No matter how many things change for the University of Wisconsin football team, one constant remains.
The Badgers are going to be able to run the football. That was evident on Saturday during the first scrimmage of spring held at Camp Randall Stadium.
The passing game has been erratic so far, which is to be expected with a new quarterback in sophomore Jon Budmayr and a young crop of receivers missing senior Nick Toon, who is sitting out all spring following surgery for a broken foot.
But the running game showed it's still in capable hands with junior Montee Ball and sophomore James White.
"I think Montee and James are very, very good football players," UW coach Bret Bielema said afterward. "I thought the run game did look good today. Jon Budmayr did a good job of protecting the football, some of the things we asked him to improve on. It was nice work, I thought, for the ones offensively."
One of the early offensive highlights from the scrimmage was when White took an inside handoff on second-and-19, slipped outside strong safety Shelton Johnson and scampered 19 yards to pick up the first down.
Later, White had a 13-yard gain on second-and-10, then during a third-down drill, the right side of the defense was left wide open and White ran 38 yards around left end on third-and-4 before finally being pushed out of bounds.
Ball, who has trimmed about 18 pounds down to 212, continued his strong spring and showed he hasn't lost his power with his lighter weight. He ran through free safety Aaron Henry's tackle attempt on a 6-yard touchdown run during the red zone portion of the scrimmage.
"He lost the weight and I think he really felt he gained an advantage there from quickness and agility," Bielema said. "Also, he realizes the other guy (White) is a pretty good player, too.
"Montee and James, they just compete, all winter and really put themselves in a position, I think, to have a great year. I think the best thing we have going right there is the two of them are really competitive."
The only injuries in the scrimmage were a high right ankle sprain suffered by starting center Peter Konz and a toe injury suffered by safety Michael Trotter. Neither appeared to be serious.
Bielema said there was also good news involving the knee injury suffered by sophomore tight end Brian Wozniak in the last practice. Wozniak suffered a tear of the medial collateral ligament and will be out about four to six weeks. The injury initially was feared to be worse.
Fullback Bradie Ewing wore a green non-contact jersey and was held out of the scrimmage due to a shoulder injury. Bielema said it was not serious. Redshirt freshman walk-on Jason Hengel, from La Crosse Central, filled in at fullback.
Tight end Sherard Cadogan was also held out after suffering a bruised foot in the previous practice but is expected back soon.
Offensive line progressing
The success of the run game also is an indication the offensive line, sporting two new starters, is making progress. Other than the right tackle spot, which is an open competition between sophomore Casey Dehn and redshirt freshman Rob Havenstein, Bielema is pleased with the No. 1 line.
The other new starter, along with whoever wins the right tackle job, is sophomore Travis Frederick at left guard.
"Obviously, there's an experiment at right tackle, whoever's going to be in that position," Bielema said. "From left tackle to right guard, those are some pretty good football players. Travis has got to continue to get his niche there at left guard.
"Also, I thought Ryan Groy did a nice job, popped in there when Peter came out the last part of the scrimmage at center. We've got a lot of viable bodies."
Plenty of hits
The scrimmage started with sophomore receiver Jared Abbrederis catching a slant pass for a 4-yard gain, then taking a big hit from cornerback Antonio Fenelus. It set the tone for a physical scrimmage with plenty of good hits.
One of the best ones was delivered by safety Dezmen Southward on tight end Jake Byrne over the middle. Byrne was slow getting up after the play.
Redshirt freshman linebacker Josh Harrison also had a big hit on tailback Zach Brown, who had just made a spin move to elude Southward in the backfield.
"I really liked the physical nature," Bielema said. "I thought our defensive guys laid some nice hits out there and offensively as well."
The scrimmage featured too many penalties to the liking of Bielema, who had the entire team run up-downs as punishment afterward. Bielema said most of the penalties were to younger players, including a false start by sophomore tight end Manasseh Garner in the red zone
"I knew today, coming out here, there were going to be some things pop up penalty-wise, because of the first time with the refs, which is the way I wanted it," Bielema said. "I told them to call everything, which is the way we kind of handle things."
Receivers catching on
Bielema said the two receivers to make the most of Toon's absence so far have been freshman Kenzel Doe and redshirt freshman Isaiah Williams.
Doe showed his explosiveness when he caught a pass behind the line of scrimmage, made safety Michael Trotter miss and quickly turned it into a 14-yard gain.
"They both have caught the ball pretty well," Bielema said of Doe and Williams. "Competing. Isaiah made a nice block for Kenzel on the bubble screen over here. That just kind of shows the nature of those two guys. They've got a nice little competitive balance to them."
Bielema also mentioned a nice catch on a third-down pass by redshirt freshman Chase Hammond.
"He's got a cast on one hand," Bielema said. "As a wide receiver, it's not a good thing. Chase just needs to understand the toughness of what we bring to the table here, but I can't argue with how he's competing now."
The top defensive play was made by linebacker A.J. Fenton who intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown. The pass from freshman quarterback Joel Stave was thrown behind Hammond.
Southward dropped another easy chance at an interception on a pass thrown by redshirt freshman Joe Brennan.
Brennan had the longest completion of the day, a 37-yard pass to Hammond on second-and-23. Redshirt freshman cornerback Peniel Jean allowed Hammond to easily get inside position, then bobble the pass a couple times and still make the grab.
Redshirt freshman linebacker Marcus Trotter has impressed the coaches filling in as the No. 1 middle linebacker with the top two players at the spot, Chris Borland and Ethan Armstrong, out with injuries. But Trotter lost containement on one play, allowing a big gain.
"He's got pretty good intstincts," Bielema said. "He can fill when he's supposed to fill, he fills aggressively. One of the things he's got to learn, his responsibility fits with everything. A lot of times, he's just kind of going like a mad man. He's got to understand, if he's supposed to be the edge of the defense, it affects the other 10 players."
Bielema said he got applause from the players -- including some who stood -- when he told players after spring break he was engaged. The news was made public on Friday when Bielema mentioned it on a radio show.
"I actually told the team the first day we were back, got a nice little applause, a standing ovation out of some of them," Bielema said. "It's been a slow process, but it's ... fun."
Bielema said the wedding date has been set for March 10, 2012.