MADISON — Wisconsin was inside the McClain Center for practice No. 9 of spring ball Saturday morning.
Play of the Day:
This is more of a sequence of the day than just a single play. The video below shows the sequence, though it has it reversed. Quarterback Graham Mertz found wide receiver Chimere Dike on a slot fade for a score with transfer cornerback Justin Clark in pretty tight coverage. The duo tried to hit on the same route in a later period but this time Clark came up with the interception.
Clark has seen a lot of time working in the slot this spring. There is no depth chart at this point but he seems like the favorite to man that spot this fall, with seniors Jay Shaw and Alexander Smith on the outside.
The good: The passing game
It was probably the strongest day for the passing game that reporters had seen in spring. Yes, there were some turnovers (see below) but also a number of big plays made by the quarterbacks and wide receivers. Mertz and Chase Wolf hooked up with Dike, along with fellow wide receivers Markus Allen and Skyler Bell, on several dig routes in 7-on-7 drills. The balls were right where they needed to be, allowing the guys to run after the catch.
Wolf had a really productive red zone period, too, throwing at least three touchdowns, including one to Allen.
The not so good: Turnovers
Wisconsin has taken care of the ball all spring with barely any interceptions or balls on the ground. The floodgate burst a bit Saturday with Clark, Shaw and safety Owen Arnett coming down with interceptions. The latter two were the result of tipped passes. Smith should have had another off Mertz but could not hang on. Running back Braelon Allen also put the ball on the ground in a team drill and there were several issues with low snaps from center.
LB Jake Chaney – The sophomore was in the middle of a lot of plays Saturday. The highlights included him destroying running back Julius Davis on his way to what would have been a sack and later blew up a jet sweep.
CB Jay Shaw – The transfer has been plastered to Wisconsin’s wide receivers throughout spring. He plays really smooth and doesn’t panic when challenged on deep passes. The senior has some major swagger, too, and seems to relish mixing it up with wide receivers after plays.
OT Riley Mahlman – With Jack Nelson still limited with a left arm injury, Mahlman has lined up with the first-team offense at left tackle the last few practices and he does not appear overwhelmed. He has been solid in the pass game and physical in the run game. The redshirt freshman has some nasty to his game and it was on display in his pancake of defensive tackle Rodas Johnson.
K Nate Van Zelst – Van Zelst has been so consistent all spring. He went 8-for-8 on field goals Saturday, with a long of 45, and finished the week 16-for-16. Transfer kicker Vito Calvaruso has not kicked the last few practices due to a leg injury and it has allowed Van Zelst to take control of the competition.
Seen from the sideline
— Tanor Bortolini had played center exclusively this spring with Joe Tippmann out with an injury, but that changed Saturday. While still mostly lining up at center, the redshirt sophomore also got some work at left guard in place of senior Tyler Beach with the first-team offense. Senior Cormac Sampson filled in at center.
Tippmann will be Wisconsin’s center in the fall but Bortolini is almost certainly one of the five best linemen on the team. New OL coach Bob Bostad likes him more as an inside guy but will need to find him a spot somewhere.
— Safety Travian Blaylock was back in the McClain Center after leaving Tuesday with a leg injury. He had what appeared to be a compression sleeve on the leg and was walking with a limp but without crutches. Coach Paul Chryst told reporters that Blaylock will not return this spring and is not sure if he will be ready for summer workouts.
— With Blaylock out, early enrollee Avyonne Jones has gotten some more work at safety behind starters John Torchio and Hunter Wohler. The Texas product came up with one of the better defensive plays of the day with a breakup of a deep pass intended for Jack Pugh. Jones had perfect coverage and then delivered a hit to the tight end just as the ball got there to jar it loose.
— After getting blown up on the blitz by Chaney that we mentioned earlier, Julius Davis broke off a 48-yard touchdown on the very next play. The blocking was great but so was the patience and vision from the junior.
Davis had another long run later in practice where he hurdled cornerback Auman Williams and nearly kept his balance before going down. Torchio apparently took exception to it and pushed Davis, who responded by hitting the safety in the head.
— Former Badgers linebacker Jack Sanborn was in attendance and watched the entire practice.
Players not taking part:
CB Semar Melvin
CB ‘Khoury Lyde (knee)
RB Brady Schipper
RB Chez Mellusi (knee)
RB Isaac Guerendo (foot)
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 (leg)
Players dressed but limited or no contact:
OT Jack Nelson (upper body)
OLB LB Nick Herbig (arm)
NT Gio Paez
NT Curt Neal
Wisconsin returns to the practice field Tuesday morning for practice No. 10.