Saturday, August 9, 2008
Observations from Wisconsin scrimmage
By ESPN.com staff
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
MADISON, Wis. -- I just finished watching Wisconsin's practice/scrimmage this morning at sun-drenched Camp Randall Stadium. The scrimmage went a little longer than coach Bret Bielema's initial projection, so I got a glimpse of all the key players for this season, and several for the future. An injury update and my observations are below, and I'll post some of Bielema's post-practice thoughts a little later this afternoon.
- First, some sad news. Badgers star defensive end Matt Shaughnessy flew home to Connecticut on Saturday morning following the death of his older brother, Jamie, earlier this week. Jamie Shaughnessy had been fighting blood clots in his stomach since late last summer, but his condition had appeared to stablize. Bielema said the news of Jamie's death came as a surprise [check back later for more from Bielema]. Shaughnessy is scheduled to return to the team Thursday.
- Junior Chris Maragos, a contender for the team's starting nickel back spot, missed practice after being kicked in his calf during a play in Friday's workout. Bielema said Maragos had a sizable contusion but should return to practice Monday. Tight end Travis Beckum and wide receiver Richard Kirtley also will return Monday.
- Freshman defensive end Anthony Mains injured his wrist during Saturday's practice and underwent X-rays.
- Defensive end Kirk DeCremer sat out practice Saturday after practicing every day this week. Bielema said DeCremer, who underwent back surgery during the offseason, felt "a little bit of something" on Friday but will return Monday after two days off.
- The offense seemed to struggle before the scrimmage, held at the end of practice. To be fair, the quarterbacks didn't have their best receiver available in Beckum, and dropped passes became a theme Saturday. Starting wideout Kyle Jefferson couldn't hang on to a touchdown strike and an Allan Evridge pass hit a receiver's hands and was picked off by senior Jaevery McFadden, who is cementing himself as the Badgers' starting middle linebacker. Tight end Garrett Graham also had several drops.
- Evridge looks like the man to beat at quarterback. He made the fewest number of mistakes during 7-on-7 drills, finding Jefferson on a rollout. In the scrimmage, Evridge led the first-team offense on a 12-play, 80-yard touchdown drive. Evridge went 5-for-7 on the drive for 64 passing yards. He made a great throw to David Gilreath on a deep route that Gilreath dropped. But Gilreath responded moments later with an electrifying one-handed grab on a high throw and raced 26 yards before linebacker Jonathan Casillas saved a touchdown.
- Quarterbacks Dustin Sherer and Scott Tolzien rotated mainly with the second- and third-team offenses. Tolzien got the first shot after Evridge in the scrimmage and led the second-team unit on a 10-play, 80-yard touchdown drive capped by a John Clay 3-yard run. After fumbling the snap on the first play, Tolzien settled down and found Gilreath on a bubble screen for 24 yards.
- Despite a drop or two, Gilreath was extremely impressive throughout the day. He'll do major damage in the open field.
- Tolzien also got some help from sophomore Daven Jones, who adjusted on an errant deep pass to make the play for a 35-yard gain.
- Though Tolzien struggled at times, nearly throwing an interception to DeAndre Levy in the end zone before the scrimmage, he seems to be making a strong push for the backup job behind Evridge.
- Sherer seemed to have a rough day. One of his first passes during team drills was batted down by Levy. He also had the ball slip out of his hands on a pass. During red-zone drills, Sherer had a pass picked off by Mario Goins in the end zone but then recovered to find Graham for a score. Unlike Tolzien, he got to scrimmage with the rest of the first-team offense but overthrew Graham and had the ball intercepted by safety Shane Carter, who ran it back near the goal line.
- Running backs P.J. Hill and Zach Brown rotated with the first-team offense, with Hill as the starter. Hill gained 24 yards on a dump-off from Evridge and nearly reached the end zone. Brown scored from a yard out on the next play.
- Clay performed well with the second-team offense, breaking tackles on several plays and scoring on a 3-yard run. He seemed a little lost on some plays but punished defenders before leaving with a cramp in his left leg.
- Levy definitely looks ready for a big season and should be a leader on defense. He was consistently around the ball and made several stops behind the line of scrimmage. Fellow senior Casillas also made some nice plays. With McFadden stepping in at linebacker, the Badgers should regain their form after a disappointing 2007 season.
- Junior defensive end O'Brien Schofield got into the backfield several times and mixed it up with some of Wisconsin's mammoth offensive linemen.
- The Badgers rotated several receivers with the first-team offense. Jefferson and Gilreath are the likely candidates to start, but Isaac Anderson and Jones will play plenty.
- He likely won't play much this year, but redshirt freshman quarterback James Stallons has got a great arm, which he showcased on a 45-yard pass to Jefferson. True freshman Bradie Ewing, a walk-on running back, also looked impressive.
- Redshirt freshman Nick Toon had a false start on Saturday, but he looks like he can help Wisconsin in the passing game. Toon has good size, speed and excellent bloodlines (his father, Al, was a star for the Badgers before going onto the New York Jets).
- Wisconsin athletic director and former coach Barry Alvarez watched every minute of the practice/scrimmage.
- The Big Ten Network was on hand to broadcast from the scrimmage as part of its tour around the league. Beckum served as a guest player analyst. I spoke briefly with anchor Dave Revsine, analysts Howard Griffith and Gerry DiNardo. Sideline reporter Mike Hall of ESPN's "Dream Job" fame also came over and introduced himself. Revsine, Griffith and DiNardo are heading to Minnesota tonight.