MADISON - Since his team defeated Miami in the Champs Sports Bowl in late December, Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema has been a busy man. Not only has he had the responsibility of finishing up a recruiting class, but he's also had to bring in two new coaches to the staff.
Now, with Chris Ash set to coach the secondary and Greg Jackson set to handle nickel backs and linebackers, it seems as though the coaching staff is ready to get started with spring practice.
"I've known Chris for a number of years," Bielema said at Wednesday's pre-spring football press conference. "I really like the fit that he's brought all ready to our staff as well as coaching up our players. Greg Jackson was just recently hired. He's had a lot of experience both playing wise and coaching with the nickel as well as linebackers and defensive backs. He'll assist on the defensive side of the ball at a number of positions as well as running a phase or two of the kicking game."
During Bielema's signing day press conference, the fifth-year coach stated he would like to establish a pipeline on the east coast. Now, with two new coaches in the fold, Bielema is still thinking that will be the case.
"We haven't nailed everything down yet," Bielema said. "But that was a driving force in some of the interviews. Obviously you're hiring a football coach, but in today's world that encompasses so much more. One thing that Greg brought to the table is he's from Miami, but I really like the affiliation he has on the east coast just based on playing experience.
"We'll put him in the area that we were already in this past year, as well as exploring the New Jersey and New York area."
As far as Ash's recruiting responsibilities, it seems as though former Badger coach Randall McCray's in roads in the Chicago area will remain a target area for Ash.
"Chris will take over Randall's area in Chicago," Bielema said. "Then we'll kind of expand him in a couple of different areas and maybe withdraw from a couple of areas. I've had three coaches on my staff, including coach Bob Bostad, that have had experience in Texas. As much presence as we've had in there, we're not going to pull out of there.
"Kerry Cooks was the primary recruiter in there and obviously with the departure of him, it may not be as large of an emphasis."
So far, without seeing any other position changes in practice, it has become apparent that certain players are switching positions. Former safety Kevin Claxton is now moving to the linebacker position, former linebacker Conor O'Neill is now headed to the secondary and Tyler Dippel, a defensive lineman projected at the outside, may be moving inside.
"He's going to play outside and inside," Bielema said in regards to Dippel. "Tyler is a great example of a typical Wisconsin kid. He was a linebacker in high school. We thought he would be a defensive lineman and since he's been on campus, his work ethic and attitude has helped him get bigger and bigger.
"In body type he's a defensive end now, but he could grow even more into a defensive tackle."
At linebacker, a position with plenty of turnover ranging from graduation to injury (Chris Borland and Mike Taylor) and to suspensions, there should be solid competition throughout spring practice.
"Blake Sorensen and Culmer St. Jean primarily played mike for us this past fall," Bielema said. "Because of our depth this year, Blake will probably be in that lineup at outside linebacker. Kevin Rouse will be in there as well. Kevin Claxton will be in there at outside linebacker as well as Ethan Armstrong at the mike linebacker backing up Culmer."
Effects of missing spring ball?
With the way Borland and Taylor played a season ago as freshmen, it would be hard pressed to find a duo of freshmen at the linebacker position that accomplished as much as those two.
But as spring ball approaches, neither one of those two players will see any action as they recover from their respective injuries. Knowing that, how will that absence affect the development of those two key players for the team moving forward?
"I think 53 and 44 are pretty good players," Bielema said. "It's frustrating to see them on the sidelines, but one of the things I like to do as a staff is I have my offensive coaches breakdown our defensive players. I then have my defensive coaches breakdown our defensive players. Then they give scouting reports and analysis of each player. John Settle was in charge of the linebackers. He makes a write up on the linebacker and he was just impressed with the play of Mike.
"There's a play in the Iowa game that's just
I don't know if I've ever seen a better linebacker play in all my years of coaching. He's a redshirt freshman. He's got a long ways to come, but the potential is off the chart."
Offensively, with players like John Clay, John Moffitt and Gabe Carimi set to miss some, and in Clay's case all, of spring ball, it provides a chance for some of the younger players n the lineup to get valuable reps.
"One of the strengths of our team on paper would be the returning experience of our offensive line with Gabe and John," Bielema said. "That's going to be a positive thing in our light, negative from the fact that their not out there, but a positive to find out where those other guys can play and an opportunity to get reps for the players that are behind them.
"John Clay, the thing that excites me about his injury, is that I think you're going to see a better John Clay down the road. The issues he had I think are going to give him a lot of relief and allow him to be an even better football player."
Staying hungry after successful season:
Following a rough seven win season in 2008, UW's 10-win season that was capped off with an impressive win over Miami in the bowl game was much more satisfying for the UW coaches, players and fans.
Now, with expectations high entering a season where most of the offense returns, it will be important for the UW coaches to instill a mentality back in the heads of the players that prevent them from getting overconfident.
"Obviously to beat Miami was a great feeling," Bielema said. "The great thing for us is that every game that we lost is back on the schedule. That part is kind of something you can play off as a coach. But unless you win every ball game, you're probably never going to be satisfied. If you're truly a great competitor, unless you win them all, you're never going to be because you always think about what I could have done, should have done or what may have been."
So, with many publications tabbing UW a top 10 to 15 ranked team to start the season, legitimate talk of a Big Ten championship rises to the forefront. However, with spring ball about to get underway, the mood of the team is one that isn't expecting anything to come easy. Everything this team will get in the upcoming fall will be earned.
"Our seniors had a meeting," Bielema said. "It was brought up by them that they've learned that you're never going to skip a step to get where you want to be and get there. You have to do the work. Our seniors met and a couple of juniors were in there. What they basically said and shared with me was that they want to do nothing but work on the day-to-day improvements to get to the end of spring ball. Then we'll attack summer conditioning and we'll attack fall camp.
"Because of what they've done they realize those things are attainable, but if you begin to think about that, you'll never get there."
Bielema discusses young players:
With the departure of Garrett Graham and Mickey Turner at the tight end position, it seems as though young players such as Zach Davison (who will miss some of the spring with an ankle injury), Jacob Pederson and Brian Wozniak have a shot to earn their way into the rotation.
"We're excited about Brian because of the tradition we've had here with tight end play," Bielema said. "Lance Kendricks, with the way he emerged in that bowl game, is very excited. Jake Byrne, Brian Wozniak, Jacob Pederson, Zach Davison and Rob Korslin, those five guys have got to emerge and give us the production that we've had over the last couple of years.
"If they don't, then we've got to think about personnel and where we're at. I think they're going to step into it."
After discussing several of the young tight ends, Bielema's focus was shifted the secondary. In particular, the progression of Dezmen Southward was brought to the forefront.
"Dez in particular is so raw," Bielema said. "He played basketball his first three years in high school. Because he grew up in Florida, his high school coaches saw this gym rat running around the high school and said, 'Hey, why don't you try spring football.' They had a phenomenal athlete on their hands who's got a great savvy and is very tough.
"I wanted to play him at the beginning of the year, but one of our first simulated game practices, he jumped offsides four times on punt return which gives the other team a first down. It quickly became clear to me that he wasn't quite ready to get there. He's been a little limited with his hand, but we're going to keep him at corner."
Update on the suspensions:
Late last month it became known that Shelby Harris, Nick Hill and Kraig Appleton were involved in an off the field issue that has them suspended indefinitely.
None of those players are on the current spring football roster. Bielema was asked about where the suspensions stood.
"They are suspended from the team indefinitely," Bielema said. "They won't be with us during spring ball. If any change in their status occurs I'll keep you updated."
Spring camp schedule:
Saturday will mark the first of 15 practices set to take place over the next month before finishing with the annual spring game April 17th.
The following is the schedule.
Sat., March 13- 10:15 a.m. Practice OPEN to the media. Requested players and coaches available after practice.
Mon., March 15 - 4:45 p.m. Practice OPEN to the media. Head coach Bret Bielema available after practice.
Tues., March 16 - 4:45 p.m. Practice OPEN to the media. Offensive players available.
Thurs., March 18 3:45 p.m. Practice OPEN to the media. Defensive players available.
Sat., March 20 10:15 a.m. Practice OPEN to the media. All coaches available.
Mon., March 22 4:45 p.m. Practice OPEN to the media. Offensive players available.
Tues., March 23 4:45 p.m. Practice OPEN to the media. Defensive players available.
Thurs., March 25 3 p.m. Practice OPEN to the media. All coaches available.
SPRING BREAK RECESS
Tues., April 6 3:45 p.m. Practice CLOSED to the media. Offensive players available.
Thurs., April 8 3:45 p.m. Practice CLOSED to the media. Defensive players available.
Sat., April 10 10:15 a.m. Practice OPEN to the media. All coaches available.
Tues., April 13 3:45 p.m. Practice CLOSED to the media. Offensive players available.
Thurs., April 15 3:45 p.m. Practice CLOSED to the media. Defensive players available.
Fri., April 16 4:45 p.m. Practice OPEN to the media. Bielema available.
Sat., April 17 2:00 p.m. Spring Game.
-Expect practice reports following each practice as well as stories and Q&A's throughout spring football as BadgerBlitz.com brings the best spring football coverage available.
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