MADISON, Wis. – With the spring game less than two weeks away, the Wisconsin football team are beginning to wind down its spring football season. On Tuesday, the Badgers finished the ninth of 15 practices, and did so outdoors for only the second time.
"Anytime we go out there, it seems to pick up everybody's energy level," Bret Bielema said. "That's exactly what happened today. This is the only time during the spring that we go back-to-back practices, on Monday's and Tuesday's, so I really liked the energy they had here today especially at the close of practice."
After practicing in pads throughout each of the prior two practices, UW went in halfback and shorts during the approximately two-hour practice on the field of Camp Randall Stadium.
After feeling under the weather during Monday's practice, Kyle Jefferson returned Tuesday and played rather well.
"He was sick yesterday," Bielema said. "For him to get back out there and battle through the illness today. I was encouraged by that."
With only four practices remaining until the spring game, Wisconsin is doing very well in regards to staying healthy. To this point, only two players, Louis Nzegwu and Erik Prather, have sustained severe injuries respectively. Other than that, UW has stayed away from what plagued them a year ago.
"We limited a couple of guys," Bielema said. "Just because certain guys that have been limited, Isaac Anderson, Jay Valai and Mike Taylor, have been a little bit limited when we go back-to-back practices. But everyone was out there good to go today."
During Monday's practice, Aaron Henry yanked a jump ball out of Nick Toon's hands. It seemed like Toon had a solid grasp on the ball, but Henry got his arm in there and ripped it out, forcing the incomplete pass.
On Tuesday, though, Toon got his revenge. On a ball that seemed to be intercepted, Toon physically stole the ball from the defender and hauled in what was the first down pass. On the surface, that play seemed to set the tone for the remainder of practice.
"Nick, as you guys know, is a big body," Bielema said. "He's a big receiver, but one thing coach Del (DelVaughn Alexander) is always on him about is if you're going to be big, play big. That's what we needed to do and today was a great example of him playing big."
Several plays after Toon stole the ball from the defender, he leveled Devin Smith on a block. The hit even knocked Smith's helmet off and clearly frustrated the young corner.
A few plays after Smith was blocked to the ground by Toon, Smith connected on a solid hit when David Gilreath caught the ball in the seam, much to the delight of his defensive teammates.
Finally, to cap the physical play of the day, Josh Oglesby and O'Brien Schofield got into a little tussle following a play. The feistiness of Oglesby came as a little bit of a surprise as Oglesby has been somewhat passive this spring.
"Lot's of time's I'll step in and intercede when I see a little spirited activity going on," Bielema said. "But today when I saw that going on with Josh and OB, I didn't stop anything.
"It was intriguing to me to see how the kids reacted. There were defensive players yelling at Josh that that was a good thing, to keep it going."
Separate package for Curt Phillips?
It has become fairly evident throughout the course of spring practice that Phillips is the best threat to make things happen on his feet. In doing so, he may have opened the eyes of the UW coaches to the point where a new package will be installed that will give him an opportunity to get into the action.
"The more you see it, the more it makes sense," Bielema said. "Curt is definitely more advanced than all the other quarterbacks with his ability to make plays with his legs. "We didn't go into spring with that idea or concept just because we wanted to give all four quarterbacks an opportunity.
"But, one of the things I've stressed about coach Paul Chryst…is I really believe he does a better job of maximizing peoples strengths than anybody I've been around."
Play of the day
During team drills, Dustin Sherer lobbed a ball down the seam that looked to be a bit overthrown. However, Toon reached out and hauled in a spectacular one-handed catch perfectly in stride.
UW will have Wednesday off before returning for practice Thursday afternoon.