Pads were popping often Tuesday morning as the University of Wisconsin football team nears the end of its spring practices.
Inside-run periods saw linemen battling through the whistle, and defenders and ball carriers weren’t shy about laying a solid hit on a teammate during 11-on-11 portions. The lively scene was a departure from Saturday’s sans-shoulder-pads work and produced a handful of standout moments.
UW has two more practices this week — Thursday morning and Friday afternoon — with the final on-field work of the spring being open to reporters.
A small skirmish
The physicality of the practice was already at a higher rate than most of the others open to reporters, but things got chippy in the third full-team portion.
After catching a pass and running toward the west sideline, senior receiver Jack Dunn was pulled back around the shoulder pads by sophomore linebacker Maema Njongmeta. Had Njongmeta done it with full force, it could’ve been a potentially dangerous tackle, which clearly frustrated Dunn, who threw the ball at Njongmeta.
A small shoving match ensued and other Badgers quickly got into the fray. The pile-up came apart without any real incident, but it demonstrated the heightened ruggedness of the day, especially for Dunn, who took a couple of hits as a backfield fill-in for the depleted running back group.
Junior tight end Jaylan Franklin, who was involved in the first dust-up, almost caused a second when he lowered his shoulder into a defender who had pulled up in order not to hit him then threw the ball at cornerback Amaun Williams. The players separated before any more contact occurred.
Leonhard experimenting with blitzes
The Badgers defense throughout spring practices has sent linebackers, safeties and cornerbacks at different times and from different angles. It’s been effective, especially Tuesday, with rushers finding lanes for would-be sacks in each team session.
“To me, I like to set the plan up around (my players) and play to their strengths,” UW defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard said. “It's finding ways to create vision on the quarterback to hopefully make those turnovers become reality week in and week out, at times or in crucial situations. When we need a big sack, when we need a big TFL, what's the top ways to get there? That's what I'm trying to identify in the spring. A lot of that comes off of who you think's going to be on field in those moments.”
Inside linebacker Leo Chenal has had a number of would-be sacks this spring, as has Njongmeta, who’s shown a knack for knifing through traffic at the line. Outside linebacker Spencer Lytle also has shown good speed around the edge and can penetrate quickly to create different rush lanes for defenders coming on delayed blitzes.
Lytle stepping up
Speaking of Lytle, he’s been one of the rising stars of UW’s spring sessions. He played five games and tallied two tackles last season after redshirting in 2019. He recovered a fumble against Northwestern for his first highlight play of his collegiate career.
He’s looked like one of the Badgers’ best options as a pass rusher at outside linebacker, blending his speed with good upper-body strength to shed blockers. Staying healthy has been a battle for him his first two seasons, but if he can this year, the former four-star recruit is in line for a big fall.
“He's put on a great weight, he's put on great numbers in the weight room. His speed has increased,” outside linebackers coach Bobby April said. “I can't compare him to anybody right now because I don't want to put them in that stage or that in that kind of a folder, but he's a Spencer Lytle and it's impressive right now.”
From the infirmary
Here’s a look at who didn’t participate or was limited in Tuesday’s practice. If an injury is not listed, it has not been confirmed by the player or UW.
- RB Jalen Berger (leg)
- S Travian Blaylock (ankle)
- WR Stephan Bracey
- OL Logan Brown (right arm)
- TE Cole Dakovich
- RB Julius Davis (leg)
- WR Jordan DiBenedetto
- TE Jake Ferguson (right arm)
- OLB Izayah Green-May
- CB Deron Harrell
- TE Cam Large
- CB Max Lofy
- DE Isaiah Mullens (left leg)
- WR Cooper Nelson
- OLB Riley Nowakowski (right leg)
- OL Cormac Sampson
- RB Brady Schipper (left leg)
- DE James Thompson Jr. (right leg)
- OL Joe Tippmann
- S Titus Toler
- NT Bryson Williams (right leg)
- OLB Aaron Witt (right leg)
- WR A.J. Abbott (right leg)
- NT Keeanu Benton (left leg)
- WR Chimere Dike (right leg)
- RB Isaac Guerendo (leg)
- CB Semar Melvin (right arm)
- WR Isaac Smith