While much fan interest this spring centers around Graham Mertz and the University of Wisconsin's quarterback position, a different early enrollee may be turning just as many heads during the first half of spring.
Grantsburg's Leo Chenal continues to take the large bulk of second-team reps at inside linebacker during practices open to the media, and he's already making enough plays to justify his place.
He intercepted two passes over the Badgers' first three open practices, returning one for a likely touchdown off a pass from Mertz.
"Leo's a good football player, and he's getting an opportunity to get a lot of reps," UW coach Paul Chryst said. "At some point you're earning those reps. They're given to you initially, or there's a rotation, but I've loved his approach to everything. He's attacking the spring like you want a guy to.
"I think he's got a chance to be a really good football player. And certainly there's a lot that he's got to figure out, but he's put himself in position."
Chenal came to UW in January far more developed physically than most freshmen. He posted a video of himself on Twitter earlier this year bench pressing 225 pounds 32 times.
Outside linebacker Zach Baun confirmed the video's legitimacy after Saturday's practice and said Chenal's already one of the strongest guys on the team.
He's in the infancy of his college career, but Chenal's already impressing his teammates in the weight room and on the field.
"That boy's strong, man," senior inside linebacker Chris Orr said. "He's strong. He's definitely making some strides. I'm excited to see how he progresses from now all the way to fall camp and into the season."
Mertz impresses in open scrimmage
UW opened up its practice to the public Saturday, and Mertz may have put together his best performance among sessions open to the media this spring.
He led the day's only two touchdowns drives during the scrimmage portion of practice - the first a 14-play, 98-yard march that fullback John Chenal finished off with a 1-yard score.
Mertz ended practice with a nicely-placed 15-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Adam Krumholz.
Nearly all key skill position players return for 2019, and the Badgers hope to use this offseason to reestablish their offensive identity.
Junior Jack Coan continued to take the large bulk of first-team reps. Similar to last week's Saturday scrimmage, Coan only played two early series before helping the younger quarterbacks for the remainder of practice.
The Badgers' defense also scored twice during the full-contact scrimmage. Outside linebacker Noah Burks jumped a Danny Vanden Boom pass in the flat and returned it 17 yards for a touchdown. Cornerback Alex Smith returned a Chase Wolf fumble 90 yards for another score.
From the infirmary
Right guard Logan Bruss (left thumb) and fullback Mason Stokke (right leg) missed Saturday's practice. Bruss wore a sling around his left arm on the sideline.
Sophomore Josh Seltzner took first-team reps at right guard with Bruss out.
Tight end Jake Ferguson left the field during Saturday's scrimmage and returned without pads on.
Cornerbacks Madison Cone (right leg) and Travian Blaylock, wide receivers Danny Davis (right leg), Cade Green and Emmet Perry, defensive end Garrett Rand, offensive lineman Blake Smithback and tight end Luke Benzschawel remained out Saturday.
Running back Nakia Watson, who suffered an injury Tuesday, returned but wore a yellow non-contact jersey.
Caesar Williams and Rachad Wildgoose took initial first-team reps at cornerback Saturday. ... Burks continued taking the bulk of first-team reps at outside linebacker opposite Baun, but sophomore Izayah Green-May also earned some first-team work at the position Saturday. ... Hunter Johnson, who moved from running back to inside linebacker this offseason, moved back to running back for Saturday's scrimmage.