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November 7, 2011MADISON - As Darren Sproles progressed as a collegiate player at Kansas State University, then defensive coordinator Bret Bielema had a sense the spry running back would eventually mold himself into an NFL mainstay.
"Now he's the big time guy," Bielema said in reference to the New Orleans Saints running back. "It reminds me a lot of Montee Ball's personality with just the vibe he can give an entire team."
Though Ball is a bit taller than Sproles, and probably a step or two slower, the junior tailback is having an eye-popping season. He's already over 1,000 yards rushing, he's already tied the school record for touchdowns in a single season and he's still got at least four games left to play.
Ball, for his career-best 223-yard, three-touchdown performance against Purdue, was named team MVP for the week as well as Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week. He's simply having an incredible year for the Badgers, one that is certainly going to go down in UW lore.
"We can't make a guy grow," Bielema said. "We can give him the support and give him the program and a developmental phase, but the way Montee is wired has just kind of been special.
"I just think Montee is so far advanced beyond Brian Calhoun and other running backs I've been around. He's just special."
In addition to Ball, sophomore middle linebacker Chris Borland (defense) and wide receiver Jared Abbrederis (special teams) were named game MVP's for their respective performances against Purdue.
Borland led all UW defenders with 11 tackles, 3.5 tackles-for-loss and an interception. He also forced two fumbles. Abbrederis, meanwhile, returned two punts for 25 yards and three kickoffs for 84 yards.
Freshman Frank Tamakloe nabbed scout defensive player of the week and freshman wide receiver Chase Hammond, fresh off the ankle injury that kept him sidelined for the majority of the season, earned offensive player of the week.
"He returned back a couple weeks ago," Bielema said. "He really did a nice job during the course of the week."
Cause for concern:
The good news coming out of the press conference today, at least as the secondary is concerned, is that senior Aaron Henry seems to be healthy enough to return to practice this week and to play this weekend.
Having suffered an ankle sprain during the third quarter of UW's 62-17 win over Purdue, Henry looked as though he may have joined the long list of injured players in UW's secondary.
Senior Devin Smith has already been injured and lost for the season. Freshman Peniel Jean has been banged up, sophomore Dezmen Southward has his fair share of nicks and bruises and junior safety Shelton Johnson has missed time throughout the season.
Though it's starting to finally regain full strength the secondary has absolutely caused concern for Bielema.
"I've had a lot of concern ever since Devin Smith went down," Bielema said. "P.J. was a little banged up there for a couple of weeks, but fortunately he's back at 100 percent. That gives me a little more assurance with him and Devin Gaulden."
Adam Hampton, a reserve, mostly special teams contributor to this point, is also a guy that is on the verge of offering depth to the Badger secondary.
"He had some back issues," Bielema said. "He played a limited role on special teams but probably wasn't quite 100 percent. At Wisconsin you're going to have a delicate thin position at all times. It's kind of pick and chose.
"You have to survive. It is what it is."
-There's an outside chance David Gilbert will get cleared this week in time to play in UW's annual border-battle game against Minnesota. Gilbert has previously eyed Illinois as his target return game.
-Henry, as mentioned above, is looking as though he's progressing quite well. Bielema compared Henry's injury to a similar one Andrew Lukasko suffered earlier this season. Lukasko's injury didn't react nearly as well as Henry's has, at least according to Bielema, yet he played the following week.
That's encouraging news for UW's fifth-year senior leader.
"I don't know if Aaron will be there on Tuesday," Bielema said. "He might be there in a limited form. Then he'll be back Wednesday and Thursday."
-Redshirt freshman Dallas Lewallen underwent a knee procedure approximately four weeks ago, according to Bielema. That's the second procedure the young lineman has undergone this season.
Lewallen could have kept playing with his injury but the knee never quite felt sturdy enough for him to fully trust it. So, along with the coaching staff, Lewallen moved forward with the procedure.
"The surgery he needed to have needed to happen sooner rather than later," Bielema said. "He may not have been back for spring ball so we went out and made the decision which took him out of this year's opportunities.
"We'll put it forward into the spring."
Mind your own business:
Midway through UW's romp of Purdue former Badger running back Brian Calhoun tweeted his thoughts on the placement and progression of Chris Borland at middle linebacker.
"Borland is not an ideal middle backer," Calhoun tweeted. "He needs to be back at his natural OLB position! We're prohibiting him to make plays."
When asked about it during his Monday press conference Bielema didn't waste any time defending that decision.
"Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe Mike Taylor and Chris Borland are one and two in the league in total tackles," Bielema said. "If that's a mistake I'll probably make that same mistake again."
Calhoun didn't get off that easy, though.
"He can tweet all he wants," Bielema said. "He seems to be an expert. He should probably stick to his own business."
Without going all TMZ and turning this story into a full-blown he-said, she-said segment, I did think it was fair to point out the fact that Calhoun did send forth and apologetic tweet shortly after Bielema's presser.
"Nothing but love and respect for coach B," he said on Twitter. "Great coach that obviously knows football. Borland is tremendous no matter where he plays."
-Wisconsin's game at Illinois on Nov. 19th has been scheduled for an 11:00 a.m. (ct) kickoff. It will be televised on either ESPN or ESPN2.
-Chris Borland was named the Big Ten's defensive player of the week following his performance against the Boilermakers.