Plenty can change in the next five months before the University of Wisconsin football team opens its season at South Florida, but it was Jack Coan who took first-team reps at quarterback during the Badgers’ first open practice of the spring Tuesday.
Sophomore Danny Vanden Boom earned the most second-team reps, although the total count between Vanden Boom, redshirt freshman Chase Wolf and true freshman Graham Mertz remained fairly even.
“(Coan’s) got natural leadership skills,” Chryst said. “Players respect him, the way he works and approaches things. I think he’s been doing well so far.”
Tuesday marked UW’s fourth practice of the spring but its first open to the media.
Coan, a junior, played in five games last season and started four. He completed 60.2 percent of his passes for 515 yards with five touchdowns and three interceptions.
He’s the only quarterback on UW’s roster with any meaningful game experience, giving him a leg up during the early stages of the offseason.
The Badgers’ three-year starter at the position, Alex Hornibrook, intends on transferring to Florida State after a disappointing 2018 season, leaving a wide-open competition among UW’s four remaining quarterbacks for the top spot on the depth chart.
Coan threw two interceptions during practice Tuesday — to cornerback Caesar Williams and safety Scott Nelson — but also threw a 20-yard touchdown to tight end Jake Ferguson under pressure during red zone team drills.
“Right now, Jack’s being Jack,” Chryst said. “I don’t think he’s tried to do something more because (he’s) the oldest one in the room. He now knows, this is what I’m preparing for. Experiences help you in your preparation, so I think he’s done a nice job with that. But I don’t think he’s trying to change or be something that he’s not.”
Mertz, an Overland Park, Kan., native, enrolled early and comes to Madison as one of the most anticipated recruits in UW history. The consensus four-star prospect ranked among the top 50 players in the 2019 recruiting class by Rivals and ESPN.
He looked sharp in limited reps Tuesday and threw a 51-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Aron Cruickshank during 7-on-7 drills.
“The more you get to know him, the more you like him and you’re impressed with him, how he handles everything,” Chryst said of Mertz. “(We’re) four practices in, but he’s approaching it the right way. He puts the time in, studying it and learning it. He’s done some good and he’s not afraid to make a mistake. So I think if you have that approach then you can get better. … He’s been doing everything you’d want him to do.”
Burks earns 1st-team reps at OLB
The Badgers’ half-padded practice Tuesday also revealed where other position battles stand early in the offseason.
Junior Noah Burks took initial first-team reps at outside linebacker opposite returning starter senior Zack Baun. Senior Tyler Johnson and sophomore Izayah Green-May appeared to be the next two in at the position, although redshirt freshman Jaylan Franklin, true freshman Spencer Lytle and others also rotated in.
Senior Chris Orr and sophomore Jack Sanborn ran with the ones at inside linebacker as expected, while Mike Maskalunas and true freshman Leo Chenal took most second-team reps. Chenal intercepted Vanden Boom during 7-on-7 drills.
Nelson and junior Eric Burrell were with the first group at safety, although Houston transfer Collin Wilder handled some first-team work in place of Nelson later in practice.
Williams and sophomore Deron Harrell took initial first-team reps at cornerback. Sophomore Faion Hicks spent some time defending the slot in nickel packages.
Redshirt freshman Nakia Watson was the first running back in after Jonathan Taylor, although Bradrick Shaw remains limited and didn’t participate in team drills.
Two starters on the offensive line — left tackle Cole Van Lanen and center Tyler Biadasz — are out for the entire spring, while another likely starter, Jason Erdmann, didn’t participate in team drills Tuesday.
With those absences, the first-team offensive line Tuesday included (L-R) senior David Moorman, sophomore Josh Seltzner, sophomore Kayden Lyles, sophomore Logan Bruss and sophomore Tyler Beach. Bruss took right guard reps after starting the final three games of last season at right tackle.
Redshirt freshman Cormac Sampson and sophomore Aaron Vopal took second-team reps at tackle after moving from tight end and defensive end, respectively, this offseason.
From the infirmary
Wide receiver Danny Davis sat out Tuesday with a right leg injury he suffered last week, while cornerback Madison Cone (right leg) and tight end Luke Benzschawel were also out.
Wide receiver Cade Green, cornerback Travian Blaylock, offensive lineman Blake Smithback and defensive end Garrett Rand missed practice while continuing to rehab injuries from last season.
Outside linebacker Christian Bell, along with Biadasz and Van Lanen, has been ruled out for the entire spring.