The Wisconsin Badgers continued spring ball on Thursday with their third practice available to the media.
Here were the rotations on defense on Day 1.
First-team #Badgers defense from my notes:— Bucky’s 5th Quarter (@B5Q) March 25, 2023
OLB Darryl Peterson
DL Isaiah Mullens
DL Rodas Johnson
OLB C.J. Goetz
LB Maema Njongmeta
LB Jordan Turner
CB Alexander Smith
CB Ricardo Hallman
CB Jason Maitre
S Hunter Wohler
S Travian Blaylock
Second-team #Badgers defense from my notes:— Bucky’s 5th Quarter (@B5Q) March 25, 2023
OLB Kaden Johnson
DL Ben Barten
DL James Thompson
OLB Jeff Pietrowski
LB Jake Chaney
LB Tatum Grass
CB Avyonne Jones
CB Jonas Duclona/Jace Arnold
NCB Amaun Williams
S Kamo'i Latu
S Austin Brown/Owen Arnett
The starting unit remained the same on Thursday, albeit with a different look, but the backups experienced a shake-up, as linebackers Jake Chaney and Jeff Pietrowski did not practice.
In their places, Spencer Lytle saw time at outside linebacker, while Bryan Sanborn elevated to the second-team defense on the inside.
The defensive line operated out of a different look again on Thursday, as there were three down linemen in certain formations, but also multiple with two down linemen and two outside linebackers.
James Thompson and Ben Barten remained the two down linemen with the second unit, but the Badgers had 5-2-4 formations, with Spencer Lytle and T.J. Bollers serving as the outside linebackers, while Thompson, Cade McDonald, and Curt Neal occupied the inside.
Neal flashed as well when working with the second-team offense, beating center Jake Renfro twice off the jump in live play.
During the 11-on-11s, the Badgers primarily operated out of Mike Tressel’s 2-3-6 look, incorporating three safeties, which defends better against spread offenses.
Tommy Brunner did suffer an injury during practice, walking gingerly off the field, and didn't appear to return for the rest of the day.
The Badgers operated under intriguing looks at the linebacker position as defensive coordinator Mike Tressel began to sprinkle in his magic, utilizing outside linebackers more so as true linebackers, while blitzing inside linebackers up the middle.
Tressel alluded to the value of “bluffing” opposing defenses with their personnel to create advantages when being aggressive, which worked on Thursday when a linebacker blew up a play, overcoming the running back in pass protection.
“[There are] other situations where we want to be bluffing around. We want to be in more of a quick stance,” Tressel said Friday. “We want to walk up into the line of spinners to threaten the run through to the offensive line, potentially take double teams off of the defensive line. And so there’s some benefits of dropping around and blitzing out of those as well. We want to have you have to prepare for both of those.”
Outside linebacker Jordan Mayer sprinkled in some reps with the second-team defense, potentially showcasing some early intrigue with the coaches, as Jeff Pietrowski didn't practice on Thursday.
It’s still a learning period for the Badgers defense, who are instilling certain packages each practice, but the results have been positive for the side that's looked the better part thus far.
The cornerbacks are perhaps where the biggest competition currently is, as the spot alongside Alexander Smith on the outside could be up for grabs, although Ricardo Hallman has a firm grasp on the first-team reps.
However, freshmen Jonas Duclona and Jace Arnold have flashed, competing immediately for second-team reps alongside Avyonne Jones, who has seen ups and downs, allowing some deep catches at the catch-point, but also stuck well in coverage on other plays.
There is a clear size difference between Jones and the two freshmen, with the former standing at 6’1 and 187 pounds.
1. Braedyn Moore won a rep against Vinny Anthony Jr. with good coverage.
2. Keontez Lewis beat Jones deep.
3. Skyler Bell was able to separate himself from Jason Maitre with a nice move after the corner was tight for the first few seconds.
4. Alexander Smith won a rep against Chris Brooks Jr. with good press coverage.
5. Will Pauling beat Amaun Williams with a good route, showcasing his shiftiness.
Braedyn Moore continues to operate out of the slot, with head coach Luke Fickell pointing to the lack of available reps in the safety room as the reason for the position change.
In other cornerback news, Williams got into a scuffle with C.J. Williams after the latter took exception to the former’s contact on a play, leading to the corner being sidelined for the remainder of practice.
The Badgers continue to utilize three-safety looks, which saw a significant increase last season, operating with Hunter Wohler, Kamo’i Latu, and Travian Blaylock as the primary safeties in Mike Tressel’s 2-3-6 look.
With the three on the field, Tressel has involved Wohler as more of a “box” safety, allowing him to operate closer to the line of scrimmage and utilize his instincts better, with his versatility allowing for multiple formations out of Wisconsin’s most loaded defensive room.
“First of all, [Hunter has] great football instincts. The better your instincts are, the closer you can play to the box, because it just happens a little bit faster, right. The closer you are to the box. Leverage gives you vision. So the deeper you are, the more vision you have, the more time and space, you have to react,” Tressel said. “So him having really good football instincts allows him to play a little bit closer still, see it happen, react very quickly. You also have seen in the past that he’s comfortable being up there close to the core and taking off blocks, and he’s a physical strong tackler. So what we’re able to do with him a little bit, I would call it a hybrid position, but there’s times in calls where he’s going to seem a little bit more like a true linebacker.”
Backup safety Preston Zachman notched an interception off Braedyn Locke on Thursday, catching a pass that went right through the hands of tight end Riley Nowakowski.
Zachman and Austin Brown are manning the second-team defense, adding to the list of players that are capable to play in the safety room.