April 13, 2010

Spring camp enters final week

MADISON - Though it seems and feels like it just started yesterday, Wisconsin's annual spring camp is entering its final week. Throughout the first 11 practices there have been plenty players stepping up and positional units taking charge.

Now, as the team prepares for Saturday's spring game with a few final practices, BadgerBlitz.com highlights the players and units that have made the most strides from day one of camp to the present.

Making a name:

-Kevin Claxton

When coach Bret Bielema brought up a potential position change to Claxton prior to spring camp, the junior Florida native had no hesitations. He wasn't reserved or upset about the move, instead he approached it as an opportunity to find his way onto the field in quicker fashion.

And so far through spring camp, Claxton has been a pleasant surprise at the linebacker position.

"He's picked it up fast," UW senior linebacker Blake Sorensen said earlier in camp. "He's a natural athlete and once he learns to use his hands a little better, he's going to make a lot of plays. He'd be a good nickel guy and he's going to keep getting better."

After playing safety during his first two seasons on the roster, Claxton developed a bit of an understanding in regards to linebacker positioning. Though he never played the position, he started to see where the linebackers were lining up and what their responsibilities were.

Now, after having made that transition, it seems as though Claxton is getting comfortable making hits and taking on blocks.

"He's pretty feisty," Sorensen said. "He just moved there, but he likes to hit. I think linebacker is a good spot for him."

Entering the final week, it seems as though Claxton has really made an impression on both his teammates and his head coach. If nothing else, Claxton's play will give him momentum entering fall camp.

"From his last game to where he is now, there probably isn't a guy that's had as much gain as he has with a new position and playing a different role," Bielema said. "Physically, he just needs to get a lot stronger and lot more stout at the point of attack."

-Jon Budmayr

Since Curt Phillips suffered a rather unfortunate ACL injury, Budmayr has really received an opportunity to get even more reps than he already was. Considering just Scott Tolzien and Budmayr are the only two quarterbacks getting significant reps now that Phillips is out, Budmayr has really taken the initiative to improve himself.

"We're seeing a lot of him," Bielema said. "He gets better with every rep. Probably the best thing we've seen with Jon, because of his height limitations, he's really doing a good job of finding the holes in the pockets moving right, moving left and stepping up. If you just sit down and watch him, he's got tremendous touch on the football.

"I think that's the part that's really going to be nice about him. Just his feel for the game."

Though he has been good and rather consistent this spring, Budmayr hasn't been immune to bad interceptions. During UW's most recent scrimmage, Budmayr was on the wrong end of three interceptions, two of which were direct results of bad reads.

"That's not what we're trying to do," UW offensive coordinator Paul Chryst said following the scrimmage. "They happen and you've got to learn from them and go forward. A pick in April, if you can learn from it, is better than a pick in the fall."

-Jared Abbrederis

Early in camp it seemed as though any time Abbrederis was sent for a deep ball, he would not only reel it in but also turn it into touchdown. He has great speed and solid hands for a walk-on prospect with legitimate shots of contributing as his career progresses.

After a long off-season of work with Budmayr, it seems as though Abbrederis is beginning to reap the benefits of that developed chemistry.

"I think that has something to do with it on the field," Abbrederis said earlier in spring camp. "We can kind of have that trust. We know where each other is going to be on the field so that kind of helps out."

Since bursting onto the scene early in camp, it seems as though the defensive units (usually the second stringers) have started to catch up to Abbrederis and his style. While he still catches his fair share of balls throughout a given practice, it seems as though the long ball isn't happening at quite the same frequency.

"I think we're catching on," UW linebacker Kevin Rouse said. "He's definitely fast and he's good. I don't think he's just been getting lucky. I think we've just shut it down a little bit as a whole so we're trying to get our deep game straight."

Impressive position strides:

The UW offensive line is no stranger to rearrangement. Just last fall, with Bill Nagy and John Moffitt nicked up prior to the season, the offensive line had a chance to realign with hopes of getting the best five players on the field. By the time the season opener rolled around, the Badgers had a true freshman starting at center, a true sophomore at right guard and a reserve tackle playing left guard.

Now, during spring ball, the offensive line spent the majority of the first half of camp without Moffitt and Gabe Carimi and will spend the entire 15 practices without Peter Konz. Once again, a depth movement at the position was put into place.

"(Coach Bob Bostad) makes sure that we don't get comfortable at one position unless you're like a fifth year senior (and have been there.)," Konz said. "He wants us going from center to guard, tackle to guard and always more than one (position). Not only does that make you a better football player but it makes you easier to get on the field and more valuable as a player."

So, considering the line has been without three of its signature players for the majority of camp, and without John Clay in the backfield, it has been performing pretty well throughout.

"Because of the situation we found ourselves in last year, a lot of those guys have played," Bielema said. "I really think that they've benefited. Guys like Jake Current and Travis Frederick have made big gains. Ricky Wagner at right tackle and left tackle, he's our third best tackle. He's really improve his game.

"I think Josh Oglesby is taking a step forward. One thing we've been able to do is recruit big guys here. Hopefully that is going to continue."

Linebackers:

With both Chris Borland and Mike Taylor out for the entirety of spring camp, some young UW linebackers have had an opportunity to receive a bevy or reps. Immediately, Kevin Rouse comes to mind when talking players making a name for themselves this spring.

"I feel like now is an opportunity and I need to take advantage of it," Rouse said. "Any other guy would too. I love Chris and I love Mike, they're great football players, but this is my time to jump in and I'm going to improve the depth and improve the team in case something does happen.

"I'm going to just keep getting better with what I'm able to do on the field."

With veterans Culmer St. Jean and Sorensen assuming a leadership role, it seems as though the entire unit is starting to make strides. Whether its A.J. Fenton jumping a route and making an interception or Claxton crushing a running back when he breaks through the line, it's obvious the linebackers are making major strides as camp draws on.

Up next:

The Badgers return to the practice field Tuesday evening for practice No. 12 of 15. Saturday's spring game is scheduled for 2:00 p.m. at Camp Randall Stadium.

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