WR trio will have to pick up slack at No. 4 Wisconsin
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The suspension of Quintez Cephus leaves Wisconsin without one of its top receivers for the foreseeable future.
Cephus was charged with felony sexual assault Monday, accused of misconduct involving two women at his apartment last April. Cephus, a 20-year-old junior from Macon, Georgia, was suspended by the team shortly after he was charged by the Dane County district attorney with third-degree sexual assault and second-degree sex assault of an intoxicated victim.
The wideout had already taken a leave of absence after posting a tweet over the weekend, in anticipation of being charged, in which he denied wrongdoing and said he had been wrongfully accused.
Charges were filed Monday, a few hours after the Badgers ended their first practice without Cephus. Teammates declined comment about Cephus’ legal issues, which were unclear at the time.
Cephus’ roommate, receiver Danny Davis, was identified in the criminal complaint filed by authorities against Cephus and interviewed by police. Davis was not charged. When asked if there was any change in Davis’ status with the team, or if Wisconsin was looking into Davis’ involvement, a team spokesman said there was no comment beyond the statement issued by the school announcing Cephus’ suspension.
On the field, the Badgers do have experience playing well without Cephus. He led the team in 2016 with six touchdown catches despite breaking his right leg last November.
Cephus was a full participant in camp. He was part of a quartet of productive receivers on what could be a high-scoring team that also features a Heisman Trophy candidate, running back Jonathan Taylor. The offensive potential is a big reason why the Badgers debuted at No. 4 in the preseason Associated Press Top 25 poll on Monday.
Wisconsin is still in good shape at wideout with Davis, A.J. Taylor and Kendric Pryor, who emerged as playmakers in 2017 and stayed productive even without Cephus.
Preparing for Cephus’ absence was a little different for A.J. Taylor this time because it was unclear how long he will be out.
“It’s a different mindset that comes along with that,” he said Monday. “But at the same time, we know — we’ve done it before.”
Quarterback Alex Hornibrook said his approach wouldn’t change without Cephus.
“You’re always playing with the guys that are in your huddle, it’s not a whole new mindset,” Hornibrook said. “We’re just going to roll with those guys.”
Cephus’ absence could open more opportunities for lightning-quick freshman Aron Cruikshank. While still learning the playbook in his first college camp, the receiver has already impressed teammates with his blazing speed.
“He’s a speedster. He’s fast, quick — there will be plenty of opportunity, whether it be he can work his way up on returns, or if he can take the jets, sweeps, reverses,” A.J. Taylor said.
Cruikshank said he hasn’t timed himself in the 40-yard dash, though he’s confident enough to say that he is one of the fastest guys on the team. He may be even faster now after working out in the offseason with Jonathan Taylor.
Gaining the confidence of the coaching staff to get more snaps on offense remains a work in progress.
“I think I’m getting their trust right now, showing that I can learn and pick it up fast,” Cruikshank said.
They might need him to play a more expansive role sooner than expected.
Jonathan Taylor could be more involved in the passing game this season to add a new wrinkle for the Badgers. The offense could also get a lift if tight end Zander Neuville, who has been limited in practice in recent days, is ready to return from a knee injury.
Wisconsin is relatively young but deep at tight end even if Neuville isn’t available for the season opener on Aug. 31 against Western Kentucky.