Wisconsin spring practice report: April 19, 2022

MADISON — Wisconsin returned to the McClain Center for practice No. 13 of spring on Tuesday morning.

Play of the Day:

Linebacker Nick Herbig has been limited this spring due to an arm injury, but the junior continues to be a difference maker when on the field. That was on display Tuesday as he stayed with Braelon Allen in coverage, closed fast after the running back made a catch and then stripped the ball from the sophomore. Bodies went scrambling to recover it before linebacker Maema Njongmeta picked it up and rumbled in from 10 yards out for what would have been a touchdown.

The good: Deep passing game

Wisconsin’s deep passing game has been nearly non-existent the last two seasons. The Badgers had just one play of 50 or more yards in 2021 and that came on a short catch that Danny Davis turned into a 72-yard score. But we have seen signs of life from that aspect of the offense the last two practices. On Saturday, it was Chase Wolf and Deacon Hill hooking up with receivers for long touchdowns. On Tuesday, it was Graham Mertz and Wolf.

Wolf was first, finding wide receiver Keontez Lewis for a 50-yard score. The UCLA transfer had gotten behind freshman Avyonne Jones and Wolf dropped it right on him.

Then it was Mertz hitting Chimere Dike for a pair of 50-ish yard gains, including a touchdown, during the same drill. Dike did most of the work on the first one, leaping up high for a beautiful grab. On the second, it was Mertz delivering a pretty rainbow of a ball that dropped over the shoulder for Dike to bring in.

The not so good: The start for Mertz

There is no one under a larger microscope than Mertz, so every throw he makes is analyzed. The start to practice was a continuation of what had been a couple off days for the junior. It was a mix of throwing behind guys, throwing high over the middle, and in Tuesday’s practice, locking onto a receiver, which allowed safety John Torchio to jump the pass for an interception.

But Mertz bounced back (as outlined above) during later team drills and in some of the move the ball periods. It will be interesting to see if he can take his strong finish to Tuesday’s practice and carry it over to the final two practices of spring.


Wolf – The last two practices have been the senior’s best this spring. In addition to making some plays down the field and working the pocket to find throwing lanes, he has been better with protecting the ball for the most part.

Engram — Engram brings something a little different to the position with his quickness. Despite not playing wide receiver since high school, he looks to be a pretty advanced route runner and catches the ball well. Blocking is part of the job as well and he showed he is more than capable by sealing the edge against outside linebacker Darryl Peterson on a toss play to the outside.

CB Auman Williams – The walk-on seems to be in the middle of everything. He followed up a strong practice Saturday with another one on Tuesday. It included blowing up wide receiver Skyler Bell after a quick pass to the outside.

Torchio – The safety admitted Monday that he had been just a step slow this spring when it came to making impact plays. That was not a problem in this practice as he read Mertz’s eyes perfectly to pick him off early in practice.

K Vito Calvaruso – The transfer from Arkansas dealt with an injury earlier in spring and missed a couple of weeks. That allowed Nate Van Zelst to seemingly take command of the kicking competition, but Calvaruso answered Van Zelst’s strong spring by going 4 for 4 on his kicks Tuesday. His long was from 47 yards out but it would have been good from 60 or more.

Seen from the sideline

— Quarterback Deacon Hill and linebacker Kaden Johnson missed the practice due to illness.

— Cornerback Jay Shaw was back in uniform after missing the last two practices with an injury but he did not take part in team drills. Redshirt freshman Ricardo Hallman took his spot with the No. 1 defense.

— Cedric Dort has kind of been the forgotten transfer at cornerback behind Shaw and Justin Clark, but the former Kentucky standout came up with his first interception Tuesday on a tipped pass.

— Darryl Peterson got hit in the head on the Herbig fumble/Njongmeta TD and was bleeding. He came over to get checked out by a trainer but then heard outside linebackers coach Bobby April, unaware he had been hurt, calling for him to be in on the next series. Peterson ditched the trainer, threw his helmet back on and was nearly back in position before defensive analyst Michael Caputo grabbed him and directed him back to the medical staff. The redshirt freshman missed just a few plays to get his head wrapped and then was back on the field.

— Injured safety Travian Blaylock has stayed involved in practices. Several times throughout the nearly two-hour session Blaylock was seen coaching up the younger players, including early enrollee Avyonne Jones.

What’s next?

Wisconsin will be on the field for practice No. 14 of spring on Thursday morning.