It looks like University of Wisconsin junior defensive end J.J. Watt’s days of playing tight end aren’t over yet.
When the Badgers went to a jumbo formation in a goal-line scrimmage during practice on Tuesday, Watt lined up as the third tight end with the No. 1 unit.
Watt, from Pewaukee, started out his college career as a tight end at Central Michigan, catching eight passes for 77 yards in 2007. He transferred to UW after the season and was moved to defensive end.
The idea of the 292-pound Watt playing offense came out of a team meeting with UW coach Bret Bielema during the offseason.
“Coach B mentioned something about, if you felt there was any way you could help the team, other than what you’re doing right now, let him know,” Watt said. “Him and I kind of looked at each other at the same time.”
After the meeting, Watt went up and talked to Bielema about playing tight end.
“He said he’d give me a shot, so I’m out here and really enjoying the opportunity,” Watt said with a huge grin on his face.
Watt seemed to do well, earning recognition from Bielema after one block.
The strange thing for Watt was banging heads with his comrades in the defensive line.
“Wearing a white jersey and banging against a white jersey is definitely different,” Watt said of the jerseys worn by defensive players at practice.
“Those guys messed with me a little bit down there, they pulled a little bit different moves than I thought they were going to. It’s a lot of fun.”
The Badgers have had mixed results using two-way players in the past. They had some success with wide receiver Brandon Williams playing cornerback as a sophomore in 2003.
But standout offensive tackle Joe Thomas tore an anterior cruciate knee ligament against Auburn in the 2006 Capital One Bowl while playing the defensive line. Bielema was the defensive coordinator for the team at the time.
Watt is probably the Badgers’ best defensive player, but the risks of having him play in goal-line and short-yardage situations seem minimal.
“When you’re at the University of Wisconsin and you can attempt to play both ways, it’s really exciting,” Watt said. “Anything I can do to help the team win, I’m going to try and do, so if it’s blocking, catching a touchdown, anything, I’m going to do it.”
Naturally, Watt thinks his hands are as good as ever, although he plans to work on them a little more.
“I still have the hands, trust me,” he said. “I’m really excited to test those out.
“This summer, I played catch with Curt (Phillips) and Scott (Tolzien) a few times and I’m definitely going to start working on them again.”
Dropping the ball
The first offense moved the ball during a brief scrimmage at the end of practice and would have had an impressive performance if not for two fumbles involving John Clay.
The offense drove 72 yards for a touchdown against the second defense, with Clay getting six carries for 35 yards and tight end Lance Kendricks catching a 37-yard touchdown pass.
But on its next possession in the red zone, Clay was stripped by linebacker Kevin Claxton and strong safety Conor O’Neill recovered. The next time Clay got the ball, he dropped it after a handoff and fell on it in the backfield.
Other than that, the first offense performed well, including an impressive two-minute drill against the second defense, which involved no tackling.
The highlight of that drill was a fourth-and-10, when quarterback Scott Tolzien avoided the rush, then zipped a 30-yard completion to Nick Toon against two defenders.
The offense, starting at its 29-yard line and given 1 minute, 47 seconds, converted the touchdown with about 15 seconds to spare. Tolzien threw a back-shoulder pass from the 11 to Jared Abbrederis, who managed to get turned around and make the grab in the end zone.
Freshman right tackle Rob Havenstein suffered an apparent knee injury during the portion of the scrimmage devoted to young players and had to be helped off the field. ... Senior strong safety Jay Valai (concussion) returned wearing a green no-contact jersey and had an interception during a pass-skeleton drill. ... Right guard Kevin Zeitler, who had been out almost two weeks with a high ankle sprain, returned to his spot with the starting offensive line.