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August 22, 2011MADISON - Jeff Duckworth, a sophomore wide receiver on the Wisconsin football team, had to sense an opportunity right in front of him.
Nick Toon, UW's consensus No. 1 receiver, was out for nearly two weeks while recovering from a foot injury he aggravated early on in fall camp. Sophomore Manasseh Garner, a well traveled player that saw time on both sides of the ball a year ago, was set to get exclusive reps as a wide out before having to undergo surgery to fix a hernia. He was expected to miss close to a month.
Chase Hammond was also ruled out at the start of camp for upwards of a month and half as he recovers from ankle surgery.
If there was and still is ever a time for Duckworth, a quiet and unassuming prospect from Ohio, to break into the rotation at his position it would be this fall camp.
"It's going good," Duckworth said. "I've just got to be more consistent."
That, in and of itself, can summarize the entire fall camp to date for the UW wide receivers. They're simply inconsistent.
Head coach Bret Bielema has voiced his displeasure with the amount of drops the team has endured throughout camp, drops that should never be an issue simply because Russell Wilson has been delivering those passes right on the numbers.
For a guy trying to find his way on the team, and find out a way where he can become a productive and reliable player, it's all about consistency. Those drops simply cannot happen.
"Once you put it on film you've got to keep doing it and keep coming," Duckworth said. "I'd say I'm a little under where I wanted myself to be, but I'm definitely improving as it's gone on. We're all out there competing for that spot at playing time.
"Whoever wants to get out there will get to take it."
It's that wide-open.
Outside of Toon, who returned to practice late last week, and Abbrederis, there is not one wide receiver currently on the Badger roster with an amount of experience that anybody should feel comfortable with.
Duckworth played sparingly a season ago. Garner was yanked around between tight end, defensive end and linebacker. Isaiah Williams redshirted and Kenzel Doe, Jordan Fredrick, Fred Willis and A.J. Jordan are all guys in their first fall camp.
Bielema, who doesn't consider Doe a true freshman anymore because he participated in spring camp a few months ago, said at least one incoming freshman will get an opportunity to play this fall.
But they'll need to earn it.
"I can't say which one is in the lead," UW wide receiver's coach DelVaughn Alexander said. "With all the injuries it gave the other guys a chance to get a look. They need to make sure they suck up the pains they have and they've got to make sure that they're consistent and that they can help us move as an offense.
"They're all inexperienced, too."
Before practice was closed to the media late last week, it looked as though Fredrick had seized control of that opportunity, even ahead of Duckworth. For a guy that is as hungry as Duckworth is, though, the positional battle for playing time at wide receiver is going to be one that goes down to the wire.
And it could be one that he wins if things go right.
"I'm trying to make plays out there," Duckworth said. "I think I have a good shot, but nothing is going to be given to you. There's still a while to go."