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Wisconsin football: Saturday 8/21 defensive practice report

The defense appears to have some quality depth as we close in on the opening game of the season.

Matt Belz

On Saturday morning, the Wisconsin Badgers welcomed thousands of fans and media members eager to get their first (or in my case second) chance to see the football team take the field.

While the team did not wear full pads and a large chunk of time was spent on individual work, the second half of practice included an extended team period in which the coaching staff shuffled the first and second-team players in on both sides of the ball.

Here is a rundown of what stood out on special teams and defense in the last open practice of camp.

Special teams

Devin Chandler appears primed to be the primary kick returner, as he has consistently taken the first reps in that role this fall, Saturday included. Isaac Guerendo and Faion Hicks also got work in the spot.

In punt return, Dean Engram and Jack Dunn were both on the field together receiving punts. The Badgers experimented with having two players deep the past two seasons, and if they do it this season, I would expect those two to handle those reps.

Jack Van Dyke was still limited with an injury, so Collin Larsh was the lone kicker that saw action on Saturday. Larsh kicked the ball well, making all of his short to intermediate attempts. He narrowly missed a 50-yarder early in practice.

The kicking game has been inconsistent the past few seasons, so it was refreshing to see a better effort on Saturday.


The first team defense was once again strong. I thought that the group played well. Nick Herbig made a couple of nice plays early in practice but did not participate in the team portion later. According to UW, this was purposeful for his workload. Nothing to worry about, but it did provide extra playing time for some of the guys behind him on the depth chart.

On the defensive line Matt Henningsen, Keeanu Benton and Isaiah Mullens were with the first group. Rodas Johnson and Bryson Williams rotated in with them frequently. At this point, those five appear to be the main rotation, although James Thompson Jr. and Isaac Townsend also saw plenty of snaps with the second group. I thought Townsend, the transfer from Oregon, looked good. He had a would-be sack and a couple of stops against the run with the second team. I doubt he sees the field a ton early on in the season, but he is a player that could earn reps as the season progresses.

Leo Chenal and Jack Sanborn, per usual, were the starting inside linebackers. Behind them, Mike Maskalunas and Tatum Grass took the bulk of the second-team reps. Grass missed the early part of fall camp, but he was immediately reinserted with the second group ahead of Jordan Turner this week, which is notable.

At outside ‘backer Herbig and Burks ran with the ones. A rotation of CJ Goetz, Spencer Lytle, Izayah Green-May and Darryl Peterson saw most of the reps behind them. Goetz and Peterson each recorded a couple of nice run stops that I saw, and Goetz had a would-be-sack. We got our first glimpse of Ayo Adebogun today as well, as he worked with TJ Bollers and some other reserves late in practice.

At safety Scott Nelson and Collin Wilder continue to hold down the starting spots, but the trio of Travian Blaylock, John Torchio and Hunter Wohler rotated in behind them and looked solid.

I think if Nelson or Wilder were to go down, Torchio would be the third guy up after he once again had a beautiful pass breakup today. Late in practice, Preston Zachman recorded a nice interception off of Danny Vanden Boom with the reserves. He appears to be working behind the five listed previously, but he has some tools.

I continue to believe that Alexander Smith will be the third cornerback. Faion Hicks and Caesar Williams were the top two, but Smith was on the field most frequently with the nickel. Dean Engram and Smith, as well as Deron Harrell and Semar Melvin also saw snaps at cornerback with the second team. Freshman Ricardo Hallman looks the part and moves well, but there is depth ahead of him.