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With injured Cephus back, spring in air for Badgers' offense

(AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)

By GENARO C. ARMAS

AP Sports Writer

MADISON, Wis. (AP) Spring is in the air at run-first Wisconsin.

They are throwing the ball around at spring practice a little more than usual, at least for a team that likes to hand the ball off to star running back Jonathan Taylor.

But with so much firepower coming back in the passing game, the Badgers could be just as dangerous throwing the ball around this fall.

"We know what kind of offense Wisconsin is - we're a running offense," receiver A.J. Taylor said. "But this spring, I think coach (Paul) Chryst is really starting to adjust more and see what we can do, airing it out a little bit more and just letting us play catch, you know? I've been enjoying it."

So has Quintez Cephus, who has returned for the final few practices of the spring after breaking his right leg in November. The junior can't stop grinning, even if he's just doing some light work for now.

Quarterback Alex Hornibrook remembers how happy Cephus was at his first practice back.

"I think it was a curl route, he looked back and I think the first thing I saw was his smile while he was just running his route," Hornibrook said. "He was just happy to be there. Everybody else feeds off of him."

This could be the start for a productive year for Hornibrook. There is good reason for optimism after he was named the Orange Bowl MVP for going 23 of 34 for a career-high 258 yards and four touchdowns in the win over Miami.

Throw in Big Ten-leading rusher Jonathan Taylor and an experienced offensive line, and Wisconsin has the potential to light up the scoreboard.

Hornibrook is wisely following the lead of his no-nonsense coach in ignoring the early hype. One of his goals this spring is to get a better grasp of the protection calls up front with center Tyler Biadasz.

"To be able to see some things together and talk through some of the calls he's making so I can understand them, and then maybe something that I see that I can help him out with. That's the one thing that I didn't do as much last year," Hornibrook said.

He will enter his junior season having have worked a full year with a deep, young receiving corps, with Kendric Pryor and Danny Davis also emerging as freshmen to join Cephus and A.J. Taylor.

Yet Cephus was so productive last year that he still finished first on the team with six touchdown catches, and second among receivers with 30 receptions. With a solid, 6-foot-1 frame, Cephus excelled at making tough grabs in the red zone.

This spring, Cephus is enjoying the little things in practice that others might take for granted. He had to convince trainers that he the type of work he was doing on his own could also be done on the field in uniform.

Cephus is expected to be ready for fall camp.

"I love getting in the huddle with all the guys, that's a just a part that I really appreciate. Just catching a ball - things like that, things that i haven't done for six months," Cephus said. "Running routes with the team, getting coached again, it was just happy."

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Updated April 19, 2018

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