August 20, 2009

Young safeties ready to contribute

MADISON, Wis. - Wednesday evening's practice was cut short for the Wisconsin football team in an attempt to keep the players fresh. However, in front of several sponsors and other UW athletic department supporters, the team finished Thursday's practice by doing wind sprints.

As has been common throughout the past four days, the Badgers had to deal with the elements as wind and rain made a presence throughout the early stages. But, after the rain showers blew over, it turned out to be a very nice mid-August evening.

Young safeties stepping to the plate:

Since the departure of Shane Carter and Aubrey Pleasant due to indefinite suspension, both Kevin Claxton and Shelton Johnson have been thrown into more reps.

At this point, they seem to be filling in the void left by Carter and Pleasant nicely. Claxton possesses great size that leads safeties coach Randall McCray liking his abilities.

"Claxton is just a big kid," McCray said following practice. "He's a big kid that runs real well. Anytime you get a big kid that runs real well, they can cover and all that kind of stuff, it makes you a little bit better. You don't have to play them at linebacker, they can play safety, they can help with the run, still play the pass, you don't have to sub packages, things to that nature.

"That's where it helps the most."

Meanwhile, Johnson has been continually making plays in the secondary and seems to log at least one interception on a daily basis.

"He's doing a good job," McCray said. "He's focusing on his key reads. He sat there and he paid attention during the meetings. When his time came, boom, he stepped in and he was ready to good. I was really, very proud of him."

With the opening game against Northern Illinois just over two weeks away, both players will see plenty of action on the field. Though Jay Valai[/d]b and [db]Chris Maragos have a firm grasp on the starting spot, the young players still seem ready to contribute.

"I think they're going to play," McCray said. "Barring anything bad happening, I think they're going to play a lot for us this year. We don't particularly know how much yet, it kind of depends on the flow of the game. It depends on how they pick up game plans and stuff like that.

"They've put themselves in a position right now, to help themselves on game day."

Quarterbacks struggle:

Maybe it's that time in camp where players are starting to hit a wall and are yet to break through it, but there were not many good throws throughout Thursday's practice. On top of that, several of those throws were intercepted.

On one particular play, junior Scott Tolzien, battling for the starting spot, threw a pass to the flat. However, freshman linebacker A.J. Fenton jumped the route and intercepted the pass before taking it to the house for a touchdown.

Otherwise, Phillips, who garnered most of the reps, looked a bit shoddy throwing the ball as he routinely overthrew his receivers.

In fact, Dustin Sherer, who has been receiving less reps over the past couple days, threw one of the few touchdown passes of the day when he found Maurice Moore open in the end zone for a touchdown during red zone drills.

That came after Phillips struggled in the same drill and eventually fumbled a snap that was turned over to the defense.

Bits and Pieces:

-Mike Taylor was full go in practice Thursday afternoon and made a few nice plays. On one instance, he barreled through the offensive line and blew up a play for the quarterback sack. But since the team isn't tackling, it was more like a quarterback bear hug.

-Zach Brown continues to make big plays. On back-to-back runs to start 11-on-11 work, Brown broke through big holes and rumbled for 15-20 yards before being touched.

-Antonio Cromartie, a long, lanky cornerback with great ball skills, broke up a pass intended for Nick Toon near the sideline. The redshirt freshman completely dove and extended his body to get a hand on the ball before Toon could reel it in.

-But the play of the day had to have come from Erik Smith. With the defense blitzing, Smith threw his body at safety Shelton Johnson, took not only him out of the play but another player breaking through the line as well. The hit essentially took two players out of the play with one block.

-At the conclusion of practice, every player in uniform ran the width of the field five times. That was the first time all week the team ended practice in that fashion.

The Badgers will be back Friday for it's third two-a-day practice of the week. will have full coverage of both practices.

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