After throwing him into the fire as a true freshman, the University of Wisconsin coaching staff believes Garrett Rand could be the answer to potential depth issues at nose tackle.
Starter Olive Sagapolu missed five games due to an arm injury last season, leaving Rand and defensive end Conor Sheehy to try their best to replace the center clog in UW’s 3-4 defense.
Rand was moved to defensive end this spring, but he’s appeared to make strides since shifting back to nose to begin fall camp.
“He did a great job for us last fall. In big games, too,” UW defensive line coach Inoke Breckterfield said of Rand. “So just coming out of spring, I thought I might want to put him back (at nose tackle). … I think Garrett’s gaining my trust. Garrett played some huge snaps for us last year, and it’s even better with him taking all nose (reps) this fall.”
Rand was a major coup for the Badgers’ 2016 recruiting class and proved enough over his first few weeks of practice to eventually play in all 14 games last season.
He enters a different situation as a sophomore. While his play was a bit up and down last year, as is the case for most freshmen, that early playing time led Rand to feel more comfortable and confident entering camp this time around.
“I’ve been playing nose for such a long time now, I feel like it’s natural for me to play nose,” Rand said. “Just coming out the first day, everything was much slower. I knew what was going on. I knew the checks and motions. It was so nice just to relax a little bit. When you do that, you actually play faster.”
Rand has also received reps in UW’s nickel package over the past week. Breckterfield described Rand as a powerful upfield rusher with deceptive speed — someone who can get up the field and press the pocket.
Breckterfield likes that Rand learned the defensive end spot this spring, but he said allowing Rand to focus solely on nose tackle and nickel packages could bring out the best in him.
“It kind of shrinks his role a little bit in terms of the playbook,” Breckterfield said. “If he can just play the nickel package and the zero, he’s not worried about (anything else). So it kind of shrinks the package for him that way where he can play fast, and I think it’s been good so far.”
Full pads at last
UW took the field for its ninth practice of fall camp Monday, but it was the first time the Badgers have donned full pads.
NCAA rules forbid teams from practicing in full pads until their fifth practice of the fall. With the earlier start to camp this season, though, UW opted to wait even longer.
Left guard Jon Dietzen, who underwent offseason ankle surgery, was held out of contact team drills, leaving Micah Kapoi and Jason Erdmann to split first-team reps at left guard. Redshirt sophomore David Moorman had been splitting second-team left tackle reps with redshirt freshman Cole Van Lanen, but Moorman was also given some time with the second-team unit at right guard.
Redshirt freshman Isaiahh Loudermilk continues to impress at defensive end and earned some first-team reps Monday, as did senior Chikwe Obasih.
From the infirmary
Inside linebacker Ryan Connelly (left leg) and wide receiver Emmet Perry (left leg) were added to the injury report Monday, while outside linebacker Zack Baun (right leg) was upgraded to limited.
Outside linebacker Christian Bell (left leg), wide receiver Cade Green (left leg), safety Scott Nelson (left leg) and tight end Zander Neuville (right leg) remained out Monday. Inside linebacker Griffin Grady was again absent due to an illness.
Inside linebacker Nick Thomas and defensive lineman Gunnar Roberge were removed from the Badgers’ 105-man fall camp roster for injury-related reasons, per a UW official.
Offensive lineman Blake Smithback and wide receiver Peter Roy replaced Thomas and Roberge on the roster. Freshman cornerback Faion Hicks was also added after Ricky Finco left the program earlier in camp, but he’s still recovering from a shoulder injury.
The Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens each had a scout attend UW’s practice Monday. … Redshirt sophomore Connor Allen took advantage of extended punting reps Monday, averaging 43.4 yards per punt on seven attempts.