MADISON, Wis. — After enduring three ACL tears in three seasons, Vonte Jackson entered fall camp fully healthy for the first time in a Wisconsin uniform. But during Saturday’s practice at Camp Randall Stadium, he endured another setback, and the extent of his injury remains unknown.
Jackson fell to the turf while attempting to make a cut on a running play during team drills while playing running back. He met with trainers and walked off the field for the rest of practice. During practice, he was wearing a brace on his right knee, which had suffered two ACL tears over the past two years.
Jackson, who had initially been attempting to make the travel squad as a safety, spoke of his resolve during Wisconsin’s media day on Aug. 1.
"I love the sport," Jackson said. "If I didn’t love it, I would have been done a long time ago. Honestly, the only time I really ever think of it is when I get asked of it. I try not to think about it. It’s only going to hold me back mentally."
Despite his efforts at safety over the offseason and through the first week of fall camp, Jackson was moved back to his natural position of running back for Saturday’s practice. Wisconsin appears to be narrowing down its rotation of safeties without Jackson, and the Badgers needed an extra running back while the team’s No. 3 tailback, Taiwan Deal, sat out after suffering an unspecified injury on Friday.
Now, questions remain about how Jackson can contribute — and whether he’ll be healthy enough to do so.
"I know I can still play," Jackson said last week. "I still have it. It’s just a matter of competing for a spot out there. Obviously, it’s not going to come easy. Once I get the opportunity, I’ve just got to take advantage of it."
Quarterback battle: Joel Stave and Tanner McEvoy continue to compete for Wisconsin’s starting quarterback job. And on Saturday, McEvoy produced perhaps his best day thus far during portions of practice that have been open to the media.
During one series, McEvoy completed a stellar pass to freshman receiver George Rushing down the left side of the field that went for a 37-yard touchdown. Two passes later, he found receiver Reggie Love for a 42-yard gain. McEvoy also was seen working on his option pitch to running back Corey Clement and a read-option play in which McEvoy pulled the ball and ran up the middle.
Through the first five days of camp, Stave appeared to have at least a slight edge because of his confidence and accuracy. Stave, too, had his moments during Saturday’s practice. He completed a 30-yard pass to tight end Sam Arneson, and also had a 22-yard completion to tight end Austin Traylor.
Both players will have an opportunity to showcase themselves during Sunday’s scrimmage, which begins at 11 a.m. and is open to the public.
Gordon utilized: Among the reasons Badgers running back Melvin Gordon cited for returning for his junior year was to become more of an all-around player. And part of that process includes catching more passes. On Saturday, he caught two passes out of the backfield from Stave, and it’s clear the coaching staff wants to use him more in that role.
Gordon caught just one pass for 10 yards a year ago while teammate James White tallied 39 catches for 300 yards with two touchdowns.
"I’m comfortable catching," Gordon said this summer. "James was better at it than me. I’m not going to lie. James was a lot better than me at catching. . . .
"I’ll get my chance. I’ll get my opportunity. I understand that. We’re on a big stage this year. We play a lot of good teams in the Big Ten. I’m going to be confident. I know I’m going to be confident pass blocking and catching. Because I know it will help the team and it’ll help us win."