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NCAA eyes less contact in college football preseason
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NCAA eyes less contact in college football preseason

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The NCAA football oversight committee is preparing to recommend changes to preseason camp that will include fewer fully-padded practices and the elimination of some old-school collision drills.

The latest move to scale back contact in practice comes in response to a five-year study involving six major college football teams that found more head impact exposure and concussions happened in preseason practice than during games.

The committee’s initial proposal called for at least nine of a team’s 25 preseason practices to be run with players wearing helmets but no other pads, and no more than eight fully-padded, full-contact practices. That proposal went out to NCAA membership for feedback two weeks ago.

The committee is scheduled to meet again Thursday. West Virginia athletic director Shane Lyons, the chairman of the committee, said the plan is to hand over a final recommendation for a new preseason model for the Division I Council to consider at its May 19 meeting.

If passed, the new model would go into effect this year.

Lyons refers to the model as 9-8-8: eight days of players practicing in helmets and shoulder pads with no live tackling to the ground, nine days in just helmets; and no more than eight full-contact days. The current proposal also would limit full-contact practices to no more than two consecutive days.

“We’re trying to provide as much flexibility within the model as possible and not dictate what days they get to do what, and give each coach the ability to coach how they want to,” Lyons said. “But then also limit the number of contacts that we currently have from a direct hit, head-to-head contacts that you currently have in practices.”

During live-tackling practices, no more than 90 minutes of full contact will be permitted under the initial proposal.

“What I’m hearing, a lot of coaches aren’t using 90 minutes so we may look and say, ‘Is that 75 minutes?’” Lyons said.

The study found that 48.5% of the concussions recorded occurred during August training camp. The teams involved in the study were the University of Wisconsin, Virginia Tech, North Carolina, UCLA, Air Force and Army.

Todd Berry, executive director of the American Football Coaches’ Association, said there was some concern among coaches that Army and Air Force would skew the study data. The two academies play a run-heavy, triple-option offense that can lend itself to more contact, he said.

Overall, though, Berry said the study is helping guide changes many coaches were already moving toward.

“We wanted things based on data rather than assumptions,” Berry said.

NCAA rules currently mandate at least two of 25 preseason practices be contactless and conducted without pads, Berry said, but a survey found most coaches already run about six of those leading up to the season.

He said going to nine padless practices, essentially walk-throughs, seems like a drastic change to coaches.

“To us that’s kind of a giant leap,” Berry said. “We’d rather take a step and then measure the results and say, ‘OK, we ended up in a good place.’ And take another step and keep improving along those lines.”

Coaches have been moving away from high-impact drills such as Bull in the Ring and the Oklahoma drill, where players mostly just run into each other.

“Most of our coaches aren’t doing it so I don’t know if it’s going to move the needle much,” Berry said. “But I get it.”

Berry said scaling back too much on hitting in practice could lead to players not being properly prepared to protect themselves in games.

“We’re fearful if we go too far in one direction we’d have a lot of injuries in that first game,” Berry said. “There is a process, a teaching progression to get players to learn how to control their bodies.”

The final proposal could look different than the 9-8-8 model, but changes are likely to be small tweaks, Lyons said.

“I think the balance is there,” Lyons said. “Do I think there’s enough there to teach and work through it? I think the answer is yes.”

Check out the State Journal's coverage of Wisconsin Badgers spring football practices

Stories, videos and podcasts covered all the action and news from UW football spring practices. 

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Badgers’ head coach Paul Chryst on Monday shared eagerness both for his new group of coaches and for returning to the practice field with his players.

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Weight jumps and dips, new numbers and new COVID protocols: Here's what you need to know. 

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"I love this group of kids and I want to continue to develop them. And with COVID being the way it was last year, I’d have felt a specific way about myself having left after that season," Leonhard said.

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State Journal beat reporters Colten Bartholomew, Todd Milewski and Jim Polzin get together over Zoom for a special episode dedicated to the im…

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UW quarterbacks say Badgers head coach Paul Chryst's conversational approach is deepening their understanding of system. 

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After a bicep tear ended his 2020 season early, UW senior defensive end Matt Henningsen is making his voice heard on and off the field.

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"For Wisconsin football and Wisconsin athletics in general, he's put the ‘W’ on the map.”

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Once it was over, Graham Mertz took time to reflect after his first college football season as a starter.

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“Every time you get to your senior year, you kind of feel a responsibility that it’s kind of your time to take over the reins,” Logan Bruss said. 

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“Man, Witt’s a dog,” sophomore Nick Herbig said. “He doesn't always get his job done in the prettiest way, but he gets his job done. No matter what, he’s scrapping, clawing, he's fighting every rep."

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“You want the ability for a lot of guys to get reps. And the first thing to go is the number of reps when you don't have (healthy players), or those guys that need the reps aren't practicing," UW coach Paul Chryst said.

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“What I do is special, whether it's in the NFL or college or wherever, every day is a gift and every day is special," Badgers RB coach Gary Brown told reporters. 

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At UW’s second open practice of the spring on Tuesday, a handful of young players showed promise and might be carving out paths to playing time.

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Making headway and earning reps at inside linebacker for the loaded Badgers is a difficult task, but sophomore Tatum Grass was able to do that last season despite being a redshirt freshman walk-on and still new to the position.

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Following a COVID-19 diagnosis, sophomore linebacker Maema Njongmeta's cardiac testing revealed an effusion. 

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Jake Ferguson breaks down why he returned to Wisconsin, the dynamics of the tight end meeting room, what he makes fun of coach Mickey Turner about, how veterans get through spring practices.

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Improvements as a blocker and his first big play in college have junior tight end Jack Eschenbach ready for a breakout 2021 season. 

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Chimere Dike showed big-play ability, tight ends were all over the field and Leo Chenal shined at the Badgers' ninth spring practice. 

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Dean Engram and Alexander Smith have earned most of their playing time the past three seasons on special teams units.

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“He told us that he wanted corners that played with a dog mentality. He just want dogs out there on the island," Badgers junior Alexander Smith said of  new cornerbacks coach Hank Poteat. 

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The Badgers passing offense could be "explosive" if UW's top wide receivers can stay healthy this season. 

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State Journal beat reporters Colten Bartholomew and Jim Polzin get together over Zoom for a special episode of the show: UW senior cornerbacks…

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A look at how special teams coach Chris Haering will choose a starting kicker, plus new on the return units and long-snapper position. 

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The offense lacked same crispness it has had in other practice sessions. 

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"The age of football that we're in with all the spread, all the RPO, you can create some issues," Jim Leonhard said of using his safeties at different positions. 

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Defenders and ball-carriers weren’t shy about laying a solid hit on a teammate during 11-on-11 portions of Tuesday's spring practice.

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State Journal beat reporters Colten Bartholomew and Jim Polzin get together over Zoom and discuss the news coming from Badgers football spring…

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Who made the biggest impressions for the Badgers this spring? Who made the biggest leaps from last fall? What questions remain? State Journal beat reporter Colten Bartholomew breaks it down.

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“The first thing when we got back that we talked about was just being a team again,” sophomore quarterback Graham Mertz said.

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