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Spring break, FB-style

We've all heard the stories from spring break (some of us may have also lived them). So what tropical locations are the Badger football players off to as Spring Break 2010 commences?

QB Scott Tolzien - home to Illinois (maybe an elementary school visit in there as well ... here's a video of a first/second grade class at Scott's old grammar school)

DB Aaron Henry - staying in Madison (plane fare to Florida was too expensive to get back home this week)

LB Chris Borland - home to Ohio (a bunch of the Ohio guys are driving back together, thanks to Jeff Duckworth's dad)

DE J.J. Watt - home to Pewaukee (and most likely a trip back to see his old teammates at Central Michigan .. with some school visits mixed in as well)

RB Montee Ball - staying in Madison (his parents now live in Middleton so I guess you can say he's going home)

DT Patrick Butrym
- home to Milwaukee (maybe a trip up north sometime during the week)

As you can see, I didn't poll everyone on the team but I couldn't find anyone that was hitting a traditional Spring Break locale. Everyone I talked to was looking forward to some home cooking by mom. Maybe I'll get some good stories after everyone comes back.

Photo of the Day: March 26

This will be the final Photo of the Day until Spring Break is over on Monday, April 5.

Before the start of yesterday's practice, defensive coordinator Dave Doeren instructs LBs Mike Taylor, Culmer St. Jean and Chris Borland. Those three look to be the starters at LB once fall camp starts but all three are currently sitting out of spring drills (Taylor and Borland are out until the start of summer conditioning while St. Jean sprained his ankle last week and could be back when spring break is over).

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Spring practice report No. 8

In its last practice before spring break, the Wisconsin football team was inside the McClain Center for 24 periods in front of a large contingent of Wisconsin high school football coaches from across the state.

They were in attendance as part of the 34th annual Wisconsin Football Coaches Association Football Clinic. All coaches were extended an open invitation to attend practice. Among the speakers of note at the clinic will be NFL head coaches Brad Childress of the Minnesota Vikings and John Harbaugh of the Baltimore Ravens and Bronco Mendenhall, head coach of Brigham Young University, former Purdue head coach Joe Tiller, and more.

"That was hump day, practice No. 8 so we are officially over halfway through," head coach Bret Bielema said after practice. "I thought for the most part the guys have really competed well, good energy, good excitement."

Watch highlights from practice and Coach Bielema's complete post-practice media session

Defense on top
Early enrollee and DL Warren Herring made his presence known as the second units squared off against one another. A fake handoff up the middle led to an end-around for WR Jared Abberderis, but Herring was there to greet him and snuff out the play for a loss.

With the No. 1 offense going against the No. 2 defense, LB Coddye Ring-Noonan blitzed up the middle and batted down a pass on his way to the quarterback. Not long after, DE David Gilbert was able to penetrate off the end and bring down RB Zach Brown in the backfield on a sweep left.

Practice No. 8 Photo Gallery

Later in practice, WR Jeff Duckworth caught a pass underneath and turned up field. He didn't tuck the ball away enough though as linebacker Kevin Claxton was able to punch it out, resulting in a turnover for the defense.

The "move the ball drill" didn't really live up to its name as the defenses limited what the offenses were able to accomplish. The first unit achieved only one first down, while neither the No. 1 or No. 2 offenses were able to move the ball past their own 30-yard line.

One bright spot for the offense came during the red zone period. The Noi. 2 offense produced two TDs, one on an 18-yard TD pass from QB Jon Budmayr to WR Jeff Duckworth and the other on a nice run by newly converted RB Kyle Zuleger.

Getting better
After practice, Coach Bielema singled out FS Aaron Henry and CB Antonio Fenelus as two players who have made big jumps during the first two weeks of spring ball. On offense, Bielema noted offensive linemen Jake Current, Travis Frederick, Ricky Wagner and Josh Oglesby for their performance thus far.

poles.jpgWhat's with the poles?
One of the curiosities of the spring has been the use of poles (pictured right) during the Badgers' special teams work, specifically the punt team. The poles are used as spacers in UW's spread punt formation, ensuring everyone lines up the correct distance from the man inside of them.

Back in the fold and ready to roll
LT Gabe Carimi participated in his first full practice of the spring and wasted no time mixing it up. He was involved in a couple of small dustups, one with CB Marcus Cromartie and the other with DE J.J. Watt. You could tell he was ready to start hitting people. After practice Coach Bielema joked that he was down in the locker room and Watt and Carimi "kissed and made up." He also referenced a flare up between Joe Thomas and Joe Monty during his first year as a head coach. When he asked Thomas what the deal was, Joe responded, "It had to happen."

Be smart

That was the message coach Bielema had for his team as practice ended. With spring break approaching he told the players to enjoy their time off but to be safe and smart. He told them not to do anything that would take away from all the hard work they've put in through winter conditioning and the first half of spring practice. Bielema also emphasized making sure those that were going home spent time with their families, not just their friends.

The team will reconvene on for a meeting on Monday, April 5, while practice resumes on Tuesday, April 6 at 3:45 p.m.

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The 34th annual Wisconsin High School Coaches Association Football Clinic is being held Thursday, Friday and Saturday in Madison. As is usually the case, head coach Bret Bielema has invited the attendees to watch practice today, which takes place at 3 p.m. on the practice field in the McClain Center. It is UW's last practice before Spring Break starts on Saturday.

There is a terrific lineup of guest speakers and presenters, including former Purdue head coach Joe Tiller, Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbough and defensive coordinator (and Madison native) Greg Mattison and former UW assistant and current Minnesota Vikings head coach Brad Childress. In addition, coach Bielema, offensive coordinator Paul Chryst and defensive coordinator Dave Doeren will make presentations.Tomorrow night, the entire Badger staff is available during an informal Q&A session.

Photo of the Day: March 25

UW started practice on Tuesday with a new twist on the "Badger" drill. Instead of everyone lining up on the goal line and going down the line, the entire team went out to midfield and head coach Bret Bielema called out two names to go heads up. Here, TE Lance Kendricks and DE Louis Nzegwu go at it:

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ESPN.com complete Badger spring FB preview

ESPNcom_3_24_10.jpgCheck out the front page of ESPN.com football's site right now:

That's the Badgers front and center.

Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg was in Madison last week and talked to head coach Bret Bielema and a number of players.

You can check out Adam's video interview with Coach Bielema, his story on UW contending for a Big Ten title in 2010 and his story on the Badgers' potent offense.

The front page with all the links is right here.

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Photo of the Day: March 24

LB Chris Borland at a recent practice, sporting a new haircut and showing off his arm in case Coach Chryst wants to add some depth at QB:


Spring practice report No. 7

The Badgers practiced outside again on Tuesday for 24 periods, their seventh practice of the spring. They have just one more practice, Thursday, before Spring Break starts on Saturday.

Watch highlights from practice as well as head coach Bret Bielema's post-practice interview

Badger fans and anyone who has watched Wisconsin football regularly the last couple of years is well versed in the numerous reverses that are a staple of UW's running game. They were on full display during the middle of practice when the Badgers went 11-on-11.

In the span of about five plays, UW ran the tight end around with Lance Kendricks that was so successful against Purdue last year then ran successive fly sweeps with wide receivers David Gilreath and Isaac Anderson. Later in the period, Gilreath was the recipient of another fly sweep handoff. The period was reminiscent to the Badgers win at Indiana in 2008 (at least according to one astute media member in attendance).

toon.jpgRedundant, again
News flash - Nick Toon makes big catches. These spring practice reports sometimes seem like a broken record. During the parts of practice that I really paid attention to (two hours is a long time to concentrate, plus I have to take all those great photos), there were three main periods that caught my eye, red zone skelly, 11-on-11 red zone and, for the first time this spring, 11-on-11 2-minute drill. Toon came up big in all three phases.

In the beginning of red zone skelly, Toon made a leaping catch in the back of the end zone for a score. On the final play of the period, he made another TD grab, tip toeing the same sideline.

When the full team got together for red zone, Toon again hauled in a TD then caught a crossing route that very well may have gotten into the end zone (there was no tackling during practice today).

Toon saved his best for last, however. During the 2-minute drill, the No. 1 offense drove down to the four-yard line with six seconds left on the clock. Toon contributed two of the catches to get them down there while RB Zach Brown took a dump off and shook a linebacker for a big gain on 3rd-and-10.

On the final play of the drive, QB Scott Tolzien looked for Toon on a fade in the right side of the end zone. Toon outjumped FS Aaron Henry and the two fell to the ground with Toon cluthing the ball and Henry's arm. TD Badgers!

Practice No. 7 Photo Gallery

Defense does not rest
That's not to say UW's defense wasn't heard from during practice. In the red zone skelly period, Henry and CB Devin Smith combined to break up what looked like a TD pass to RB Bradie Ewing out of the backfield. Henry also recorded an interception at the goal line during the 11-on-11 red zone period, as Tolzien rolled to his right and tried to squeeze a pass into Toon.

The No. 2 defense was also able to stop the No. 2 offense in the 2-minute drill. QB Jon Budmayr and WR Jared Abbrederis, who hooked up on a long pass during skelly, nearly ended the 2-minute drill on the first play but another bomb from Budmayr to Abbrederis just went off his fingertips. The offense was able to drive inside the 25-yard line but after a few near misses, time ran out.     

Injury update
Head coach Bret Bielema said that QB Curt Phillips suffered a torn ACL during Saturday's scrimmage.

"Right now we're just waiting for the swelling to go down and he'll have surgery here in the next couple of weeks," Bielema said after practice. "Obviously disappointed for him but all indications are that he'll come back and be able to rehab. There is probably a potential hope for the season next year, but really that's up in the air. Every knee injury comes about a little bit differently."

Coach Bielema also said that OL Gabe Carimi, OL John Moffitt and DL Brendan Kelly all appear to be on track to join practice following spring break. TE Brian Wozniak strained his MCL on Saturday and Bielema hopes to have him back after spring break, possibly for the last week of practice.

Joe Thomas earns new fan

I was still the main person on men's basketball during Joe Thomas' career as a Badger but I helped out with football enough to know that Joe was a first-class person. Most of the world found out a little about what kind of guy he was when he declined an invitation to the NFL Draft in New York to go fishing with his dad.

Joe provided another example on a recent NFL-USO Tour of Afghanistan. He was moved by a short meeting with an Army soldier. He was so touched by the soldier's story that when Joe returned to the states, he looked up the soldier's mom and sent her an email telling her how brave her son was and how much Joe appreciated what he was doing. The mother reached out to the media in Cleveland and this story was the result.

At a time when a lot of news outlets focus on the negative things professional athletes are involved in it is very refreshing to have a person like Joe Thomas associated with the university. Hopefully he makes a lot of people proud to be Badger fans.

March 23: Photo of the Day

Defensive back Dezmen Southward skies to catch a ball during drills in the beginning of yesterday's practice:

start 109.jpg