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Wisconsin LB Jack Cichy was excited to get spring practice underway.

Spring practice observations, pro day in Madison and inconsistent offense could doom Wisconsin

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Today is Wednesday, March 15, and this is what’s for breakfast.

And it begins

For the first time in close to three months, the Wisconsin football team was back on the practice field in Madison as the Badgers opened spring practice on Tuesday. With temperatures in the teens and snow covering the turf inside Camp Randall Stadium, the team headed into the McClain Center for the first of 15 sessions.

Some observations:

1) Reporters only saw him for a couple hours, but newly named starting quarterback Alex Hornibrook looked solid and appeared to have a little more zip on his passes. He’s never going to throw fastballs like Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre, but combined with some impressive touch on his deeper throws, being able to fit passes into tight spaces would benefit Wisconsin’s timing-based offense.

2) Coach Paul Chryst told on Monday that ILBs Jack Cichy and Chris Orr were out for the spring, but there the two were on Tuesday, lining up with the first-team defense.

“They won’t get a lot of contact this spring, but they can still get a number of periods and opportunities to get some work. Whenever we can get that, we’ll squeeze it in,” Chryst said of the duo. “It was good today just seeing them out there and running around with the group.”

Orr tore the ACL in his right knee on the first defensive play of the season against LSU last September, while Cichy’s left pectoral tendon was ripped off the bone against Iowa in late October. As players, the Badgers missed them a lot. But their productivity wasn’t all that was missed once they were sidelined.

“Obviously, we think they’re good football players,” Chryst said. “But they give a lot of energy and juice — not just to our defense but to our team. It was good having them out there.”

There were no contact periods, obviously, but when Chryst called for the first 7-on-7 portion of the spring, Cichy came sprinting down the field screaming, bumping into offensive players before finally jumping on the back of Hornibrook. Football, even done in helmets and shorts, is thankfully back in Cichy’s life.

3) Wisconsin is experimenting with several position changes this spring, most notably moving RT David Edwards moving to the left side to replace All-American Ryan Ramczyk and CB Natrell Jamerson moving to safety as the Badgers look for someone to fill the void of last year’s team MVP Leo Musso.

“Just trying to figure out what’s the best use of our talent,” Chryst said of the moves. “Position changes and shuffling, or moving from one side to the other, I think those are all part of spring ball. Then you know when going into fall camp what’s the best place for that kid, and how he helps the team the most.”

It was just one day, but it’s clear the Badgers are trying to find their five best offensive linemen and four best defensive backs with the move of Edwards and Jamerson, respectively. Neither is locked into those switches and we could see plenty more movement in the coming weeks.

Pro day in Madison

Fourteen players, including 12 former Badgers, will hit the field Wednesday for Wisconsin’s pro day, as team personnel from around the NFL come to campus. The Wisconsin prospects range from little-used DB Serge Trezy to Ramczyk, a potential first-round pick.

Here’s a few guys that have the most to gain from the day:

Corey Clement, RB

Clement did not have a good NFL combine performance, running slower (4.68-second 40-yard dash) and testing worse than expected. He desperately needs to improve his 40-yard dash and be more explosive in some of the jumping tests. These aren’t the be-all-end-all for a running back, but with his injury history Clement has some other red flags and can’t afford the label of slow and lacking quickness.

Dare Ogunbowale, RB

Like Clement, Ogunbowale didn’t run a good 40-yard dash, coming in at 4.65 seconds. Unlike his former backfield mate, though, the one-time walk-on did perform at high level in the agility drills at the combine. We don’t know what drills each guy plans to do on Wednesday, but Ogunbowale certainly doesn’t want to be hit with the narrative of being more quick than fast as his numbers indicate. Improving that 40-yard time would help negate those fears.

Bart Houston, QB

Houston got to take part in the College Gridiron Showcase, a camp for select seniors back in January, but otherwise this will be his first chance to perform in front of scouts since leading the Badgers to a win in the Cotton Bowl. Some might think he’s foolish for chasing his NFL dream, but they’re wrong. He was playing the best football of his career in the last two months of the season and has an NFL arm. Wednesday will be huge for him.

Just offensive

Inconsistent offense will be the thing that gets Wisconsin knocked out of the NCAA Tournament. It’s been the team’s biggest worry since January and remains so after it cost them a Big Ten Tournament title on Sunday against Michigan.

And now comes the NCAA Tournament and 9-seed Virginia Tech, the 8-seed Badgers’ first-round opponent Thursday night in Buffalo. As Jim Polzin of the Wisconsin State Journal writes:

“Inconsistency on that end of the court has been a common theme for the Badgers through their first 34 games of the season. Anybody predicting a deep run for UW in NCAA tournament has to be able to answer yes to the following question: Can its offense be good game after game after game?”

Outside of the Badgers’ two remarkable runs to the Final Four in 2014 and 2015, seasons usually end for Wisconsin on the offensive end. There was the 46-point effort against Ole Miss in 2013 when the Badgers shot 25.4 percent. Two years earlier, in a 61-54 loss to Butler in the Sweet 16, former coach Bo Ryan’s team made just 30.4 percent of its shots. And then there was the 2009 second-round game against Xavier where the Badgers came away with only 49 points thanks to making 16 of their 56 shots.

You get the picture, obviously. And making things more uneasy for fans is the fact we’ve seen this season’s team struggle to shoot. A four-game streak of making less than 40 percent of their shots was the longest stretch for a Wisconsin team since 2003-04. That’s not encouraging.

What is encouraging is the near-complete efforts the Badgers put together in wins against Indiana and Northwestern in their first two games of the Big Ten Tournament in Washington, D.C., last week. Play like that on Thursday night, and they’ll win. Experience the type of scoring drought they had against Michigan in the second half and a hot-shooting Hokies team could hand the Badgers just their third first-round loss since 2001.

Catching up

  • One of Wisconsin’s top targets along the offensive line in the class of 2018 committed to the Badgers on Tuesday.
  • They may not have any national titles to show for it, but no athletic department in the country has had more consistent winners in football and basketball than Wisconsin.
  • Wisconsin LB Chris Orr has changed his jersey number from 50 to 54 to honor his brother, Zachary, who had to give up his NFL career due to a spinal condition.
  • Former Wisconsin TE Lance Kendricks spoke with the Green Bay media for the first time since signing with the Packers last weekend.