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August 16, 2011

Practice report: Dog days

MADISON - Shelton Johnson, entrenched firmly in a positional battle with Dezmen Southward for the starting strong safety spot, almost took exception to the way his defense was labeled following Tuesday's practice.

"No, we're not bend but don't break," Johnson emphatically claimed. "That's not at all what we are."

Johnson, playing with the No. 1 defense, lined up across from the No. 1 offense when it started it's drive inside its own five yard line. The hot, sweltering mid-August sun, without a cloud in its way, shone down on the field late in a 30-period practice, the longest of fall camp.

The offense moved the ball effortlessly out of the shadow of its own goalposts and seemed to have established some real rhythm. By the time the defense caught its collective breath and shut down the drive, Russell Wilson and company had moved the ball near the midfield motion W.

"We did kind of let go at the end of practice a little bit," Johnson admitted. "But that's not the defense we are at all. We're not move at all. That's the kind of defense we want to be."

That's probably why the defensive coaches are so quick to jump on their players whenever they make a bad play or decision. They expect the best out of their guys and they know the defense has the talent to be something special.

With a stable of veteran guys - - from Aaron Henry to Patrick Butrym - - it seems as though the push for a more aggressive defense has as much to do with the personnel as it does the new philosophy co-defensive coordinator's Charlie Partridge and Chris Ash instill.

"Our calls aren't going to change," sophomore Dezmen Southward said. "The calls won't make you more aggressive but the players can. It's just something going around the players. When you have your shot take it. Other guys are going to rally to the ball and just the all-out effort on defense is going to make us a more aggressive team."

Carbon copy:

When Joe Brennan trotted to his own three yard line with hopes of taking his team 97 yards and leaving a stamp on Tuesday's lone practice, the No. 2 defense was thinking about nothing more than getting off the field.

Just like the first team defense, though, the backups allowed the No. 2 offense to move the ball comfortably out of it's own territory and onto their side of the field. In fact, with a 25-yard pitch and catch to Fred Willis, Brennan had his offense well within field goal range before a sack on second and 2 from the 25 forced them back to the 33. The ensuing play - - an overthrow intended to freshman wide receiver A.J. Jordan - - was the end of what had been a promising drive.

Injury report:

It seems as though both Kevin Zeitler and Jon Budmayr are making progress. Zeitler, who has been out with an ankle sprain since last Wendesday, was not wearing a protective walking boot during practice Tuesday afternoon. Budmayr, who's been out a similar period of time, no longer had his throwing elbow wrapped.

Following the second of Monday's two practices, head coach Bret Bielema said Zeitler is making progress and should return sooner rather than later. He didn't talk about the timetable with Budmayr, though.

Curiously, junior linebacker Mike Taylor missed his second consecutive practice Tuesday afternoon after sitting out with just a jersey and shorts on. Following Monday's night practice, the first one Taylor had missed all camp, Bielema had noted how that was standard procedure for players that had previous ACL injuries.

There was no word what Taylor's injury was.

Chris Borland, who has practiced more and more as camp has worn on, admitted Tuesday that he had undergone an MRI on his right shoulder following Friday's scrimmage. Fortunately, the sophomore didn't have any other issues pop up.

"It was a little sore," Borland said following Tuesday's practice. "So we just checked it out. It was good. It was just a little tender, but everything is healthy with it."

For a guy that estimates that he's been asked about his shoulders "thousands" of time, that news, particularly with the season opener just two weeks away, was very welcome.

"Of course you like to hear good news when you have a test run," Borland said. "But I'm feeling great. The contact doesn't really frighten me. The only thing you ever have to get concerned about it getting it extended and having it jerk one way or another. I think every football player plays with pain. You're not healthy basically after your first fall camp, at least completely. Everybody has got to play with something or another.

"I'm going to play with pain, but that's nothing new."

Rob Havenstein did not practice Tuesday and was still wearing a protective walking boot on his right foot.

My impressions:

-I don't know how it's going to translate as far as potential playing time or anything like that, but I have to assume the way Fred Willis has bounced back from a broken thumb less than a week ago has to catch the eye of the coaching staff. The fact that he's making plays using that same hand is ultra impressive.

-I really, really like the way Kevin Claxton plays with power and enthusiasm, but I wonder and maybe even worry that his coverage skills may be a bit lacking. He's always been considered pretty fast for his size, but he tried to defend James White during a wheel route early in Tuesday's practice and fell behind awfully quick. Had the throw had a bit more touch, it would have gone for a big gain, maybe even a touchdown.

-It's funny for all the wrong reasons that as soon as either Borland or Taylor gets healthy the other one misses time. Borland seems to be playing at a very high level right now and apparently Taylor is hurting. With game one just over two weeks away it would be beneficial for those two to get some reps when they're both on the field at the same time.

-I think Conor O'Neill and Marcus Cromartie are having the best camps on the defensive side of the ball. Both of them are going to be viable backup options if anybody gets hurt. In Cromartie's case, he'll at least offer a physical presence in nickel situations, if not more.

-With only two more two more two-a-days scheduled this fall camp, it's fair to say this is the time when players start to get a bit fatigued. It will be interesting to see if both sides of the ball can live up to the high expectations the coaches have set for them even if their bodies aren't fully rested or healthy.

-Derek Watt has had a nice week of practice. He had an interception earlier this week and had another one - - of the pick six variety - - during scout team drills Tuesday.

-Sophomore wide receiver Jeff Duckworth dropped what looked to be a very catchable pass late in Tuesday's practice. It was apparent that his head coach was not too please with that development. Bielema had a few choice (and I guess motivational) words to the young wide receiver following the drop.

Up next:

-Wisconsin will return to the practice field Wednesday morning at 9:15 a.m. for the first of two practices.


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