MADISON, Wis. - It has been exactly one week since the Wisconsin football was allowed to wear full pads during its fall camp practices. And after a complete week of full pads, the team finally got a night in just helmets and shorts.
Though some could imagine a pad-less practice as one that is less intense than a typical full padded workout, Friday's night practice was anything but that.
"We practiced, I don't know how many practices, I think nine full padded practices without letting up on them," UW head coach Bret Bielema said Friday night. "I wanted to push them a little bit mentally and physically and they responded great tonight. I was a little concerned because anytime you back off and go in those spiders, a lot of times, the kids relax mentally.
"That was as crisp as they've been."
Under the lights of Camp Randall Stadium and with a crisp autumn air chilling the area, it was a great night of practice for the Badgers. After a long morning practice through the rain, it was a welcome sight for a dry practice.
During the 80-minute practice, the team worked on skeleton drills featuring the quarterbacks, receivers and secondary, 11-on-11 work and a two-minute drill.
Quarterback race down to two?
Since members of the media have been let in for practice to start the week, senior Dustin Sherer has received less and less reps with each passing day.
The fifth-year player entered camp listed as the No. 1 quarterback, but behind a strong push from freshman Curt Phillips and steady-to-better than average Scott Tolzien, the race seems to be down to the latter two players.
However, following a practice that saw all three players receive a decent amount of reps, with Phillips getting the most, Bielema insists the race is still open for all three players.
"Well, a couple of things have happened," Bielema said. "Jon Budmayr can't go and the part that I said I think was a week ago about a player on the further end of their playing tenure (Sherer) has got to show us a certain amount of things. The other guys, you've got to see what they can do with the reps.
"Scott and Curt have taken advantage of those reps. Nothing against Dustin, he's doing some good things, but we want to see where those guys can go."
With the opener against Northern Illinois two weeks from Saturday, time is slowly running out for the coaching staff to evaluate the potential starters. So, following Friday's practice, Bielema claims he will name a starter by the middle of next week, if not earlier.
"This is an important week for us," Bielema said. "Opening week, we kind of had everything in there, everybody was getting an equal amount. Then this week, we want to see what the growth was and next week, mid-week, we've got to name a starter, if not sooner."
On Saturday, the team's early afternoon practice will feature a heavy dose of scrimmaging. While more is to come on the basics of the scrimmage, Bielema is ready to evaluate each player in this setting considering it is as close to a game like situation as possible. He may even find out who his starter is by the end of the scrimmage.
" If something jumped out at you tomorrow (Saturday)," Bielema said. "Tomorrow is going to be as much game-like as we can get."
More on the scrimmage:
Since the team has been able to wear full pads, the coaching staff has only allowed full tackling on two occasions. And since the media has been allowed at practice this week, there has been no live tackling at any point.
So, Saturday's scrimmage will mark the third time all fall camp that the team will participate in live tackling, game-like situations. But with the offensive line a bit banged up, some of the reps could depend on the health of the unit.
"From a rep standpoint, I was hoping to get a little bit more with the three's," Bielema said. "But we plan on hopefully getting 30 to 40 reps with the one's and with the two's, somewhere in that ballpark. So a little bit does have to do with the offensive line health."
In general, Bielema and his coaching staff are preparing a long scrimmage that will focus on several aspects of the game. Everything from goal line situations to two-minute drills will be on the plate Saturday afternoon with Big Ten game officials on hand to help out.
"Hopefully, I'll start it off with a first down series where it's first down play, second down and you kind of teach the offense if you gain four more yards on first down you have a chance of moving the chains," Bielema said. "If the defense stops them for three or less, then you have a chance to really try to engrain that in their minds.
"Then we'll go with a move the ball all over the field. I want to make sure we get red zones, we want to get goal lines, we want to get coming out and sudden changes."
Another scrimmage featuring live tackling will be put in on Tuesday of Wednesday of next week depending on the health of the team coming out of Saturday's scrimmage.
Here's the scene. One minute and 52 seconds left on the clock, ball on your own 32 yard line with the score Northern Illinois 53, Wisconsin 49. Your job? Score a touchdown.
Each of the three quarterbacks in the race had a chance to lead the offense down the field and try to score the game winning touchdown. Sherer was the first to go and led a methodical drive into opponent territory. However, the team found themselves against a wall with three seconds left in the drill and facing a fourth and seven situation inside the red zone.
Sherer took the snap on the final play, avoided the rush and threw a jump ball to Richard Kirtley in the back end of the end zone. Kirtley rose up and reeled the pass in, much to the delight of the offense. However, from the angle I was at, it was difficult to see if he got his foot in bounds. The defense made it known he was out and the offense argued he was in. Nonetheless, it was an impressive catch.
Phillips led the second drive, but his ended much less positively. After picking up a fourth and two by finding Mickey Turner for a six-yard gain, Mike Taylor batted a pass that shot high into the air and was eventually intercepted to end the drive.
Finally, Tolzien stepped to the plate. The junior led a 10-play drive that, much like Sherer's drive, came down to the final play. With three seconds left, Tolzien completed a pass to Maurice Moore in the end zone on that final play, but a whistle was previously blown to signify a drive, and hypothetical game ending sack.
As expected, John Moffitt, Bill Nagy and Gabe Carimi remained sidelined throughout practice. However, Moffitt did participate in certain drills with the offensive linemen.
Joining those three were Nick Toon, Jay Valai and Isaac Anderson. All three practice in the morning practiced and had very minor injuries that served more as precautions Friday night. Toon was battling a strained quad, while Valai had a sore groin and Anderson had a hip pointer.
All three are expected back for Saturday's scrimmage.
Open Competition for Kick Returns:
Throughout the past few practices, Bielema has been shuffling a number of players into the fold during kick return reps. While David Gilreath remains in the fold, the coaching staff is giving others a chance to impress.
"We're trying out some new guys," Bielema said. "David (Gilreath) has been our kick returner and punt returner and one of the things we've talked about is not having him taxed that heavily in addition to his role as a wide receiver.
"We're trying in some guys there. Nick (Toon) would be one of those guys. Also a couple of guys have jumped out at us. Shelton Johnson, just the burst that he has (and) Marcus Cromartie has a little knack for it."
During punts, Gilreath remains a solid option according to Bielema but some of the younger guys have been impressing him in that area as well.
"David is a solid bet there, but Antonio Fenelus has caught the ball really, really well, in addition to Niles Brinkley and Aaron Henry," Bielema said.
The team will scrimmage early Saturday afternoon. Stay tuned to BadgerBlitz.com throughout the day for reports from the live-tackling practice.
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