MADISON - Every now and then Gary Andersen likes to mix things up. That's why the Badgers were up bright and early for practice on Friday morning, which wrapped up at around 8 a.m. The Badgers were originally scheduled to scrimmage outside in Camp Randall Stadium, but a poor weather forecast forced the Badgers inside again.
The coaching staff saw a morning practice as an opportunity to give the players two and a half days off, but Andersen said it's not a bad idea to keep the players on their toes for practice.
"We talk about it all the time. Nothing can phase you," Andersen said after practice. "In this game you don't know what's going to happen. We might jump up 14-0, you might fall down 14-0. You might have to make a play three weeks in a row in the fourth quarter to either win it or lose it. That's part of the reason I like to throw curve balls at kids."
Andersen said he has to give players enough times to set their schedules if they need to change a practice time, but he also likes to mix things up during practice as well. He said every now and then they would give the specialists some reps without warning, and ultimately these 'curve balls' are good for the players and coaches.
"It's like I told them today- if it's the pregame meal and we have to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, so what? It doesn't matter. I think change is good," Andersen said. "Curve balls, inconsistency is what some people like to call it, but I like to have change within the plans. They handled it well today, and we'll do that a lot."
-- Joe Schobert has come on strong during the last few practices, and spent the open part of practice working with the first team at linebacker again with Jesse Hayes. Schobert put on some nice moves again and had an impressive take down of Melvin Gordon, and he really seems to have opened some eyes on the coaching staff. Andersen had a lot of praise for the former defensive back, and said Schobert is a good fit for their defensive scheme.
"Sometimes football is easy for kids, and there's just things that they do and they've very comfortable and natural," Andersen said of Schobert. "His body is still growing and developing, but what we call the 'F' linebacker is a glorified safety that has to be on line of scrimmage at times, he has to be out in space. It's a special technique, and the young man has to be very versatile.
"He's handled it well, and right now he's running with the ones, and deservedly so at this point. He comes to work everyday, and I think mentally he has done a nice job of spending the extra time to get adjusted to the scheme."
Brendan Kelly's return to the field during fall camp will make the competition at outside linebacker very interesting, but I think it will be hard for the coaches to not play Schobert if he keeps impressing them.
-- I was curious as to what the Badgers would do at nose tackle with their 3-4 defense, especially since Beau Allen looked like the only 'prototype' at the position. But I think Warren Herring and Bryce Gilbert have acquitted themselves well so far through camp. Herring has a lot of athleticism and the Badgers would probably still like to put a little more weight on him, and Gilbert tallied a sack today against the second team offense by forcing the pocket to collapse. The Badgers should be fine at nose tackle this year, but now I think they're could be better off after this season than I originally expected. They'll have to make nose tackles a high priority in their recruiting classes, which makes Craig Evans even more important to their 2014 class.
-- Things got a little heated during the final periods of practice, and a skirmish broke out revolving around Ray Ball and Vince Biegel. I'm not sure what exactly started the conflict, but the rest of the team broke it up and no one seemed to be hurt. Andersen said he and the players talked about it after practice was over, and he stressed that things like that step over the line of what he wants them to practice like.
"I want competitiveness, I want them to be excited. I want them to be jumping around, talking back and forth a bit. I think that makes practice fun. Today I think that got a little bit over the top," Andersen said. "If you're going past the line of a penalty in a game or getting yourself thrown out of a game, then I think we're not in a very good spot. That's exactly what I told them after practice.
"I appreciate their effort. I'm asking them to play with a lot of emotion, I'm asking them to fly around the field. They have to learn the lines, and I think those were drawn in the sand pretty clearly."
-- I think a lot of people have mentioned this, but Andersen continues to impress me with how much time he spends with his players during and after practice. He had a long conversation with Pat Muldoon after practice wrapped up, and it's not unusual for him to be one of the last guys off the field after taking with people. Andersen said he thinks having a personal touch with his players is important, and he likes to make sure he's keeping up with what's going on in their lives.
"I like to go through the locker room and just spend 15 minutes going through and seeing kids, walk through the training room," Andersen said. "But as thoughts go through my mind and I'm sitting there on the couch and rubbing a Great Dane's head or running around the house and if I think of a kid I'll shoot him a quick text and ask how they're doing, especially if I know there's something important or an event. I try to never miss a birthday. That's important to me. I think I've got them all in my phone now, but we'll see how it goes."
-- Injuries to their offensive linemen will preclude the Badgers from holding an archetypical spring game, but Andersen said it will still be very game-like and should be a fun event for fans to come see.
"It's just offense vs. defense, but there's going to be a running clock," Andersen said. "There's four officials, there's first downs, there's a scoring system for the offense and the defense."
Andersen said the defense will score points for tallying sacks, tackles for loss, or forcing the offense to go three-and-out.
"I really think the fans are going to like it at the end and it'll be more intriguing than a watered-down spring game where people are not always playing all the time," Andersen said.
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