March 30, 2009

Spring camp report: Day 4

MADISON, Wis. - By not starting spring practice until spring break came and went, the Wisconsin football team practices more often during the week than in years past. After finishing week one of the spring season, the Badgers got back at it inside the McClain Center Monday night.

In attendance:

-Aaron Esala: Offensive guard prospect from Ashland (WI) high school.
-Donte Kuehl: from Watertown (WI) high school.
-Keenan Montgomery: from Cottage Grove (WI) high school.
-Former Badgers Taylor Mehlhaff and Kraig Urbik were also in attendance.

Injury update:

Safety Jay Valai returned to practice Monday after missing the first three practices of the spring season while recovering from off-season surgery.

"We kept him out last week," Bielema said. "What we wanted to do was run him through individual today and skele. If he handles that, then we'll be able to do the same thing tomorrow and progress him in more and more."

Wide receiver Isaac Anderson did not fully participate in practice Monday night as the coaching staff tries to prevent him from wearing down following his January surgery.

"He had surgery in January and we're just limiting his pitch count," Bielema said. "Tomorrow, he should be a go. Some of the guys that we're worried about wearing down will go Monday and not Tuesday or visa versa."

Finally, after roughing up his ankle during inside drill last Saturday, freshman running back Erik Smith returned to practice. He seemed to be running at full strength as he logged dozens of reps throughout.

"He just tweaked his ankle a little bit on Saturday," Bielema said. "He actually felt he could go back in there on Saturday, but they wanted to make sure he didn't re-injure it so I kept him out of that practice and he was full go today."

Position shuffling:

Defensive line prospect J.J. Watt has been on the record saying he is happy playing anywhere. On Monday night, the UW coaches put the junior at the defensive end spot, just to see what he could give them. Normally Watt plugs up the middle, but on Monday, he put forth some solid work at the end position.

"He's a guy that, even going back to last fall, wherever there best defensive lineman was, we kind of put him at all four positions," Bielema said. "He probably would like to play in, I think that's what he kind of sees himself as. But what we're trying to do after that first week, it's a little bit hard to gauge, but it's put our four best personnel out there."

Bielema went on to add that Watt's position within the defensive line is circumstantial depending on what type of offense they would be facing and what type of situation the team would be in.

"Obviously O'Brien Schofield has probably played in all the situations," Bielema said. "Brendan Kelly is a little light as well as Anthony Mains. Those guys all don't have the size that we want necessarily and J.J gives us that option."

Offensive line discipline:

After multiple mental errors, including false starts, slowed or completely halted offensive drives during the season last fall, the UW coaches have decided to take a different approach this spring. Anytime an offensive player, in particular, commits a false start, they are immediately pulled from the play and are substituted by the backup at the position.

"Anybody in the front that causes a problem or an issue before the snap we want to be corrected immediately," Bielema said. "That's what our guys did."

Practice standouts:

-Reserve linebacker Tony Megna made some solid plays on balls thrown in his direction. Twice, he batted balls away from intended receivers during 11-on-11 drills.

-Backup safety Will Hartman recorded the only interception during 11-on-11 team drills. When Jon Budmayr rolled out of the pocket, he forced a pass in Mickey Turner's direction, but Hartman stepped in front for the easy pick.

-Aaron Henry showed he may be back to his pre-injury playing form. On multiple occasions, he showcased good closing speed and nearly recorded an interception due to it.

-The aforementioned Watt had a solid practice. He seemed to always find himself in the Badger backfield and recorded at least one sack during Monday's practice.

-Budmayr continues to throw a good deep ball, although most of his reps in 11-on-11 drills were against the second string defense.

-The Badgers will practice yet again on Tuesday afternoon in half pads.

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