Glancing around Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday, one could see a number of position groups missing players on the University of Wisconsin football team.
The spring football practices are nearing their midway point with six completed and nine remaining, but it was difficult to glean much from a practice in which almost a dozen players didn’t participate at all and another handful had to pull out early.
While he said the Badgers need to get healthy to draw the most out of their spring sessions, coach Paul Chryst still feels the significance of the group getting together in full to practice.
“I've been really, really pleased with some of our better players doing a good job of taking advantage of this opportunity and finding ways to kind of hone some skills,” he said. “And I think it speaks to the value of spring football, no matter if you've played a lot of snaps or not, you can get a lot out of it.”
Here are four observations from the first open football practice since August 2019:
Here’s the list of players that were on the injury report for Saturday’s practice:
- DL Keeanu Benton (left leg)
- RB Julius Davis (leg)
- CB Deron Harrell (right leg)
- CB Faion Hicks (both legs)
- ILB Mike Masklanas (core)
- CB Semar Melvin (right arm)
- OLB Riley Nowakowski (right leg)
- WR Kendric Pryor (left leg)
- DL James Thompson Jr. (right leg)
- DL Bryson Williams (right leg)
- WR Chimere Dike (right leg)
INJURED DURING PRACTICE
- RB Jalen Berger (leg)
- OLB Aaron Witt (leg)
Redshirt freshman offensive linemen were practicing with the defensive line Saturday to help give that group enough bodies, and the offense was down to junior Brady Schipper at running back in the latter half of the practice.
The severity of these injuries weren’t reported, but the number of players missing time does affect practice.
“One of the great things about spring practice is you want the ability for a lot of guys to get reps,” Chryst said. “And the first thing to go is the number of reps when you don't have (healthy players), or those guys that need the reps aren't practicing.”
Receivers looking solid
Senior Danny Davis got open on a pair of deep routes in group sessions, and while neither were completed, Davis being healthy again provides a reliable target to a group that lacked them last season.
Junior A.J. Abbott made two catches — one over the middle in a third-down situation and the other in a red-zone drill — that showed promise. Abbott has played in 12 games over the past two seasons, but coaches have said in the past he’s on the cusp of breaking through and earning reps.
With a good spring, Abbott could build momentum for a breakout this fall.
“That's certainly the hope that he has and the hope do we have,” Chryst said. “For guys like A.J., I think that spring is really big for them. I think he's done some good things to start with and it needs to continue to do so.”
Rough morning for kickers
Asked to assess the performances from his kickers this spring, Chryst didn’t sugarcoat his answer.
“They’ve got to be better than they were today, and they know that,” he said.
Both senior Collin Larsh and sophomore Jack Van Dyke had multiple misses inside 40 yards and missed kicks from inside 35 after a red-zone drill late in practice.
Chryst said the Badgers have to create game-like situations in future practices to give the kickers chances to respond. This is a position battle that’s likely to be waged deep into fall camp, so reading too much into a subpar day in April isn’t valuable. That said, both kickers’ accuracy was an issue.
Cornerbacks showing flexibility
With three cornerbacks from last season’s rotation out Saturday, young players at the position showed some range.
Junior Alexander Smith, whose role has primarily been on special teams, played both outside and in the slot Saturday, an ability that could help him carve out a role on the defense. Al Ashford, an early enrollee freshman, was in the second group at cornerback.
UW defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard said earlier this month flexibility in the secondary is crucial to covering the different types of receivers the Badgers will see this fall.
6 potential candidates to replace Barry Alvarez as Wisconsin's athletic director
Current position: Deputy athletic director, Wisconsin
A former UW offensive lineman, McIntosh played for Alvarez’s teams from 1996-99. As a senior, he was a consensus All-American, helped the Badgers win a second consecutive Rose Bowl and became a first-round draft choice of the Seattle Seahawks. A neck injury ended his pro career after three seasons.
McIntosh joined the department in December 2014 and was named deputy athletic director in July 2017. McIntosh has been Alvarez’s right-hand man for years, learning at his side and running a number of day-to-day operations. He oversees recruiting and business development among other aspects of the department.
McIntosh’s knowledge of the department will carry weight, and being Alvarez’s top choice doesn’t hurt, but he’ll need to beat out a national search to earn the top job.
Current position: Athletic director, Northern Illinois University
With more than 20 years as either an athletic director or high-level administrator on his resume, Frazier would have a wealth of experience to draw upon leading the Badgers. He would also be the first African American athletic director in UW’s history and has a long track record of pushing inclusion goals.
Frazier moved between a number of senior leadership roles at UW before becoming Alvarez’s deputy AD in 2011. McIntosh replaced him after Frazier took the top job at NIU.
How much Frazier could help UW programs elevate on the field would be a fair question — NIU’s top programs haven’t had much success the past five seasons.
Current position: Athletic director, University of Idaho
After serving a variety of roles in the Badgers’ athletic department for 25 years, including nearly 15 as an associate athletic director, Gawlik has been in her current post for 18 months. If hired, Gawlik would be the first female athletic director at UW.
Gawlik was in leadership positions on many Big Ten Conference and NCAA committees in her time at UW, so she has knowledge of working with decision-makers at the conference and national levels. She was the Badgers’ senior woman administrator for 14 years, overseeing 10 sports in her time.
With relationships across the department, she’d be a strong candidate if she was interested, but she may want to continue the work she’s started at Idaho.
Current position: Executive Vice President of Football Operations, NFL
One of the first standouts Alvarez had as UW’s football coach, Vincent turned a 14-year career in the league into a successful career as an executive. If hired, he’d be the first African American athletic director in UW history.
Vincent was the president of the NFL Players Association, and has served on the board of directors of the University of Wisconsin Foundation. He’d know the people to speak to when it comes to fundraising and has a list of credentials as a leader.
This would be an outside-the-box hire for the Badgers, especially with no college administration experience on his resume. But if Vincent is interested in leaving the NFL, UW may listen.
Current position: Athletic director, Iowa State University
In lifting the Cyclones out of the doldrums, Pollard has drawn rave reviews for his work as the leader of the department. On top of his successful push to grow Iowa State’s athletic department — tripling its operating budget and investing heavily in facilities — he made one of the best coaching hires in major college football in Matt Campbell. He’s also been able to keep Campbell from being plucked by another program by negotiating lucrative contract extensions.
Iowa State men’s basketball has hit a skid the last four years, going 50-72 and making the NCAA tournament just once, which led to the firing of coach Steve Prohm this spring.
He’s won awards from national organizations like the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics and is a member of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Committee.
Pollard was an associate AD at UW from 1998-2003 and the deputy AD from 2003-05 before taking the top spot in Ames. It may be difficult to lure him away from Iowa State, especially since he signed an extension through 2026 on Monday, but the Oshkosh native could be drawn to his home state.
Current position: Athletic director, Colgate University
Moore is in her third year as the AD at Colgate after rising through the ranks at Oklahoma and North Carolina. Moore was an accomplished runner at Missouri, where she was a four-time captain and two-time NCAA qualifier. If hired, she would be the first female AD in UW’s history.
Moore has her Ph.D. in counselling psychology with an emphasis in sport psychology and has put that at the forefront of her work, serving on a number of NCAA committees and launching initiatives at multiple institutions focusing on student-athletes’ mental health. At Colgate, she’s started a number of programs to develop athletes’ job prospects after graduation.
Moore was the senior woman administrator at both Oklahoma and UNC, so she has hands-on experience leading major Division I programs. A lack of experience in the Big Ten may be the only question mark on her resume.