4 observations from the Badgers’ first open spring football practice

Wisconsin junior receiver A.J. Abbott goes through a drill last week. Abbott hasn’t had a breakout season yet, but UW coach Paul Chryst said he believes Abbott is on the cusp of doing so with a good spring session.

COLTEN BARTHOLOMEW [email protected]

Glancing around Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday, one could see a number of position groups missing players on the University of Wisconsin football team.

The spring football practices are nearing their midway point with six completed and nine remaining, but it was difficult to glean much from a practice in which almost a dozen players didn’t participate at all and another handful had to pull out early.

While he said the Badgers need to get healthy to draw the most out of their spring sessions, coach Paul Chryst still feels the significance of the group getting together in full to practice.

“I’ve been really, really pleased with some of our better players doing a good job of taking advantage of this opportunity and finding ways to kind of hone some skills,” he said. “And I think it speaks to the value of spring football, no matter if you’ve played a lot of snaps or not, you can get a lot out of it.”

Here are four observations from the first open football practice since August 2019:

Banged up

Here’s the list of players that were on the injury report for Saturday’s practice:


  • DL Keeanu Benton (left leg)
  • RB Julius Davis (leg)
  • CB Deron Harrell (right leg)
  • CB Faion Hicks (both legs)
  • ILB Mike Masklanas (core)
  • CB Semar Melvin (right arm)
  • OLB Riley Nowakowski (right leg)
  • WR Kendric Pryor (left leg)
  • DL James Thompson Jr. (right leg)
  • DL Bryson Williams (right leg)


  • WR Chimere Dike (right leg)


  • RB Jalen Berger (leg)
  • OLB Aaron Witt (leg)

Redshirt freshman offensive linemen were practicing with the defensive line Saturday to help give that group enough bodies, and the offense was down to junior Brady Schipper at running back in the latter half of the practice.

The severity of these injuries weren’t reported, but the number of players missing time does affect practice.

“One of the great things about spring practice is you want the ability for a lot of guys to get reps,” Chryst said. “And the first thing to go is the number of reps when you don’t have (healthy players), or those guys that need the reps aren’t practicing.”

Receivers looking solid

Senior Danny Davis got open on a pair of deep routes in group sessions, and while neither were completed, Davis being healthy again provides a reliable target to a group that lacked them last season.

Junior A.J. Abbott made two catches — one over the middle in a third-down situation and the other in a red-zone drill — that showed promise. Abbott has played in 12 games over the past two seasons, but coaches have said in the past he’s on the cusp of breaking through and earning reps.

With a good spring, Abbott could build momentum for a breakout this fall.

“That’s certainly the hope that he has and the hope do we have,” Chryst said. “For guys like A.J., I think that spring is really big for them. I think he’s done some good things to start with and it needs to continue to do so.”

Rough morning for kickers

Asked to assess the performances from his kickers this spring, Chryst didn’t sugarcoat his answer.

“They’ve got to be better than they were today, and they know that,” he said.

Both senior Collin Larsh and sophomore Jack Van Dyke had multiple misses inside 40 yards and missed kicks from inside 35 after a red-zone drill late in practice.

Chryst said the Badgers have to create game-like situations in future practices to give the kickers chances to respond. This is a position battle that’s likely to be waged deep into fall camp, so reading too much into a subpar day in April isn’t valuable. That said, both kickers’ accuracy was an issue.

Cornerbacks showing flexibility

With three cornerbacks from last season’s rotation out Saturday, young players at the position showed some range.

Junior Alexander Smith, whose role has primarily been on special teams, played both outside and in the slot Saturday, an ability that could help him carve out a role on the defense. Al Ashford, an early enrollee freshman, was in the second group at cornerback.

UW defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard said earlier this month flexibility in the secondary is crucial to covering the different types of receivers the Badgers will see this fall.