UW's Melvin Gordon looks for the endzone during Sunday's scrimmage at Camp Randall Stadium.
It's a start
By ZACH HEILPRIN
MADISON - An estimated 5,000 fans took in a scrimmage at Camp Randall Stadium on Sunday that capped off the first week of fall camp for the University of Wisconsin.
“I like them. I like this team. I like the way they compete,” UW coach Gary Andersen surmised afterwards. “I think we’ve made progress. We’re very youthful. We have a long ways to go. I feel good where we’re at after one week of camp. I guess that’s the best thing I can say right now.”
The scrimmage included a little more than 90 plays, and gave UW coaches a look at the team in game-like situations for the first time this fall.
The quarterback battle was a focus, and both Joel Stave and Tanner McEvoy had their moments. Unofficially, Stave was 9 of 18 with a pair of touchdowns, including one to Reggie Love from 24 yards out. McEvoy finished 4 of 8 with two touchdowns, which came on his final two plays of the scrimmage.
“Joel’s done a nice job,” Andersen said. “You know he’s poised, he’s confident, he loves to compete. I think he’s handling this team, and I would say on the flip side of that I think that you know Tanner’s doing the same thing. So, again, they’re competing well against each other, it’s a great situation to be in.”
Both quarterbacks are throwing the ball down the field better than in last year’s fall camp. Some of that has to do with the guys that are catching it. A year ago, Jared Abbrederis was essentially the only deep threat. With the influx of athleticism and speed at wide receiver from the freshmen class, the deeper throws are hitting at a higher percentage.
“I think the scheme has changed to help us get the ball down the field,” Andersen said. “I think you’ll see all of those quarterbacks throwing the ball, you know especially the first two guys threw the ball down the field and gave our kids a chance, and you’ve got to catch the ball in contested areas. Jared Abbrederis is a great wide receiver. (When the ball (was) in the air a lot of times it was his. A lot of times today when the ball was in the air, you know we had an opportunity to at least catch that football, and it’s been that way all camp.”
It’s unlikely either quarterback has separated himself in the race and Andersen, like he did earlier this summer, indicated that it’s possible that if Stave wins the job, McEvoy could still see the field in certain situations.
“If we played the game today, we would have some scenarios where we would want to be a very multiple offense,” Andersen said. “If that means another guy’s got to be under center once in a while, and make us be more multiple for people having to prepare, then so be it.
“I’m proud of these two kids. They’re fighting and right now they both deserve to be able to have some playing time, and we’ll see where it goes.”
Some other observations from the scrimmage:
- Several of the wideouts made nice catches in traffic on Sunday. Natrell Jamerson caught a back-shoulder throw from Bart Houston for 38 yards, the biggest gain of the day. Later, George Rushing hauled in a 24-yard touchdown with a defender draped all over him. And though the pass was ruled incomplete, the other freshman receiver, Krenwick Sanders, showed great concentration in coming down with a sideline throw.
Meanwhile, Reggie Love continued his strong camp. His defender had great coverage in the endzone but the sophomore was able to pull down a 24-yard touchdown from Stave.
“It is about time we talk about Reggie, because he was impressive today,” Andersen said. “I’m proud of Reggie. Again, he’s a young man who has battled and fought. I think he’s made football more important to him and it’s exciting. I don’t know if it’s just (because) there’s some new guys in the program or whatever it is, but he’s in a good spot.”
- Perhaps the biggest cheer of the day came for kicker Rafael Gaglianone. The true freshman has a cannon for a leg and showcased it on Sunday. He missed his first kick from 43 yards but wouldn’t miss again. He hit from 40, 43, 50 and 55 yards.
“To me he did,” Andersen answered when asked if the Brazilian native made a statement with his performance. “That’s probably the one guy you look at and say its not just kicking in Camp Randall when it’s empty. Now you got people out there.
“He hit a 62 (yard field goal) the other day in practice. He’s impressed me. Trust me, it’s great the kicks going through, and that’s awesome, but he just handles it. The kids razz him a little bit, try and get in his grill. We put him in this situation today. The first one he missed … but he came back and made all the rest of them in a row, so he’s an impressive young man.”
Gaglianone wasn’t the only true freshman to impress. Safety Lubern Figaro jumped a stop route and picked off a pass from D.J. Gillins, returning it 30 yards for a touchdown. And linebacker T.J. Edwards, a true freshman from Illinois, shot through the line twice on Sunday to record tackles for loss.
“We talked about it all off-season, making some plays on the other sideline of scrimmage, forcing a couple of turnovers,” Andersen said. “We scored on defense, so a lot of young faces back there doing some great things.”
-- Senior Peniel Jean, who made the move from cornerback to safety in the offseason, was around the ball a lot on Sunday, including in the run game. Andersen said he was playing hurt, but he’s put himself in a position to contribute.
“He will be in the rotation in some of those sub packages when we get to the higher number of corners as we go forward,” Andersen said. Who is going to be that third corner, who’s going to be that fourth corner is still up in the air. PJ is a safety but at the end, when you start moving those packages (around), such as (safety Dezmen Southward) last year (being) our nickel corner, we’ll see how that goes for P.J. as we get more advanced within the defensive scheme.”
-- On Thursday, Andersen seemed genuinely concerned about the depth at the nose guard spot behind senior Warren Herring, going as far as to say that if they had to play a game the next day, Herring would be playing almost every snap. Three days later and the coach appears much more comfortable at the position, and that has a lot of do with the jump in production from sophomore Arthur Goldberg, who did a great job shedding a block and dropping Austin Ramesh for no gain in the scrimmage.
“I’m proud of Goldberg. He has stepped it up and he’s had some good days,” Andersen said. “I like where that’s going.”
Andersen also mentioned true freshman Jeremy Patterson as someone that has progressed in a short amount of time, and that he expects him to be getting on the plane to go to Houston for the Badgers’ opener against LSU.
“We just got to get three deep there,” Andersen said. “But you guys know me. I’m going to kind of call it as I see it, but I saw progress, which is great to see.”
It appeared that UW got out of the scrimmage without any significant injuries and should get a pair of players back this week.
Senior wide receiver Kenzel Doe, who injured his ankle in Friday’s practice, will likely return mid-week. And freshman running back Taiwan Deal, who left Friday’s practice early as well, should be back by Tuesday.
When sophomore Vonte Jackson will return is a little more unclear. The safety tore the ACL in his left knee once and the one in his right knee twice. Due to the injury to Deal, Jackson was playing running back on Saturday – the position where he was a four-star recruit for Kenosha Bradford. But Jackson appeared to reinjure his knee on a running play and left practice early.
“Vonte wasn’t out here today,” Andersen said. (He’s) still kind of battling through the knee. Regardless if it’s safety, regardless if it’s running back, it’s just hard. He’s trying like crazy, and he’s battled, and we said at the beginning of camp we felt like he had turned a corner with about two weeks left in summer and he was moving about 85 to 90 percent and (he had a) mild set-back at this point, but we’ll see how we progress. He’s fighting like crazy and he wants to be here.”
The other guys that didn’t take part in practice included linebacker Michael Trotter, tight end T.J. Watt, running back Caleb Kinlaw and wide receivers Conor Cummins and Jake Stengel.
Listen to Zach Heilprin every weekday on “The Jump Around” at ESPNWisconsin.com, and follow him on Twitter: @zachheilprin