December 11, 2010

Observations from bowl prep

MADISON - With kickoff to the Rose Bowl game still a few weeks away, the Wisconsin football team has utilized some time to develop its younger players. Saturday, inside the McClain Center, Bret Bielema and his coaching staff ran a 15-period developmental practice.

It was immediately noticeable that most key players were enjoying a Saturday off. John Clay, James White and Montee Ball were seen in helmets only and looked to be focusing on conditioning.

Players such as Bradie Ewing, Blake Sorensen, Peter Konz and Aaron Henry took in practice from the sideline. Of the players that see regular playing time, it seemed as though Jordan Kohout, Jacob Pedersen and Brian Wozniak were the only ones participating in Saturday's practice.

Because the practice was somewhat short and entirely focused on developmental work, there were no real story lines that could be picked up. So instead of focusing on one aspect, I have provided a number of observations.

View from the sideline:

-Perhaps the most intriguing, albeit not surprising, development of practice was the fact that Manasseh Garner was back at wide receiver. It's safe to say the coaching staff like the prospect of having Garner at wide receiver as his career moves forward.

-The first thing that jumped out to me is the fact that Joe Brennan has a monster arm. From what became evident during Saturday's practice, it seemed as though Brennan has one of the strongest arms on the team. Though he has a cannon, it was also very apparent that Brennan was somewhat erratic. There were a number of throws that were thrown too high or too far for his receivers to reel in.

-None of the five offensive linemen starters practiced Saturday. The line that received a bulk of action featured Casey Dehn at left tackle, Ryan Groy at left guard, Travis Frederick at center, Zac Matthias at right guard and Robert Burge at right tackle.

Frederick also spent a number of reps at left guard, which makes sense since Konz will be the returning starting center next year. Of those players just listed, it seems Frederick is the one that has the best chance of playing in 2011.

-At the defensive line, it was apparent why Bielema was quick to mention Warren Herring. The freshman defensive end is pretty explosive off the snap and had a motor that will probably get him into the rotation a year from now. Jordan Kohout, Ethan Hemer and Jake Irwin also saw time on the defensive line.

Bryce Gilbert, Eriks Briedis, Tyler Dippel and Kyle Costigan also saw plenty of time on the defensive line.

-At safety, I like the physical presence Josh Peprah brings. He's a big body that isn't afraid of contact. He spent most of his time at strong safety during Saturday's practice.

-Dezmen Southward, Jerry Ponio and Connor Cummins also saw time at safety.

-At corner, Marcus Cromartie drew the ire of his head coach when he blatantly interfered with a pass intended to Garner. Following the play, Bielema was pretty clear that he wasn't happy with Cromartie's lack of discipline, so Cromartie was delegated to the bench.

-At wide receiver, I really liked the way Isaiah Williams asserted himself. He's a very thick receiver with a good amount of speed. He absolutely laid out in traffic and caught a bullet from Brennan late in Saturday's practice that got plenty of reception from his teammates and coaches. It was play of the day material. He's going to be a player at the wide receiver spot.

Sticking with the position, Marquis Mason looked pretty solid catching the ball anytime it wasn't in the middle of the field. When he would run slants or other crossing routes, it seemed he struggled to reel in the ball.

-Chase Hammond is a huge target. He looks pretty well built, too. I could see him being a solid red zone threat in the future and a guy that could make clutch catches on fly routes too. He's athletic.

-Conor O'Neill, Ethan Armstrong and Josh Harrison saw plenty of action at linebacker. I wasn't able to focus as much on Harrison as I would have liked. I'll give a better scouting report when practice is open again later in bowl prep, and then obviously during spring camp.

-Jeff Lewis, based on what I've seen of him, might be the fastest running back on the team. He packs a punch, too. It will be interesting to see how he fits into the rotation next year.

-Sherard Cadogan, who was close to earning playing time by the end of fall camp, is a force at fullback. He's very strong and moves well. He also has sure hands that will present a challenge for opposing defenses in the future. He's an exciting prospect.

-Overall, it was clear that the coaching staff was all about business. Though it was just a developmental practice during bowl prep, the coaching staff was just as intense as it is during the second week of fall camp. That's an attitude that will translate to the players.

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