Recapping Wisconsin’s media day

Wisconsin will open preseason practice Friday morning in Madison but the coaching staff and select players met with reporters Thursday for media day inside Camp Randall Stadium.

Here are a few takeaways from the nearly three hour event:

* Wisconsin’s offensive line appears set at four of the five positions. Offensive line coach Joe Rudolph said he liked senior Tyler Beach at left tackle, senior Kayden Lyles at center, redshirt freshman Jack Nelson at right guard and senior Logan Bruss at right tackle.

If the team had a game tomorrow, senior Josh Seltzner would be his left guard, but junior Cormac Sampson is pushing him for playing time. In addition to those six guys, Rudolph also mentioned sophomore tackle Logan Brown, sophomore center/guard Joe Tippmann and sophomore Tanor Bortolini among those in the running for snaps. Tippmann, who missed all of last season and the spring, will get most of his snaps at center but Rudolph believes he can play either guard spot, too.

* Somehow one of the most confident guys to ever play for Wisconsin — quarterback Graham Mertz — gained even more confidence this offseason.

“The point I’m at right now, I’ve never been at before stepping on a football field,” Mertz said. “Just my overall level of comfort and confidence in my ability and the guys around me. We’re going to be ready to go. I know right now, if you told me I had a game in a week, I’d be ready to go. The area of development, just the mental edge and everything I’ve put myself into and through this offseason, I’m excited to just let it out Sept. 4.”

The junior said he built confidence this offseason by attacking his weaknesses, whether it be consistency in life, technique on the field or even his work in the classroom.

“The biggest thing is being honest with yourself and just having the humility to know, ‘Alright, I’m falling short here and I need to grow,'” Mertz said. “I think that’s where I’ve grown in this confidence thing is I’ve attacked those things with everything I’ve got and made them better.”

* Senior wide receiver Kendric Pryor ran a 4.37-second 40-yard dash during end of the summer testing. He said it’s the fastest he’s ever been timed at and believes it was the fastest on the team, though running back Isaac Guerendo was also right around that number.

Fellow wide out Danny Davis didn’t have an exact number when asked but he said he could be around 4.45 or 4.50. The senior joked he’s got the deceptive speed that allows him to get deep against defenses.

* The running back room was more of a walking wounded room during spring practice. Fullbacks John Chenal and Quan Easterling got as many carries as any of the running backs in the practices open to the media. Redshirt freshman Jalen Berger, Guerendo, redshirt sophomore Julius Davis and even junior Brady Schipper missed time. But new running backs coach Gary Brown said it looks like they are going to be “pretty healthy” when practice kicks off Friday.

* True freshman Braelon Allen will start his time at Wisconsin as a running back, though defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard said they’d love to have him on their side of the ball.

“What do you think?” Leonhard quipped when asked if he put up a fight to get Allen on defense. “Extremely talented, can help us on either side of the ball, so whenever they let us take him we’ll be more than happy.”

At 6-foot-2, 238 pounds, Allen averaged 14.7 yards per carry and scored 21 touchdowns for Fond du Lac during the spring season. But he was also named the state defensive player of the year. That’s actually where he caught Brown’s eye.

“When I watched him (at running back) on film he was so much bigger and stronger and faster than everybody in high school. It was just like, ‘OK, he’s a great high school player,'” Brown said. “But what flipped the switch in my mind was watching him on defense, watching him move around. His ability to stop, start, change direction, those are the types of things running backs do.”

Allen turned all sorts of heads in the weight room during the summer putting up the kind of weight a 17-year-old shouldn’t be able to do. Chenal, known to throw around the weights plenty himself, called Allen a freak of nature. But Allen also realizes what is important — what he does on the field.

“I know he’s more excited than anybody to get on the field,” Leonhard said. “He knows that’s where games are played. As impressive as he is off the field, he knows where it all matters.”

* If it wasn’t known before that junior Chez Mellusi will likely play quite a bit this year, Brown made it clear when he said the Clemson transfer is probably the only guy he has that can play all three downs right now.

“He’s a guy you don’t have to take off the field,” Brown said. “He can pass protect, he can run routes, he can catch the ball out of the backfield and he can run the ball with tremendous skill. That’s the thing we’re all trying to get with all our running backs to be three-down guys. We’re getting close but Chez is probably the closest one to that skillset.”

* Keeanu Benton has the kind of talent to play on Sundays, but he’s been limited to being on the field when Wisconsin is in its base packages, lined up at nose tackle over the center. That is going to change this year.

Though he didn’t see much work in team drills during spring ball while recovering from an injury, Benton said he would be with the No. 1 defense to start camp when it goes to its sub packages with only two defensive linemen on the field. The junior from Janesville said the mental side of playing in the nickel was more challenging than the physical aspect but now understands what it takes.

“I like playing (nose tackle) a lot, but I like being on the field a lot, as well, so I’m going to try doing both,” Benton said.

* Nick Herbig had a really good true freshman season at outside linebacker. He had 26 tackles, six tackles for loss and one sack. The Hawaii product has NFL aspirations and got an up close and personal view of what it takes this summer when he went to workout with his brother, Nate, a guard with the Philadelphia Eagles. They were at fellow Eagles’ lineman Lane Johnson’s property in New Jersey and working out in a place that Herbig said is called the “Bro Barn.”

“It’s crazy. It’s a whole different level,” Herbig said. “I think that really helped me elevate my game in a lot ways. Seeing what it’s like being at that type of level. It’s two completely different levels of training and how you approach things. I feel like it changed my mentality a little bit in how I approach workouts and how I approach playing the game.”

Other players included in the workouts were Philadelphia quarterback Jalen Hurts, Green Bay Packers guard Jon Runyan Jr., and New Orleans Saints guard Cesar Ruiz.

* Expect to see sophomore Dean Engram, senior Jack Dunn, sophomore Chimere Dike and Davis getting opportunities as the punt returner, while redshirt freshman Devin Chandler is most likely going to be the kick returner as Stephan Bracy continues to recover from an injury.

The kicking competition is also fully open with Jack Van Dyke and Colin Larsh battling. Special teams coach Chris Haering said he would like one guy to grab the job and handle all the kicks.