MADISON, Wis. - After its 42-13 loss to Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl ended a disappointing 2008 season, spring ball could not arrive soon enough for Wisconsin. On Tuesday, the wait was over as the returning Badgers got back on the field inside the McClain Center for the first of fifteen spring practices.
Former Badgers Chris Pressley and Josh Neal, former coach and current athletic director Barry Alvarez and a handful of local coaches were on hand to take in the opening practice of the spring.
With day one in the books, there are luckily no injuries to report.
However, as was noted from Bret Bielema's presser earlier in the day, Kevin Claxton, Bradie Ewing, Tyler Westphal and Daven Jones have all been ruled out for the remainder of spring as they recover from off-season surgery.
Safety Jay Valai and wideout Maurice Moore were also out, but Valai could be back as early as next week after undergoing sports hernia surgery approximately seven weeks ago.
"We expect him (Valai) to be back in the early part of next week if everything goes through with where we expect it to be at the end of the week," Bielema said before practice.
Players running with first units:
In the beginning of practice, defensive coordinator Dave Doeren was working with formations and leverage drills with the first, second and third team units.
On first team defensive line were O'Brien Schofield and Brendan Kelly at the end positions and Jeff Stehle and Daniel Moore inside.
The linebackers lined up as expected with Culmer St. Jean in the middle and Jaevery McFadden and Blake Sorensen at Will and Sam respectively.
In the secondary, Aaron Henry, who admitted he was a bit rusty after sitting out last season with his knee injury, and Niles Brinkley held down the corners with Aubrey Pleasant and Chris Maragos at the safety spots.
Notables on the second team defense were J.J. Watt and Patrick Butrym at tackle and Shane Carter and Antonio Fenelus at safety.
Offensively, the line was comprised of Gabe Carimi (left tackle), Jake Bscherer (left guard), John Moffitt (center), Bill Nagy (right guard) and Josh Oglesby (right tackle).
John Clay and Zach Brown both ran with the first unit quarterbacked by Dustin Sherer. Dex Jones and Sam Spitz both saw reps at fullback and Nick Toon, Isaac Anderson and David Gilreath all saw time with the first team out wide.
Finally, Garrett Graham, Lance Kendricks, Mickey Turner and Jake Byrne all saw time with the first team.
During this session of practice, all four quarterbacks-Sherer, Scott Tolzien, Curt Phillips and Jon Budmayr-received plenty of reps with limited or no pressure coming at them.
Sherer finished the drill by completing all seven of his throws, although five of the seven passes were either to the flat or check downs. He did throw a great pass to Toon on a post-corner route to the sideline for a 25-yard gain.
Budmayr finished the drill six-for-six, including back-to-back out passes to Graham and Elijah Theus near the sideline.
Tolzien connected on three-of-six passes and was nearly intercepted by St. Jean on his first pass of the drill. And Phillips finished 2-for-4 with a couple good throws to receivers in traffic.
There were two sessions of 11-on-11 drills wrapped around a brief water break. During the first stretch, Tolzien struggled mightily, particularly against the first team defense. He completed only one pass, threw a pick six to Will Hartman and almost threw two other picks.
Budmayr also seemed to be flustered by the pressure as he suffered a sack in his only passing opportunity.
Meanwhile, Sherer threw a beautiful 40-yard pass to Anderson deep down the middle of the field for a touchdown, but followed up with a near interception on the next play.
Phillips showed good awareness under pressure and did not hesitate to scramble and show his speed in one of his three plays under center against the first team defense. On the other two reps, he completed a pass to Kendricks across the middle and hit Anderson on a wide receiver screen.
After the water break, all the quarterbacks received more reps, although they were mostly against the second and third team defenses. Sherer hit only two-of-six passes, but was the victim of a dropped pass and a pass breakup by Pleasant.
Tolzien bounced back from a shaky performance earlier by going 7-for-8 passing, including a nice deep ball to Kyle Jefferson down the middle of the field.
Budmayr went 7-for-8, but all seven completions were his check down option. The one time he went down field, he nearly threw an interception. And Phillips went six-for-10 with an interception. Most of his completions were also dump offs to the flat or to a tight end in the middle of the field.
Top three highlights of the day:
3.) Although the players were not in pads, Clay showcased his moves after receiving a handoff from Sherer. He shook the initial defender, juked a second tackler and broke a big gain down the sideline before whistles blew the play dead.
2.) During the second portion of 11-on-11 drills, Sherer through a pass that looked destined to go over Graham's head nearly 20 yards downfield. However, Graham stretched out to make the difficult two-hand grab.
1.) Isaac Anderson ran a great route to get past his defender and simply outran the safety before he caught a perfectly thrown deep ball from Sherer. Anderson, who seems to have improved his speed, caught the pass in stride and glided into the end zone for the score.
-J.J. Watt added a good amount of bulk to his frame during off-season workouts. After practice, he said he added about 20 pounds since he first got here and currently sits at 286 pounds.
-Zach Brown looked fairly explosive in the open field, as did Isaac Anderson. They both seemed to have improved their speed during the off-season.
-Erik Smith saw plenty of reps during practice and flashed some quality athletic ability. However, he seems to be a bit behind the other running backs at this point.
-Nick Toon, who has gained a lot of confidence according to Bielema, made a handful of good catches.
-UW will practice again tomorrow but it will be closed off to the media. They will then have a couple of days off before potentially putting on the pads for Saturday afternoon's practice.
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