MADISON — Wisconsin was back on the field for practice No. 7 of spring on Tuesday morning.
Player of the Day: TJ Bollers
The redshirt freshman continued his strong spring. At 251 pounds, Bollers possesses the athleticism and strength to go through or around the tackles trying to keep him out of the backfield, something they have not done a good job of lately. Sacks are hard to judge because defensive players aren’t supposed to touch the quarterback, but he would have had at least one on Tuesday and likely another. If the second one was not a sack, it was a pressure that led to Chase Wolf throwing the first interception of team drills in practices open to the media.
Junior Nick Herbig, who is out this spring with an arm injury, is the clear starter on one side. Senior CJ Goetz has had a really nice spring and would be the No. 1 on the other side if Wisconsin played a game tomorrow. Redshirt sophomore Kaden Johnson has filled in nicely for Herbig, while redshirt freshman Darryl Peterson has also stood out. Their efforts leave open the possibility that all five may be able to contribute and make an impact if called upon this fall.
The good: Defense in control
After allowing the offense to have some success on Saturday, the defense reestablished itself as the dominant unit on Tuesday. There were barely any notable offensive plays, while the defense produced a pair of turnovers. In addition to Auman Williams picking off Wolf, the sophomore cornerback forced a fumble and recovered it later in practice.
The not so good: Travian Blaylock injury
The senior safety just cannot seem to catch a break after going down with what UW officials deemed a right leg injury. He stayed down for a bit and then needed help getting off the field. He was unable to put any weight on his right leg before leaving to be evaluated further.
If it is a serious injury, Wisconsin’s lack of depth at safety becomes concerning. Only senior John Torchio has played a lot of snaps, though hopes are certainly high for talented sophomore Hunter Wohler. After those two, there are a lot of questions.
With their depth at cornerback, one potential fix would be using Alexander Smith there. The junior has lined up there some already in spring. Avyonne Jones, an early enrollee, has also worked there, while incoming freshman Austin Brown might be given a shot to contribute when he arrives this summer.
K Nate Van Zelst – The redshirt freshman bounced back from a tough Saturday to hit all four of his kicks. It included makes from 35, 37 and 44 yards.
TEs Cole Dakovich, Hayden Rucci – The two tight ends are absolute maulers in the run game. Both put their guys on their backs during an inside-run drill.
DE Isaac Townsend – The Oregon transfer has gotten some more opportunities in recent practices and flashed. He easily won a couple of his 1-on-1 pass rushing reps, while also knifing through for a TFL during 11-on-11 drills.
QB Deacon Hill – The football just jumps off Hill’s hand. It was only 7-on-7 work, but he had back-to-back lasers to Markus Allen and Skyler Bell for nice gains. The ball doesn’t always go where it should or where he wants it to but it certainly gets there in a hurry.
Seen from the sideline
— Paul Chryst appears to be taking a more hands off approach to the offense, at least at practice. He let offensive coordinator Bobby Engram and his assistants handle almost everything offensively, including the 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 periods. During the final period Tuesday, he stood off to the side of the offense watching and following along on his small play call sheet, while occasionally telling the managers where to spot the ball.
What he saw clearly did not please him because he got after the entire team at the end of practice. Though reporters could not hear what Chryst was saying, he was very animated in getting his point across.
— The chemistry in the pass game is still very much a work in progress. That showed again Tuesday when there were a couple of miscommunications between quarterbacks and receivers. Graham Mertz has routinely been seen going to receivers after plays to explain what he is seeing versus what they are doing.
— Sophomore Jack Nelson was dressed but did not take part in any contact drills. He appeared to suffer an upper body injury in Saturday’s practice. Redshirt freshman Riley Mahlman took Nelson’s spot with the first-team offense at left tackle.
— With Mahlman taking the first-team reps, redshirt sophomore Trey Wedig slotted in at left tackle with the second-team group. We have now seen him at three different positions in four practices – right guard, right tackle and now left tackle.
Players not taking part:
OLB LB Nick Herbig (arm)
CB Semar Melvin
CB ‘Khoury Lyde (knee)
RB Brady Schipper
RB Chez Mellusi (knee)
RB Isaac Guerendo (foot)
WR Stephan Bracey (limited)
WR Jordan DiBenedetto
TE Cam Large (knee)
TE Clay Cundiff (leg)
TE Jack Eschenbach (leg)
OL Joe Tippmann
OLB Aaron Witt (leg)
S Preston Zachman (On crutches)
Players dressed but no contact:
OT Jack Nelson (upper body)
NT Gio Paez
DE Rodas Johnson
NT Curt Neal
Wisconsin returns to the practice field Thursday morning.