4 observations from Wisconsin football's third day of training camp

PLATTEVILLE — Some separation started to become noticeable Friday at the third day of University of Wisconsin football’s training camp.
For two 11-on-11 periods of practice, the first and second units on offense and defense worked against each other on the south side of the field at Ralph E. Davis Pioneer Stadium, while reserve units squared off on the north end. It allowed for younger players like redshirt freshman quarterback Nick Evers to get more reps than they did the first two days.
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Getting future contributors more time is crucial at this point in training camp, coach Luke Fickell said.
“I think these are the days of camp where if you're a young guy and you're not getting any reps, it's really, really difficult,” Fickell said. “And if you're a young guy and you're getting thrown in there with some of the groups, you don't know what you're doing, it's hard to play aggressive and fast. So I think sometimes when we can take those young guys in the middle of practice and allow them to play, it allows those guys to kind of get the joy, see the things that they can do, see how they can react, without maybe everybody right on top of them with the three or four plays that they would get in between the 1s and the 2s.
“And then it gives us some time as coaches to spend with them. You only get so much time — I know we got a lot of time out here — but you can only watch so much stuff if you've got an hour, and hour-and-20-minute meeting. And sometimes you don't get to the young guys, and that's not good for them. So we'll have an opportunity to be able to watch those guys specifically on film and spend a little more time with them.”
While young players got more looks, the No. 1s and 2s on defense got the upper hand on the offense by creating turnovers on the first day the shoulder pads came on. Here are four observations from the third day of Badgers training camp.
1. Secondary starting to pounce
A couple days of seeing the Badgers offense appeared to have gotten the secondary back in the swing of having to react quickly to make plays. Starting quarterback Tanner Mordecai threw an interception to safety Kamo’i Latu on what appeared to be a miscommunication with receiver Chimere Dike. Backup Braedyn Locke threw three picks that will be detailed in the next segment.
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What’s noticeable is that, in general, UW’s defensive backs are playing aggressively when the ball’s in the air. The group has missed a few potential picks over the first three days, but that luck swung to their side Friday. Defensive coordinator Mike Tressel emphasizes playing fast and seems OK with some risk-taking on the back end if it’s in pursuit of a turnover. That mentality could allow some big plays down the line but swing momentum in games if it works out.
An example from Friday — two of the interceptions were on flat routes a defensive back jumped and made a play on, but tight end Jack Pugh made a nice grab up the sideline after faking a flat route and getting by a defender after turning up field later in the day.
2. Locke struggles
Locke, a redshirt freshman, left spring practices the unquestioned No. 2 on the depth chart, but the start of fall camp hasn’t been his best.
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Two of his three interceptions saw safety Owen Arnett and cornerback Nyzier Fourqurean jump short routes to his right. Both throws had Locke closer to the left hash, but the ball coming out a touch late allowed for the defender to get to it in the air on both occasions. His third pick, snagged by safety Preston Zachman, was intended for receiver Bryson Green but was significantly underthrown. Locke was pulled after the interception by Zachman, and redshirt freshman Myles Burkett ran five plays with the second-team offense.
Locke’s quick decision-making and knowledge of the system helped him ascend to the No. 2 spot, so he needs to get back to firing the ball quickly and accurately.
3. Rodas Johnson playing with fire
The defensive line has been a mixed-and-matched unit through three days, something Fickell said is by design. The coaching staff wants to see how those players react to different roles and playing on different units.
One of the more consistent players at the position has been Rodas Johnson, a senior end who’s played in 26 games. He had impressive reps during one-on-one pass-rushing drills against multiple starter-level guards, and he had what would’ve been a tackle for loss in an 11-on-11 situation after beating guard Joe Huber and center Tanor Bortolini through the "A" gap. Johnson’s first-step quickness is one of his greatest assets, and he said earlier this week he’s looking to make more plays for the Badgers this season.
It’s hard to imagine the defensive line depth chart being settled without him at the top for one of the end roles.
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4. Kickers get first action
UW didn’t tip its hand much this spring regarding who will handle the kicking duties, but it appears that race is between two players in the fall.
Nathanial Vakos and Nate Van Zelst split the field-goal attempts in an early portion of Friday’s work. Vakos, a sophomore transfer from Ohio, went 4 for 5 on his tries, making from 25 yards on the left hash, 34 on the right, 38 in the middle of the field, and 42 in the middle. He missed from 46 yards on the right hash. Van Zelst went 3 of 4 with makes from the same locations on his first three tries, but he pushed his kick to the right on the 42-yarder.
This was the first time in training camp that the PAT/field goal units took reps on the main field.
Vakos was given a scholarship out of the portal after earning freshman All-American honors for the Bobcats, but Van Zelst was the team’s kicker the majority of last season, going 11 of 14 on field goals. Ability to boot longer tries — Vakos’ long last season was 55 yards to Van Zelst’s 47 — could be one of the deciding factors in this race.

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