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August 23, 2011

Notes: Injuries, freshmen and depth

MADISON - Bret Bielema had hoped for one of the more physical practices of fall camp Tuesday afternoon inside Camp Randall Stadium. Hoping and actually receiving are two terribly different things.

"I just wasn't happy with the way we weren't very clean," Bielema said following practice. "So we're going to give them a little bit of time off tonight and bring them back tomorrow afternoon and we'll have a mock game under the lights."

With the season opener just over a week away it seems as though Bielema and his coaching staff want to see how the players on his newly released depth chart handle game-like situations.

"We'll do as close as we can to get offense, defense and special team situations," Bielema said. "We'll do unique situations, onsides, hand teams, blocked punts and field goals, fake punts and field goals. That will kind of be our scenario and should give us a good feel for where we are at.

"We're really getting close to being seven days out so once we get to seven days out we'll be in normal game preparation."

Injury-wise, outside of the more seriously hurt players like Jon Budmayr and Chase Hammond, it seems as though Bielema's squad is rounding into health. Only freshman running back Jeff Lewis was mentioned in Bielema's injury report.

"We though that he had fractured a bone, but it was an old bone injury," Bielema said. "It was something that he'd done in high school. As of right now we are going to do a couple more tests. If everything seems to go the way they think it is now he should be back as early as Friday."

Quick Budmayr update:

Jon Budmayr, who has missed a large chunk of fall camp with an apparent nerve injury to his throwing elbow, should know more about his immediate future as early as Thursday.

"They're doing another test," Bielema said. "I don't know if we'll get the exact word on how long or exactly what's causing it. But I think they're honing in more specifically on what's causing it and what actions we can take."

Depth at quarterback:

Look, Russell Wilson was going to nail down the starting job no matter what happened this fall camp. There's no way he would have chose Wisconsin if he wasn't going to earn starting playing time this season. So that was basically a given no matter how hard Bielema tried to sell it as a competition.

Unfortunately, even though there might not have been much of one, the competition never really got the chance to flourish simply because Budmayr's injury has prevented him from receiving the amount of reps that were planned prior to his setback.

If there is any good to come from such an unfortunate circumstance it would be the amount of progress both Joel Stave and Joe Brennan have made throughout camp.

Still, though the two young players have improved quite a bit, the lack of depth at the position, especially if Budmayr misses more time than originally thought, is nonetheless concerning.

No matter how much the head coach wants to protect the confidence of those players.

"I think there are two things," Bielema said. "First off, depending on how the game is and where the game is, Nate Tice can get you in and out of some situations. But they've got some quality reps and improved a great deal. I really excited about both of them. I think if we had to play a game tomorrow we'd probably go more with Joe Brennan and see where he's at.

"But there's the idea that both of them have to be ready to play."

In regards to Stave, a true freshman who came in early to participate in last spring camp, it seems as though a redshirt would be the ideal plan in an ideal world. But should Budmayr be out for an extended duration, that might not be the most plausible way to approach it.

"In a perfect world it would be (the plan)," Bielema said. "Especially if Jon was here and moving through. There are probably a half a dozen freshmen right now on the board that are one guy away from having to play. If we can travel and redshirt them like we did with Sherard Cadogan a year ago, then we'll kind of move forward.

"Otherwise they've got to do what's good."

Depth at wide receiver:

Much like the quarterback depth, the backups at the wide receiver spots behind Nick Toon and Jared Abbrederis are lacking experience. Neither Kenzel Doe (a true freshman) or Jeff Duckworth has played in a lot of meaningful situations at wide receiver.

The stable of true freshman obviously don't have any experience and a lot of the guys returning that do, the Manasseh Garner's of the roster, simply don't have much game-experience at their disposal.

It's going to be an interesting situation as the season plays out, and it's one that has wide receiver coach DelVaughn Alexander a little anxious.

"He's the wide receiver coach," Bielema said. "I like him being scared because it keeps him on his edge. I really think that he has some willing soldiers there. They've just got to learn how to push through. I don't know if volume is the answer right now. I think the more we can get out of good quality work is better for us."

"Hopefully that will come through."

The story at the position throughout fall camp circled around which player was going to step up and truly solidify a role for himself in the rotation. Still, just nine days away from the season opener, it seems as though nobody has truly grabbed the opportunity by its horns.

"We've got to play better at all of our wide receiver spots," Bielema said. "Nick has to be more consistent and Jared the same thing. I really think Manasseh has a chance of practicing as early as the beginning of next week so there's an outside chance he could play in the opening game. Jordan Fredrick has shown really, really good things but at times he lacks the focus. Kenzel Doe, Isaiah Williams and Connor Cummins are all in this little basket of availability.

"I'm waiting for one of them to kind of get to the top."

Freshmen contributors:

The number of true freshmen that have a chance to legitimately play a major role in the success of the team this season has dwindled to four.

"One of the wide receivers, and it's still a work in progress, has to play," Bielema said. "Derek Landisch, Darius Hillary and Melvin Gordon. Those guys are probably in a position to help us right now. Landisch got a lot of good reps with our second string linebackers. It depends on the health of Mike Taylor and Kevin Claxton.

"He's a guy that instinctively could make a lot of plays, but yeah, we would like to get Landisch and Hillary's feet wet on special teams initially. They're very instinctive and could cover the ground with good speed."

Bielema has had no qualms about mentioning Fredrick as a possible contributor at wide receiver throughout fall camp. It seems as though he still holds that same stance and still believes he could be the freshman wide receiver to emerge out of the group.

"I do," Bielema said. "I hope he does. I think he's capable of doing it if he continues to play big and continues to do good things. He's kind of a guy with two or three good plays and then maybe a step back before moving forward. But bottom line, he was running around at Madison Memorial last year and playing corner, wide receiver and safety. I think we've got more specific with him.

"Hopefully that's going to pay off."

Quotable:

Bielema on the way James White and Jared Abbrederis could make an impact as co-kick returners:

"We learned last year, especially after the Ohio State and Iowa games, they started kicking away from David Gilreath a lot. What we'd like to do is get two guys back there that can field the ball. Equally as important are our ends back there, and they're two guys that can at least field the ball cleanly if they deliver a pooch kick to the 35 or something.

"We'll take the ball every time at that spot."

Bielema on the recovery of freshman wide receiver Chase Hammond:

"Chase had some pretty significant surgery on his ankle. I don't think he's going to be back with us any time soon."

The following is the audio file from Bielema's meeting with the press:
Bielema, (8/23)





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