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PLATTEVILLE, Wis. — Wisconsin held its sixth preseason practice and first in full pads Monday night at UW-Platteville before the Badgers returned to Madison. It was an eventful and lengthy session that featured plenty of scrimmage opportunities. Here are 11 observations:

1. Braelon Allen produced the run of the preseason and demonstrated a level of explosiveness and power that highlights why he should be one of the top running backs in the country this season. With the offense at its own 29-yard line, Allen took a handoff and blasted through a massive hole created by his offensive line, gathered a head of steam and then lowered his shoulder to knock over a safety as he crossed midfield.

The goal with a player like Allen, who has 2,510 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns in two seasons, is to ensure that he makes it to the season opener healthy while also giving him enough reps to be prepared.

“It’s a tough situation for Braelon because I think that without going live, without going some of those situations, it’s hard to get that flow going,” Wisconsin coach Luke Fickell said after practice. “You could see it tonight when all of a sudden he does get a run and you can’t tackle but you know he’s going to be tough to tackle in some of those open-space situations. And you can just feel the energy and the momentum.

“I think that’s really hard on an offense when you’ve got a guy and a weapon like that and you can’t get it going just because of the nature of how we go about things. The challenge right now is still being able to be efficient throwing the football. We believe that we’re going to be able to be efficient at running the football. So I think sometimes that’s a bit of a challenge for the running backs. It’s a little bit more of a mental game for them. But you can definitely feel the energy when all of a sudden you can get that guy going.”

2. Starting inside linebacker Maema Njongmeta was at practice in street clothes while wearing a sling around his right arm. Njongmeta practiced Sunday with a large club wrapped around his right hand. Jake Chaney took Njongmeta’s place with the first-team unit alongside Jordan Turner, but Fickell said he expected that Njongmeta would be back for practice when the team resumed activities Wednesday in Madison.

“We’ll be smart, but they’ll have a big club on his hand,” Fickell said. “I think he’ll be able to go and see what he can do. He obviously went the two days before he had a quick little surgery procedure done. But he’s played a lot of ball, so he’s not one of those guys we’re in a rush to get back.

“I think it gives a lot of opportunities for some of those young guys. But it’s hard on a guy like Maema who wants to be in there every single snap. We’ll hold him back a little bit. But we’ll have an opportunity to get him back out there.”

3. Quarterback Myles Burkett, who has led the third-team offense for most of the preseason, struggled Monday night and threw three interceptions across skeleton and 11-on-11 work. During skeleton drills, he was nearly intercepted over the middle by inside linebacker Garrison Solliday, and on the next play he was picked off by inside linebacker Aidan Vaughan near the line of scrimmage on a short pass over the middle.

In 11-on-11, Burkett was intercepted by safety Preston Zachman on a throw down the left sideline. His last pick came when he threw a pass behind a receiver in the middle of the field that bounced high into the air off the receiver’s hands and into the arms of safety Charlie Jarvis. Burkett and running back Nate White had an issue on a pitch play that resulted in a fumble recovery by defensive lineman Isaac Townsend.

Oklahoma transfer Nick Evers has yet to seriously threaten Burkett for the third-team role given how the snaps have been distributed. Evers’ most significant challenge has been knowledge of the offense, but his arm strength continues to dazzle in the opportunities he earns. During 1-on-1 matchups that pitted receivers against defensive backs, Evers delivered a 35-yard touchdown strike to receiver Bryson Green, who outleaped cornerback Nyzier Fourqurean.

Evers earned his first 11-on-11 reps late in practice Monday night with the offense at the defense’s 41-yard line. He showcased his athleticism and instincts when he got rid of the ball before taking a sack on a short completion to tight end Cole Dakovich. Evers did toss a red-zone interception with the ball at the 20-yard line. He threw a pass intended for receiver Grady O’Neill, who fell to his knees as the ball popped into the air and was reeled in by Charlie Jarvis. But Fickell gave the offense one more snap from the 14-yard line, and Evers delivered a touchdown pass in the back of the end zone to receiver Haakon Anderson to end practice.

Evers’ upside is tremendous. How long it takes for him to reach his potential and climb the depth chart, however, remains to be seen.

4. Second-team quarterback Braedyn Locke compiled what may have been his best practice this preseason, shaking off a slow start earlier in the week with a series of on-target throws. With the ball at the offense’s 46-yard line, Locke threw a perfect pass up the right seam to tight end Hayden Rucci for about a 30-yard gain. On Locke’s next series, the offense faced a second-and-6 from the defense’s 41-yard line. Locke tossed a 41-yard touchdown pass to running back Cade Yacamelli, who got behind the defense on a route out of the backfield.

Locke’s next series began with a completion of about 20 yards to receiver Will Pauling between two defenders. That drive ended on a fourth down from the defense’s 22-yard line. Receiver Keontez Lewis dropped a would-be touchdown while falling in the back left corner of the end zone on a perfectly placed ball from Locke. This was the type of performance Locke consistently delivered during the spring and served as a reminder that Locke is in position to be Wisconsin’s quarterback of the future after Tanner Mordecai is done.

5. Mordecai showed great composure in a couple of situations in which he was under duress in the pocket. He completed a pass in the left flat to running back Jackson Acker and another to Green inside the 10-yard line with defenders barreling down on him. One of his better throws came with the ball at the defense’s 49-yard line on a fourth-and-3. Allen had a good blitz pickup, and Mordecai completed a pass on the left side of the field to Pauling just past the first down marker to keep the chains moving.

6. Wisconsin’s punters collectively produced their best session of the preseason Monday night, with particularly impressive performances from Atticus Bertrams and Jack Van Dyke. Bertrams was up first and handled four punts in total. His first, a rugby-style rollout to his left, traveled 50 yards with excellent hangtime. His three other punts unofficially traveled 49, 46 and 45 yards and also featured him punting with a straight-on setup. His ability to move the ball from sideline to sideline and allow his teammates time to cover down the field should be an asset.

Van Dyke, who may have the strongest leg among the team’s punting options but has lacked consistency, also delivered in a big way. Van Dyke went second and boomed the longest punt of the night, pushing returner CJ Williams backward on a 55-yarder. He also delivered punts of 51 and 46 yards. Gavin Meyers, the third punter, handled two attempts. The Badgers’ punt returners were Chimere Dike, Vinny Anthony, Pauling, Williams and Skyler Bell.

Fickell said he would challenge both the kickers and punters a lot more during the second part of preseason practices and would hold a kick-scrimmage as he did at the end of spring practice.

“We’re going to punt every day,” Fickell said. “I think there’s some better competition. I think tonight was a great night. They hit the ball really well. In a night like this, I would hope. The day before, maybe it wasn’t quite as good. Obviously, there’s a little bit more wind and some things in their face.”

7. One notable development in the tight end room Monday night was the apparent ascension of true freshman Tucker Ashcraft, who began to earn snaps with the first-team offense. Ashcraft was in ahead of tight ends Cole Dakovich and JT Seagreaves and showed his pass-catching skills. Riley Nowakowski and Hayden Rucci also took first-team snaps, with Jack Pugh in the mix as well.

Wisconsin is looking for more versatility at the position following the program departures of Clay Cundiff and Jack Eschenbach just before preseason practices began. Ashcraft originally committed to Colorado before committing to and signing with Wisconsin in December.

8. Even though Fickell has said he wants to rely on eight defensive linemen during a game, the Badgers have a core four of Rodas Johnson, James Thompson Jr., Gio Paez and Isaiah Mullens. Thompson Jr. produced an impressive sequence in which he recorded two tackles for loss in a three-play span. First, he grabbed Allen around the left side behind the line of scrimmage. Then, with the ball at the offense’s 41-yard line, Thompson shot into the backfield and wrapped up Acker on a carry up the middle.

Thompson said he is one of the players who has taken it upon himself to try to replenish the leadership provided by former Wisconsin nose guard Keeanu Benton, a co-captain last season who was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the second round of the NFL Draft.

“It’s a new stage, new era, new people,” Thompson said. “New people step up and we’re trying our best to play just as good, if not even better. The D-line, we’ve got a new message to everybody in the Big Ten and everybody we’re going against. We’ve got to set the tone, prove that we’re the best defensive line front in the Big Ten.”

9. Wisconsin’s top three cornerbacks — Alexander Smith, Ricardo Hallman and slot man Jason Maitre — continue to show they’re going to be tough for quarterbacks to handle. Smith has come on strong the last few practices and was a nuisance again Monday. He played good coverage on an incomplete pass from quarterback Tanner Mordecai to Chimere Dike. Later, he nearly intercepted a pass intended for receiver CJ Williams. Hallman also had a couple of pass breakups. Wisconsin’s second-team cornerback unit has consisted of Fourqurean, freshman Jonas Duclona and slot man Owen Arnett.

10. Defensive linemen Curt Neal and Jamel Howard did not participate in team drills while battling injury. Howard appeared to injure his left foot earlier in the week. Fickell said Neal would be out “maybe a few weeks.” Wisconsin also held out running back Chez Mellusi for a second consecutive practice after he absorbed a big hit from safety Kamo’i Latu on Sunday. Acker took Mellusi’s reps with the first-team offense behind Allen.

One positive note is that wide receiver Chris Brooks Jr. returned to participate in team reps for the first time since suffering a leg injury in spring practice. Brooks earned snaps with the third-team offense.

11. Freshman running back Nate White earned his most extensive action this preseason while working with the third-team offense. White, who is listed at 5 feet 11 and 170 pounds, demonstrated his speed and shiftiness on his first carry, when he burst up the middle for a 9-yard gain. Five plays later, White caught a pass in the right flat and sped up the field. He later turned a negative-yardage play into a short gain by juking a defender in the backfield.

There is still a long way to go for White to climb the running back ladder. Acker and Yacamelli are the top options for the No. 3 running back spot, and walk-on Grover Bortolotti also is being considered. But with Allen likely off to the NFL after this season and Mellusi using up his eligibility, White will have an opportunity to make a move in the running back rotation in 2024.

(Photo courtesy of Wisconsin Football)

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