This is probably my fifth or sixth Badger Days trip and I still can't get over how cool it is. This year there are a couple new wrinkles. Student-athletes are making a couple of trips and Blake Geoffrion (with his Hobey Baker Trophy) and J.J. Watt were on the bus with us Tuesday.
The cheerleaders and Bucky have been mainstays at Badger Days but this year the UW Band will also be in attendance, playing all the fans' favorites. And, for the second straight year, 1999 Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne will join the festivities.
Tuesday's journey took us to Green Bay and Lambeau Field. I was going to do a running diary-style blog but I got an hour in and it was already a couple pages long and I'm sure no one wants to read that much detail. So I'll just hit on some highlights:
By Brian Lucas on April 29, 2010 1:58 PM
With the 2010 NFL Draft in the books, this is a good time to take a glance around the league and see what is up with some former Badgers.
Obviously it was a big weekend for Garrett Graham, who was drafted in the fourth round by the Houston Texans. He will be joining former Badger Owen Daniels and it looks like he will get plenty of opportunities to make a name for himself during the offseason. BTW, it sounds like Daniels is ahead of schedule in his rehab.
Last year, the UW athletic department, led by the Office of Academic Services, hosted the first Buckinghams, officially the Student-Athlete Annual Showcase of Excellence. Modeled after the many awards shows out there (Academy Awards, ESPYs, etc.), it was a formal event complete with a red carpet, performances by student-athletes and awards based on off-the-field achievements.
The second installment was held last Monday at the Overture Center on State Street. I had to go to see for myself what all the talk was about. The doors opened at 7 p.m. and the foyer of the Overture Center was like a who's who of Badger athletics. There's Barry Alvarez. Bo Ryan and Lisa Stone are over there. Mike Eaves and Mark Johnson are talking in that corner. Bret Bielema is surrounded by Chris Maragos, Nick Toon and John Clay. Obviously, a number of student-athletes were on hand as well, along with some parents.
Everyone made their way up the red carpet and the program started at 7:30 p.m. Women's hockey player Alannah McCready opened the show with a stirring rendition of "American Honey" by Lady Antebellum. If you don't have time to watch the entire Buckinghams video, definitely check out the first four minutes for McCready's performance.
The emcee for the event, "The Voice of the Badgers" Matt Lepay, then recognized the 3.5 awards, all the student-athletes who achieved a 3.5 term or cume GPA for Fall 2009 or Spring 2009. The list included 216 names. Again, for emphasis, 216 names.
All the other awards were presented by student-athletes, MTV Video Awards-style. The first pair of presenters were Ryan Gaspar and Jack Bolas of the men's cross country team. Each pair did a little skit, Bolas' involving having run to the awards show as part of training, before presenting their awards. The first award on the docket was the Performance Awards, given to student-athletes nominated by their advisors for their academic work and constant improvement. In the interest of space, the complete list of winners, as well as the complete list of all awards is at the end of this blog.
One of the big hits of the show was the best of the "Ask the Badgers" series. If you've been to the Kohl Center or Camp Randall for a game, you are familiar with these videos. The first showing included John Moffitt's famous "I don't trust children" response to "Do you have any superstitions?"
Thursday afternoon marked the final full practice session before Saturday's spring game. There is still one more practice tomorrow, scheduled to go 18 periods in helmets only. The Badgers spent 24 periods in full pads outside in Camp Randall Stadium amidst blustery conditions.
Getting defensive After spending the first several periods working at their respective positions, the Badgers broke into a 1st and 10 drill. A few standout defensive plays highlighted the drill.
FS Aaron Henry got it started as he came all the way to the opposite side of the field to snuff out an end-around to WR David Gilreath, while DL Ethan Hemer broke through on a pitch right to disrupt the backfield.
Later in practice, the No. 1 defense went up against the No. 2 offense. On a fake handoff, end-around, DE Louis Nzegwu was able to get deep penetration and bring down Gilreath for a big loss.
In a situational drill, a sideline pass featured a showdown between TE Lance Kendricks and CB Niles Brinkley. As Kendricks went up to haul in the pass, Brinkley was able to punch it out, much to the delight of his teammates and coaches.
SS Jay Valai had the big hit of the day as he walloped RB Montee Ball as Ball tried to run off the left tackle. Since it was practice, it wasn't a full-on hit from Valai, but it did create a loud pop and knocked Ball off balance.
Offensive showcase The defense had some nice plays on Thursday, but the offense certainly had its share as well.
In the red zone skeleton drill, the first play featured QB Scott Tolzien using play action to find an open WR Kyle Jefferson in the corner of the end zone for a score.
Later, as the No. 1 offense faced off against the No. 1 defense, another play action resulted in another score. This time, Tolzien used the deception to fit a deep pass into WR Isaac Anderson who snuck past the secondary.
In the same sequence that saw the aforementioned play by Nzegwu, redshirt freshman QB Jon Budmayr put some nice touch on a deep pass to TE Zach Davison.
Red Zone The Badgers spent a little time towards the end of practice on Red Zone. SS Jay Valai started the drill with a big pop on RB Montee Ball. The No. 1 offense did find the end zone once, on about a 15-yard crossing route from QB Scott Tolzien to WR David Gilreath after a nice play fake by Tolzien. The defense held its own for the rest of the drill, including three plays inside the 10-yard line.
The No. 2 offense also managed one score with QB Jon Budmayr finding WR Kyle Jefferson for a bout a 10-yard scoring strike. LB A.J. Fenton started the drill with a nice hit on RB Kyle Zuleger but then Zuleger came through on a big third down run.
2-minute drill The No. 1 offense started on their own 30-yard line and drove to the defense's 41. Facing a 4th-and-2, Tolzien scrambled for about 10-yards and got out of bounds. A 20-yard pass to TE Lance Kendricks got the offense inside the 15-yard line. With four seconds left, the offense had the ball on the 10-yard line for one last shot. Tolzien lofted a pass for Jefferson in the corner of the end zone but CB Devin Smith was able to jump with Jefferson and break it up.
When the No. 2 offense and defense squared off, Budmayr quickly led the offense to the 38-yard line with a pair of completions to Duckworth and WR Jared Abbrederis. Facing a 4th-and-10, head coach Bret Bielema awarded the offense a first down at about the 25-yard line. DE David Gilbert ended the day with an interception on the next play, however.
Senior OL John Moffitt was back at practice and participating in drills
on Thursday after recovering from hernia surgery. Bielema expects
Moffitt to be in the lineup Saturday.
The same cannot be said for WR Nick Toon. He likely will not play after
being banged up in last Saturday's practice.
Junior RB John Clay was seen off his crutches for the first time on
Thursday since undergoing surgery on his right ankle.
This and that
Former UW defensive back Jack Ikegwuonu was in attendance at practice on
Thursday, he spent time talking with Toon, Bielema and his fellow
defensive backs, amongst others.
He may be sitting out this spring, but linebacker Chris Borland still
showed his athleticism. As the team was taking a water break, Borland
was seen catching one-handed passes of the jugs machine.
Well then first, shame on you. But I guess it's understandable if you live out of state, or are getting married, or having a baby. But barring any of those conditions, you should really come out and watch the spring game (did you hear about the weather forecast?).
But if you REALLY can't make it, there are a couple of ways to see the game. The game will be live-streamed for $2.99 on BigTenNetwork.com. It will also be shown on the Big Ten Network via tape delay on the following days (all times CT):
Saturday, April 17 at 10 p.m. Sunday, April 18 at 6 p.m. Monday, April 19 at 11 p.m. Tuesday, April 20 at 1 p.m. Thursday, April 22 at 9 a.m.
Hosted by Dave Revsine alongside analysts Gerry DiNardo and Howard Griffith, the Big Ten Network will also produce five episodes of "Big Ten Tonight: Spring Football Report" on Wednesday and Saturday nights from April 14 through April 28. Here's how they break down: Wednesday, April 14 DiNardo and Griffith visited Big Ten campuses throughout the spring and will review practices during the first episode of "Big Ten Tonight: Spring Football Report." (Spoiler alert: This episode features an interview with UW head coach Bret Bielema that he taped earlier this afternoon)
Saturday, April 17 There are five Big Ten spring games on this day: Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Indiana, and Purdue. Post-game interviews and highlights from the intra-squad scrimmages air at 10 p.m. ET on "Big Ten Tonight: Spring Football Report."
Wednesday, April 21 Preview the upcoming NFL Draft, and will include interviews with many of the Big Ten's projected draft picks.
Saturday, April 24 There are six Big Ten spring games on this day: Ohio State, Penn State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Illinois and Michigan State. Post-game interviews and highlights air on "Big Ten Tonight: Spring Football Report" at 10 p.m. ET.
Wednesday, April 28 Wrap up the spring sessions on every campus and looks ahead to the 2010 season.
With just three practices left until Saturday's spring game, each rep counts even more as players try to better themselves in lead up to Saturday's showcase. Tuesday's 24-period practice was held outside under sunny skies as the players went in full pads.
As is the norm with practices, the first few periods were spent on position-specific drills. The wide receivers practiced leaping over defenders to make the catch, while on the other side of the field, the defensive backs worked on coming around the edge, knocking the ball out of the quarterback's hands and then recovering the loose ball. Managers even threw balls directly into the ground so the secondary could better work at making the play off the bounce.
Later in practice, as the defense worked against a scout offense that featured an option quarterback, aptly played by wide receiver Jared Abberderis, the wide receivers were hard at work going against zone coverage elsewhere. With bodies needed elsewhere, it was up to the coaching staff as well as a student manager to mimic what the linebackers would do in coverage. It was then up to the wide receiver to find the soft spot in the zone and make the catch.
Big hits During the 1st and 10 drill, on a sweep right, tight end Lance Kendricks pancaked defensive back Dezmen Southward.
In a different drill, safety Jay Valai laid a loud pop on a wide receiver catching a ball in the flats.
Defensive end J.J. Watt also got into the act, breaking through the line of scrimmage to lay a lick on a running back four yards into the backfield.
Good vs. good Practice ended with the No. 1 offense squaring off with the No. 1 defense for two drives and the No. 2 squads squaring off for one. On the first drive for the No. 1 offense, the Badgers drove inside the 40-yard line but were stopped there. The same thing happened when the No. 2 offense took the ball, gaining a couple first downs but eventually stalling short of the goal line.
On the No. 1 offense's last drive, they were able to punch it into the end zone. The main catalyst on the drive was Kendricks, who made a great catch on about a 25-yard crossing route, leaping over linebacker Kevin Rouse to make the grab. Kendricks also moved the Badgers inside the 5-yard line after RB Zach Brown gave QB Scott Tolzien some extra time with an excellent blitz pick up. RB Montee Ball capped the drive with a short TD plunge.
The Badgers will take Wednesday off before closing out the week with practices on Thursday on 3:45 p.m. and on Friday at 4:45 p.m. This all leads up to Saturday's Spring Game at 2 p.m.
UW's annual Cardinal and White Spring Football will be held on Saturday and as of right now, it looks like the weather will cooperate. The latest weather.com long-range forecast puts the high at 64 degrees, almost 10 degrees above normal for mid-April. It also calls for sun (not to be confused with my favorite: "plentiful sunshine") and a zero percent chance of precipitation.
Fans are also invited to the Badger Kids Fair prior to the Spring Game. The Kids Fair will run from noon-2 p.m. in the McClain Center, adjacent to Camp Randall Stadium. Kids will enjoy interactive displays while meeting UW student-athletes and coaches from many of UW's varsity sports teams. That event is also free to the public.
Members of the football team will be on hand for the first hour of the event before leaving to begin their preparations for the Spring Game). Plus, from 1-2 p.m., former Badger football players will be on hand to sign autographs for fans.
The Badgers held their 11th practice of the spring on Saturday and while the official spring dress rehearsal is one week away, most of Saturday's scrimmage was made up of a scrimmage that included the No. 1 offense going against the No. 1 defense.
Quick start for the offense The scrimmage started with the offense running first- and second-down plays. Every series started first-and-10 and the offense would play second down from where the ball was spotted after the first down play. The goal of the drill was to emphasize the importance of execution on first down. The offense wants to gain four or more yards while the defense wants to give up three or less.
The No. 1 units went head-to-head for eight series and the offense got a first down on all eight. UW's multiple offensive weapons were on display. RB Montee Ball did the bulk of the damage on the ground. WR Nick Toon came up with another highlight-reel catch, leaping over CB Devin Smith to haul in about a 30-yard grab down the sideline. WR David Gilreath ran for about 35 yards on a reverse. Finally, TE Lance Kendricks ended the drill with consecutive catches, including one on the final play for more than 40 yards.
The No. 2 defense had better luck, holding the No. 2 defense to three first downs on seven tries. QB Jon Budmayr and TE Jacob Pederson hooked up for about a 20-yard gain and WR Kyle Jefferson came up with a circus grab on a slant pass that DE David Gilbert tipped. On defense, LB Ethan Armstrong came up with a big hit to drop RB Zach Brown in the backfield.
Addressing the team after practice, head coach Bret Bielema applauded the offense for the excellent start but stressed to the defense that they need to be ready to play right from the beginning.
The defense strikes back The defense got the momentum back right at the start of the third down drills. The offense faced various third-down situations, starting with third-and-1 and ending with third-and-10.
On the first play, a third-and-one, LB Culmer St. Jean attacked the hole and flattened Ball, causing a fumble. The defense also held on the next four third-down plays, as DE J.J. Watt stopped Brown, DL Patrick Butrym knocked down a pass, the offense threw an incompletion and Watt recorded a sack. The offense's lone conversion was on a third-and-10 play when QB Scott Tolzien hooked up with Toon, just floating a pass over Smith's outstretched arms on the sideline.
LB A.J. Fenton came up with an interception during the twos vs. twos.
When the No. 1s squared off again, the offense had a little better luck. On the first play, SS Jay Valai and Ball had a big collision in the hole that would have been close to a first down. Ball picked up a first down on a third-and-two but was then stopped by LB Blake Sorensen on a sweep play. Watt batted down a pass at the line of scrimmage before the offense picked up two first downs on completions from Tolzien to Toon and WR Jared Abbrederis.
The scrimmage then shifted to the goal line as the offense started from its own 2-yard line. The No. 1 offense got one first down before CB Antonio Fenelus came up with an interception on a pass that Tolzien looked to be throwing away. The No. 2 defense also got into the act as CB Marcus Cromartie picked off Budmayr.
Bielema made a point to the offense that they had the momentum after the first part of the scrimmage but gave it away with turnovers. He also gave kudos to the defense for turning around their fortunes.
Back on track The No. 1 offense started to get it going again with a touchdown reception by Gilreath on a crossing route during red zone drills. The next portion of practice was "move-the-ball" and the offense started on the 20-yard line. Thanks to two big plays by Ball (30-yard run) and Kendricks (20-yard reception), Ball was able to score on a 1-yard run, getting in on his second effort.
The No. 2 defense was able to hold the No. 2 offense twice, first on Cromartie's second INT of the day then on a third-down sack by DB Shelton Johnson.
The No. 1 defense exacted some revenge as they held on their next drive. The offense started at their own 45-yard line and got a 25-yard run from Tolzien on a designed rollout pass on the first play. Tolzien later picked up a third-and-10 by rolling right to avoid the blitz and hitting Toon on the sideline. The defense stiffened after that, ending the drive with a sack on third down by Watt. That forced a 50-yard FG attempt by Phillip Welch into the wind that came up short. Welch did make a 47-yarder in the same direction after the No. 2 offense drive stalled as well.
The Badgers will being the final week of spring practice on Tuesday, the first of three practices before Saturday's spring game.
The Badger football team was inside once again in the McClain Center for their 10th practice of the spring on Tuesday afternoon. UW practiced for a little less than two hours, wrapping up right around the second intermission of the Badgers' hockey game vs. RIT.
"I thought our guys came back a lot better today," head coach Bret Bielema said after practice. "Tuesday I thought was a little disappointing, just a little sloppy after being on that break. But they came back today and made a lot of improvement. I thought in the back end especially, we didn't give up very many big plays, up front held their blocks a lot better."
UW will be back on the field (most likely outside in Camp Randall Stadium as the forecast calls for temperatures in the 60s) on Saturday morning for its final scrimmage before the Spring Game on April 17. It will be a big work day for the Badgers.
"It will be the last time that we go good vs. good, live," Bielema said. "We'll make sure that we get all four phases of the game, regular normal down and distance, third down, short yardage/goal line and red zone. We'll have the officials out there. It will be as live as live gets because when we go to the spring game we'll go ones against the world."
From the infirmary The Badgers continued to return bodies to practice, following the layoff for spring break.
"Gabe (Carimi) is obviously a little bit rusty, to get him back out there was huge," Bielema said. "I think we'll get (John) Moffit back in drills on Saturday. He should be able to go back the entire week next week. We got Tyler Dippel back, Brendan Kelly, as well as Eriks Briedis, so there's a couple guys that are really going to get some good work the last two weeks."
Even the players not expected to participate at all during the spring, including RB John Clay, C Peter Konz, LB Chris Borland and LB Mike Taylor, seem to be progressing well.
"All of our (injured) guys, to this point, everybody should be 100 percent for summer, which is June 7 I believe," Bielema said. "That's kind of the strategy with a couple of our guys, including John Clay, hold them out of spring ball because we really want that eight-week program to be there for them going into the fall."
Taking the reigns With the departure of O'Brien Schofield, Chris Maragos and Jaevery McFadden from the defense, UW needs players to assume their roles, not only as playmakers on defense, but leaders. One of the players stepping up so far in practice (on both fronts) is defensive end J.J. Watt.
"Because we don't have a senior defensive lineman, he's really taken on a role since O.B. left," Bielema said. "He's just one of those natural kids. I would say over the last two years, nobody in our entire program has logged more community service hours than J.J. Every week he's doing something community service wise. Those are the guys that lead the way for us."
Splitting up the duties Much like he did during his first season as head coach, Bielema has divided up the special teams coaching duties among his staff this season.
"We have guys in charge of every phase. Charlie (Partridge) runs all of punt, Greg's (Jackson) going to run all of kickoff coverage, Joe Rudolph will run kickoff return and then Chris Ash will run punt return," he said. "On my staff I now actually have five guys that have been special teams coordinators so we are trying to split it up between us.
Bielema believes this not only benefits the team but also the coaches involved.
"When you have a coach who isn't in a coordinator role ... those are guys you foresee potentially as candidates to be coordinators. The first unit that I ever ran was a special teams unit, a punt return unit. It taught me how to game plan, how to think, how to strategize. I can sit there and I can watch them and see how they install, how they game plan, how the kids relate to them. The bigger picture would show you how they potentially could be as an offensive or defensive coordinator."
Bielema, who served as the special teams coordinator in the last three seasons, will still have a role on each unit but it will be more of a support role.
Special guest Jaxson Hinkens, a young boy battling cancer who befriended QB Scott Tolzien last season, wsa at practice with his parents. Following practice, a number of players, including Tolzien, Jon Budmayr, Nate Tice, Chris Borland, J.J. Watt, Aaron Henry and numerous others, went over to take pictures and play catch with Jaxson. About a half hour after practice had ended, Tolzien and Budmayr were out on the practice field running routes with Jaxson delivering the passes. Tolzien stayed and chatted with Jaxson and his parents and was still talking as I left the building, about an hour after practice had ended.