Wisconsin Badgers Football Spring Ball Thoughts

The Wisconsin Badgers football team completed their sixth spring practice yesterday at the McClain Center in front of a lot of a large audience.

Yesterday was without a doubt the best day for the offense and not as many mental mistakes from the offensive unit. There were big plays in the pass game with Graham Mertz connecting with Markus Allen and Dean Engram and quite a few nice runs from Julius Davis.

Mertz’s foot work looks like it has drastically improved, which obviously is a very good sign.

The defense, especially the front seven, looks like it is starting to gel.

There are only a couple positions where you know who the starter will be. Graham Mertz at quarterback, Braelon Allen at running back, Keeanu Benton at nose tackle are among those few positions, but you can add Chimere Dike at wide receiver to that list.

Dike is a Junior from Waukesha and he is the clear-cut number one receiver, his game experience and detailed route running have been shining. He hasn’t made any “shiny” plays, but he is always in the right spot and has caught everything he’s gotten his hands on. Dike, redshirt freshman Markus Allen and Skyler Bell have gotten the most reps with the first team offense, but transfer sophomore Keontez Lewis and redshirt Junior Dean Engram have made plays, particularly in deep passes, and are in the mix as well.

The only “concerning” part is whether or not the receivers will be able to consistently create separation. It’s tough to gauge in practice due to the product of experienced (and good) cornerbacks that UW has on defense. But the Badgers need the wideouts to do a better job of creating space out of their breaks to give the quarterback easier targets to hit.

Fans that were hoping for a massive overhaul of the offense after head coach Paul Chryst revamped coaching staff will be disappointed with what’s been put on display so far. Many of the concepts that Wisconsin is drilling are the similar to what Chryst and the previous staffs have run, but there are a few tweaks.

Tosses to running backs have been utilized more so far than in previous years. The tosses get the ball in the running back’s hands quicker and can allow him to make a cut faster, but there’s also the risk of fumbling the exchange, something that UW mightily struggled with in 2021 even with traditional handoffs. Wisconsin is also running more delayed handoffs so far in the spring practices, including from shotgun sets.

Now going to the defense here for a minute. Redshirt freshman T.J. Bollers has every athletic element that Defensive Coordinator Jim Leonhard wants in an outside linebacker playing on the short side of the field. Bollers has the quickness and power off the ball to rush the passer and help stop the run and he has looked better this spring when asked to cover zones against the pass.

He’s been working with the second team unit behind senior C.J. Goetz, who’s also having a strong spring, but you should not be surprised if Bollers is a factor for Wisconsin in 2022. Bollers will also be an active special teams player this year.

Regarding the special teams, the Badgers will have a new kicker for the first time since 2019 after Colin Larsh’s departure. Who the new kicker will be hasn’t been determined yet, however. Transfer Junior Vito Calvaruso and redshirt freshman Nate Van Zelst have done all the placekicking during the open practices.

Both have hit field goals of 40-plus, but it’s still too early to deem one ahead of the other.

Junior Jack Van Dyke, the kickoff specialist the last two seasons, was the front runner for the placekicking position last season before getting injured. Van Dyke has only punted during the spring practices so far.

Here’s a look at who didn’t practice on Saturday:

  • Stephan Bracey Jr. (WR)
  • Clay Cundiff (TE) (right leg)
  • Cole Dakovich (TE)
  • Jordan DiBenedetto (WR)
  • Jack Eschenbach (TE)
  • Isaac Guerendo (RB) (left foot)
  • Nick Herbig (OLB) (left arm)
  • Cam Large (TE)
  • A’Khoury Lyde (CB)
  • Chez Mellusi (RB)
  • Semar Melvin (CB)
  • Brady Schipper (RB)
  • Marty Strey (OLB)
  • Joe Tippmann (C)
  • Aaron Witt (OLB)
  • Preston Zachman (S)

“It’s been a good start to it,” UW head coach Paul Chryst said. “We’ve really got to make the most out of the next three weeks and nine practice opportunities.”

I’ll be posting another update as we get closer to wrapping up spring ball.

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