should have been his best session if you believe in linear progression of development as he continues to become more comfortable with the offense, playbook and speed of the college game. We should also note who he was playing with on offense and against on defense during that long 98-yard touchdown drive.
Regardless, it was a good day for Mertz and a promising sign of him helping guide the offense to some points. Fans should be excited for his development (really, they should!), but they also should be for the other quarterbacks as well.
We will continue to monitor how Jack Coan—whose reps have all been with the first-team offense—Danny Vanden Boom and Chase Wolf this spring. All have shown some form of solid play at times in the nearly handful of practices available to watch.
Jason Erdmann returning to team work
During the first week with the two practices open to the media, we did not see the redshirt senior interior lineman working during team sessions. Josh Seltzner took reps at mostly left guard with Kayden Lyles locking down the center position.
That changed this week in the two that reporters witnessed, as Erdmann saw time at both left guard and center with the presumed first-team offensive line during Tuesday’s and Saturday’s practices.
B5Q projects Erdmann to be one of the starters on the 2019 line entering the fall at likely one of the guard positions, though head coach Paul Chryst also mentioned the Monday prior to spring ball starting that the former walk-on would receive snaps at center along with Lyles for depth as Tyler Biadasz is out for the spring (hip surgery). That has obviously come true for both players.
Erdmann has already played in 40 games in his Wisconsin career entering this season, with his one start coming as a blocking tight end in 2018. He already has experience coming into games for injured starters and picking up where they left off without a significant drop in production.
On Saturday, it looked like Caesar Williams and Rachad Wildgoose received first-team reps, whereas on Tuesday it appeared to be Williams and Faion Hicks. It was the first time I saw Wildgoose receive the reps as part of the first pairing up, but the rising sophomore started seven of the 10 games he played in last season while leading Wisconsin in pass breakups.
It is still early, and UW currently holds a handful of corners that have starting experience. That evolved from what could be described as a transitional season last year that saw 2017 starters Nick Nelson (NFL Draft) and Derrick Tindal (exhausted eligibility) depart and Dontye Carriere-Williams leave the program days before the 2018 season-opener.
Two reserve wide receivers showing up
I feel like at least once during practice in the past week, I have called out, ‘That was a nice catch by Krumholz.’
On Tuesday, the walk-on from nearby Stoughton, Wis., made some nice receptions in one-on-one contests against defensive backs—namely Williams. On Saturday, he caught Mertz’s touchdown pass to end practice.
The main three at wide receiver may very well be A.J. Taylor, Danny Davis and Kendric Pryor in the fall and into the season, but I like how Krumholz has stepped up with the reps he has received.
For that matter, I mentioned A.J. Abbott in my Tuesday recap being the recipient of some Mertz throws towards the sideline. During red zone skeleton drills on Saturday, he jumped and hauled in a Chase Wolf pass for a touchdown against reserves. Then in what looked like the scrimmage portion of practice, he made a nice reception as well. The West Bloomfield, Mich., product had a good week, in my opinion.
For what it’s worth, I thought the entire offense looked better this week than the first two practices open to the media the week prior.
What B5Q will be watching this week: Outside linebacker rotation
Zack Baun and who? That’s the question we will likely be asking heading into the 2019 season as starters at outside linebacker.
For the most part in these four practices that the media has been able to view, redshirt junior Noah Burks appears to have taken most of the reps alongside Baun. I think he has performed well from what we have been allowed to see. That included an interception on a Danny Vanden Boom pass on Saturday for a would-be “pick-six.”
“He’s gotten a lot stronger. He’s not getting pushed around as much,” Baun said of Burks on Saturday. “He’s doing a good job developing, knowing the playbook and being where he needs to be and that’s just working on the minor things.”
There’s also Tyler Johnson and Izayah Green-May, who have worked within some of the next groupings. Johnson will be a redshirt senior like Baun, and it will be interesting to see how he contributes in 2019.
Green-May entered Wisconsin as a mid-year enrollee with the class of 2017. Called out in our Saturday report, B5Q noticed he was working alongside Baun as an outside linebacking tandem.
According to Baun, it appears the Green-May, the Illinois native, has progressed at the position.
“He’s in the stage where he knows what to do, and it’s more just executing,” Baun said. “Coach April has realized that he’s earned those reps, and I’m glad he’s getting them.”
There is also redshirt freshman Jaylan Franklin, who recorded a sack on Saturday in a team period, along with true freshman mid-year enrollee Spencer Lytle and former inside linebacker Griffin Grady.
B5Q will continue to see who works their way into reps as spring ball progresses and when fall camp starts in August.