UW Health Sports Medicine 

One step closer to 'American Football'

6110039.jpegPhoto Gallery: Practice No. 2

Coach Bielema likes to say that at Wisconsin, we play 'American football." What he means is a physical style with an emphasis on toughness. The first two days of spring practice, he concedes, can be a little frustrating for players and coaches alike because the NCAA mandates the practice sessions be conducted in helmets only, no pads.

The good news is that on Tuesday, the Badgers will don shoulder pads for the first time since the 2012 Rose Bowl. While the practice won't feature live tackling, the intensity will be ratcheted up, especially along the offensive and defensive lines.

That's not to say the first two practices are meaningless. Especially for a team that had to replace six assistant coaches. Also, with a number of returning starters on the shelf for parts or all of the spring combined with the natural turnover in college football, every rep is important in the development of the inexperienced players.

Along those lines, there were a couple players that caught my eye in today's practice, held in the morning and outside under cool and cloudy skies. With no pads and absolutely no hitting, the defense is at a definite disadvantage the first two days. Also, the offensive and defensive lines are tough to judge when they are really just engaging in hand-to-hand combat. So these initial observations are limited to skill players.

Tight end has been a position that has flourished in recent seasons at Wisconsin and even with a new offensive coordinator in Matt Canada, it doesn't look like that will change. Coach Bielema has said that Jacob Pedersen may see more time in an H-back role, leaving an open position for a tight end along the line. Brock DeCicco, a junior transfer from Pitt who spent last year sitting out and on the scout team, looked good today, catching a number of balls over the middle.

Another position of strenght for the Badgers is running back. Everyone knows about Heisman Trophy finalist Montee Ball and 2010 Big Ten Freshman of the Year James White. But a guy a lot of people were excited about during fall camp last year was Melvin Gordon. He saw some time early in his true freshman season but struggled with a groin injury the kept him out of the majority of the season. Today he looked fast and shifty in a some 11-on-11 periods, proving he is 100 percent healthy.

One position where there are some questions marks is at wide receiver. While Jared Abbrederis will be back after his tremendous sophomore season, he is sitting out while rehabbing a foot injury. Jeff Duckworth saw his role increase as last year wore on but behind him, there's not a whole lot of experience. Redshirt sophomore Chase Hammond has a great WR body (6-5, 212 pounds) but has been plagued by injury. During today's practice, he flashed some of his potential, using his long frame to go get a couple balls and showing some speed after the catch in 7-on-7.

***Buy tickets to the Badger Spring Game on April 28 (4 p.m.)***