4 observations as Badgers spring practices pass the halfway point

COLTEN BARTHOLOMEW [email protected]

As he spoke about his young cornerbacks, University of Wisconsin football coach Paul Chryst shared a philosophy he applies to all of his players during spring practices.

When he and his wife, Robin, were first-time parents, Chryst’s aunt imparted a lesson she’d learned as a kindergarten teacher.

“If I tell my kindergarten class … go to the other side of the playground, some would sprint, some would skipped, some would walk, but they’d all get to the other side of the playground,” Chryst said.

“And I think that’s the same with players. If they want to be the best they can be and if they’re coming from a good spot, everyone’s timing and growth is different. But if they keep working and keep taking the coaching and reapplying that and trust in the coaching, they’ll get there.”

Saturday’s practice, the third open to reporters and the Badgers’ ninth of 15 this spring, was an example of some players’ and groups’ development making an impact on the field.

Dike’s dramatic day

Sophomore receiver Chimere Dike continues to impress Chryst, and Saturday’s performance is an indication why.

Dike won a number of one-on-one battles against UW’s top corners in a red-zone drill, then made three catches during team sessions that showed what the Waukesha product can do. The first, on a crossing route, displayed his ability to fire off the line and beat a defender with speed. The second saw Dike jump over a defender and bring in a 50-50 ball in the back corner of the south end zone. The third was a perfect pass from sophomore quarterback Graham Mertz that thread the needle through two defensive backs. Dike, sprinting toward the far sideline in the south end zone, snared it and got two feet in bounds.

“Chim got a ton of reps and a lot of experience (last season),” Chryst said. “And I think he’s done a nice job of taking that experience and building off of it. And I’ve been impressed really from the first time we got to be with Chim, and I think he’s done a nice job this spring of taking advantage of spring and continuing to improve.”

Two TEs could be common

By a reporter’s count, UW used multiple tight ends on 33 of the 58 plays (56.9%) run in full-team portions of practice Saturday.

Tight ends getting more reps is partially due to the number of tailbacks who have missed time, with tight ends taking snaps that would normally go to fullbacks. UW has a known commodity in senior Jake Ferguson and appears to be developing another pass-catching threat in junior Jack Eschenbach, but there are plenty of chances this spring for young tight ends to impress coaches.

“We have a group that we want to find out more about,” Chryst said.

“Spring ball I don’t think necessarily declares who the starters are necessarily going to be. But I think in the spring you’ve got to put yourself out there and you’ve got to prove that you can do something, that you can give something to the team that makes you valuable, worthwhile of the playing time. And then you’ve got to be able to do that consistently. And I think we’ve had guys at the tight end spot that have done some really good things, and you’re starting to see consistency.”

Sophomore Hayden Rucci, who’s primarily been a blocking option, made a nice catch on a ball behind him in a third-down situation, and the group got the better of the safeties in a one-on-one drill in the end zone.

Multiple tight end packages could be something carried over into the fall, UW tight ends coach Mickey Turner said.

“It’s a lot of times just knowing what to do and doing it right where in the past, that was kind of the battle, just getting to know what to do,” Turner said. “I think they all know what now, and so now I feel confident putting them in the game because it’ll be in the right spot.”

Finding the ‘fine line’ with Leo Chenal

After cementing himself as a starter and one of the best players on UW’s defense last season, junior inside linebacker Leo Chenal is working on mastering technique this spring.

Chenal blew through a gap in the offensive line for what would’ve been a tackle for loss during the first 11-on-11 session of Saturday’s practice, showing quickness in his play recognition and reaction to it.

However, senior inside linebacker Jack Sanborn said that for his running mate to become even better, Leo Chenal needs to wait just a split-second more before going after the ball.

“He’s a great downhill player. I mean, great physical, downhill player,” Sanborn said. “I think there are instances, and we’ve talked about it, instances that he can be more patient, sit back, let the D-line do their thing, let the D-line eat up a couple blocks and just be patient for that hole to open. It will open at some point and then you can attack it.”

Chryst smiled as he was asked about Sanborn’s advice to Chenal. The seventh-year UW coach agreed in part, but he doesn’t want Chenal to sacrifice the special traits he has for the sake of patience.

“A lot of those are the qualities that I think that we love and appreciate about Leo,” Chryst said. “There’s a fine line. I think those qualities of how quick he is and explosive and the fact that he does trust himself and will trigger, those can be a strength. Then I think it’s balancing it.”

Fullbacks continue expanding roles

One result of the Badgers’ running back position being low on numbers is the increased usage of fullbacks John Chenal and Quan Easterling. Both have taken reps at running back in one-back formations and shown a knack finding holes as they develop.

They may not have the speed of a traditional tailback, but both run behind their pads and make it difficult for defenders to tackle them.

UW has had a run of versatile tailbacks under Chryst, with Alec Ingold and Mason Stokke aiding the offense as blockers, runners and receivers. Chenal, a senior, was split out as a receiver for a handful of spread formations on Saturday. He said he’s ready to do whatever the Badgers need.

“Coach needs me to run the ball, I’ll be happy to do that, but there’s a lot of opportunity (to impact the game),” Chenal said. “I just want to do everything I can to hold up the standard of fullbacks at UW.”

From the infirmary

Here’s a look at the Badgers who didn’t practice Saturday or were limited. This is an unofficial list, as UW did not provide a status report. Listed injuries were confirmed with UW.


  • RB Jalen Berger (leg)
  • TE Cole Dakovich
  • WR Danny Davis (Non-COVID illness)
  • RB Julius Davis (leg)
  • TE Jaylan Franklin (hamstring)
  • DL Rodas Johnson
  • OLB Riley Nowakowski (right leg)
  • ILB Mailk Reed
  • ILB Jordan Turner
  • DL James Thompson Jr. (right leg)
  • DL Bryson Williams (right leg)
  • OLB Aaron Witt (right leg)


  • DL Keeanu Benton (left leg)
  • RB Isaac Guerendo (leg)
  • ILB Mike Maskalunas
  • CB Semar Melvin (right arm)