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Putting on the pads

IMG_9389.jpgPhoto Gallery: Practice No. 3

Tuesday saw the Badgers don shoulder pads for the first time under sunny skies and warm temps in Camp Randall. The live hitting was kept to a minimum (DB Michael Trotter did get a good lick on WR Chase Hammond during 7-on-7) but the offensive and defensive lines were able to get after each other a little bit.

Thursday will be the final practice before spring break. It will be conducted in full pads in front of about 2500 high school coaches in town for the annual Wisconsin Football Coaches Association clinic.

Today's links
* ESPN.com - Badgers' Abbrederis ready for top role
* Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - Smith and Gilbert healing, eager to return to field
* Wisconsin State Journal - Although injured, Jackson taking advantage of early enrollment
* Fox Sports Wisconsin - Southward has gone from athlete to player
* The Badger Herald - Football embraces smooth transitions

***Buy tickets to the Badger Spring Game on April 28 (4 p.m.)***

Photo of the Day: Practice No. 2

It's always interesting when new coaches come aboard to observe the first few practices to see what their coaching style is. Some are yellers, some are quiet, some are intense, some keep it light.

First-year WRs coach Zach Azzanni is definitely hands-on, as is shown above. He has no problem jumping in a drill if his guys aren't executing properly, chasing someone down to give a pat on the helmet after a good play or physically moving a player's feet further apart if he doesn't like their stance. He definitely falls under the category of "high energy."

***Buy tickets to the Badger Spring Game on April 28 (4 p.m.)***

Notes from Bielema news conference

IMG_9278_sm.jpgCoach Bielema met with media on Monday. A complete transcript and video from the session are available here. If you don't want to read the entire thing, here are some topics he touched on:

Linebacker depth
"At the mike position, (Chris) Borland's there. I think Marcus Trotter has popped into that position, and a guy that we're really excited about through two practices, and we got to see them all fall.

"Derek (Watt) has handled that spot, had a great practice on Tuesday. We'll get reps out there with the ones out there today when Chris isn't in there, just really instinctive, makes a lot of nice, just natural football plays that you love to see. So I think he's in there in conjunction with the possibility of maybe Jake Keefer and, obviously, Marcus Trotter."

WR Marquis Mason
"Nobody made a bigger jump, in my opinion, in a certain couple areas from Thursday to (Saturday) as Marquis. I mean, he made a couple nice catches last Thursday, but he's playing the old high school ball with a ball out here. And he's got such big mitts.

"I remember the first (day), at the beginning of practice, we do this thing called pat-and-go. And I just kind of was standing there. I was watching everybody kind of move around, and all of a sudden this big body ran in front of me. And the ball was behind him, and he just reached back with this left hand, caught it in mid-air, did a complete 360 and took off running. Didn't put his other hand on it.

"He's so freaky athletically. He's, basically, a full year removed from the ACL (surgery), and he's a kid that I think had to battle through a lot upstairs as well as with his knee. Those basketball guys ... you've got to take your time with them. And we brought that mentality."

"Two things, I think, with our quarterbacks. I just want to see that composure in the huddle, being able to communicate, "Hey, this is the verbiage. This is the language." And that's been outstanding. I think both of them, even the players around them, have noticed that right away going into the first practice last Thursday.

"And then the second thing is just post-snap reads and reactions. Obviously if we're running a run play, there's not much to it. They know where it's going. They know how to hand it off and let everything else happen. We'll do some adjustments at the line of scrimmage, whether it's going right or left like we've always done.

"But in the passing game, being able to recognize pre-snap what the coverage is, being able to execute post-snap (with) decision making, and both of them have been outstanding. I believe we're looking at over a 70-percent completion percentage through two practices, which we've never been at that level with those kind of quarterbacks at this point through two practices, so it's been pretty amazing to me."

***Buy tickets to the Badger Spring Game on April 28 (4 p.m.)***

Week two of spring practice kicks off

Brennan_Canada.jpgWith spring break looming next week, the Badgers will get two more practices in this week (Tuesday and Thursday) before the team bonding trip to Cancun (just kidding, most guys have told me they are just going home while some others are staying around Madison for rehab ... just like they show on MTV).

* UWBadgers.com - Budmayr hopeful patience will pay off with return to field
* Madison.com - Chemistry between Canada, Hammock dates to Northern Illinois days
* Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - Injured UW quarterback Phillips slowly making his way back onto field
* ESPN.com - Ultimate Big Ten 2012 road trip: Week 5

***Buy tickets to the Badger Spring Game on April 28 (4 p.m.)***

One step closer to 'American Football'

6110039.jpegPhoto Gallery: Practice No. 2

Coach Bielema likes to say that at Wisconsin, we play 'American football." What he means is a physical style with an emphasis on toughness. The first two days of spring practice, he concedes, can be a little frustrating for players and coaches alike because the NCAA mandates the practice sessions be conducted in helmets only, no pads.

The good news is that on Tuesday, the Badgers will don shoulder pads for the first time since the 2012 Rose Bowl. While the practice won't feature live tackling, the intensity will be ratcheted up, especially along the offensive and defensive lines.

That's not to say the first two practices are meaningless. Especially for a team that had to replace six assistant coaches. Also, with a number of returning starters on the shelf for parts or all of the spring combined with the natural turnover in college football, every rep is important in the development of the inexperienced players.

Along those lines, there were a couple players that caught my eye in today's practice, held in the morning and outside under cool and cloudy skies. With no pads and absolutely no hitting, the defense is at a definite disadvantage the first two days. Also, the offensive and defensive lines are tough to judge when they are really just engaging in hand-to-hand combat. So these initial observations are limited to skill players.

Tight end has been a position that has flourished in recent seasons at Wisconsin and even with a new offensive coordinator in Matt Canada, it doesn't look like that will change. Coach Bielema has said that Jacob Pedersen may see more time in an H-back role, leaving an open position for a tight end along the line. Brock DeCicco, a junior transfer from Pitt who spent last year sitting out and on the scout team, looked good today, catching a number of balls over the middle.

Another position of strenght for the Badgers is running back. Everyone knows about Heisman Trophy finalist Montee Ball and 2010 Big Ten Freshman of the Year James White. But a guy a lot of people were excited about during fall camp last year was Melvin Gordon. He saw some time early in his true freshman season but struggled with a groin injury the kept him out of the majority of the season. Today he looked fast and shifty in a some 11-on-11 periods, proving he is 100 percent healthy.

One position where there are some questions marks is at wide receiver. While Jared Abbrederis will be back after his tremendous sophomore season, he is sitting out while rehabbing a foot injury. Jeff Duckworth saw his role increase as last year wore on but behind him, there's not a whole lot of experience. Redshirt sophomore Chase Hammond has a great WR body (6-5, 212 pounds) but has been plagued by injury. During today's practice, he flashed some of his potential, using his long frame to go get a couple balls and showing some speed after the catch in 7-on-7.

***Buy tickets to the Badger Spring Game on April 28 (4 p.m.)***

Photo of the Day: Practice No. 1

A bird's eye view of one of the contenders in the QB competition, Joel Stave, taking part in a 7-on-7 drill during yesterday's practice. Stave, Joe Brennan and Curt Phillips all took reps at QB.

***Buy tickets to the Badger Spring Game on April 28 (4 p.m.)***

Rain causes spring practice to kick off inside

The Badgers held the first of their 15 spring practices on Thursday. Despite a run of record-breaking heat in Madison in recent weeks, rain forced practice No. 1 to be moved inside to the McClain Center. Coach Bielema met with the media following practice and discussed position battles, position changes, players who will be limited due to injuries, the addition of some new coaches and much more (yes, he even talked about the quarterbacks).

Photo Gallery: Practice No. 1

Around the web
* 'Varsity' magazine - Setting the stage: Spring ball kicks off for Badgers
* ESPN.com - UW redshirting creates unique roster
* FoxSportsWisconsin.com - Wisconsin's Bielema continues to aim high
* The Badger Herald - Opportunities abound in football's spring camp
* Wisconsin State Journal - Abbrederis, Pedersen sidelined by injuries as spring practices begin

***Buy tickets to the Badger Spring Game on April 28 (4 p.m.)***
Nortman_Brad_Iowa_10_NA (3).jpg***Vote for the All-Bielema Team on Facebook***

This is the weekend Badger fans across the country have looked forward to for weeks. Selection Sunday, the day when voting for the All-Bielema Team comes to a close (oh, you thought I was talking about a different sort of selection?).

Voting that began with the QB position (Russell Wilson is leading the way) on Feb. 20, will wrap up on Sunday with fans choosing a punt returner. Today the specialists get their day in the sun. During Bielema's head coaching career he has had just two full-time punters and two kickers (though Philip Welch's injury early in 2011 allowed for some cameo appearances by Alec Lerner and Kyle French) so there is not much to choose from. But what we make lack in quantity is definitely made up for in quality.

Punter Candidates:

Ken DeBauche (2006-07)

Four-year starter whose 42.4-yard average is second-best in school history ... honorable mention All-Big Ten in 2006, second-team in 2007 ... team captain as a senior ... ranked second in Big Ten in punting during conference season as a senior ... ranked fourth in the Big Ten in punting as a junior ... completed a memorable pass to long snapper Paul Standring vs. No. 1 Ohio State in 2007 (below)

Watch Ken DeBauche pass in Sports | View More Free Videos Online at Veoh.com

Brad Nortman (2008-11)
Two-time honorable mention All-Big Ten selection ... three-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree ... ranks third in school history with career punting average of 42.1 yards per punt ... averaged 41.8 yards per punt in 2008 to rank fifth among freshmen in the nation ... ran two fake punts for first downs in 2010, including picking up a key first down during the game-winning drive at Iowa (below)

Kicker Candidates:

Mehlhaff_Taylor_OSU_07.jpgTaylor Mehlhaff (2006-07)
Fourth on school's career scoring list with 295 points ... tied for third on UW's career field goals list with 50 and fourth on career field goal attempts list with 65 ... third on school's career list for field goal percentage (.769) ... second in school history in career extra points (145), extra point attempts (148) and extra-point percentage (.979) ... first-team All-American, Lou Groza Award semifinalist and first-team All-Big Ten as a senior ... Lou Groza Award semifinalist and second-team All-Big Ten as a junior

Welch_Philip_Oregon_2011.jpgPhilip Welch (2008-11)
Ranks second in school history in career field goals made (59), career points (384 - most by a kicker) and field goal percentage at (.776) ... third at UW with 76 career field goals attempted ... Big Ten leader in career extra points made with 207 ... holds school record with 211 extra points attempted and .981 extra point percentage ... three-time honorable mention All-Big Ten ... Lou Groza Award semifinalist and freshman All-American in 2008

Remember to vote early and often for the All-Bielema team either on Facebook or Twitter using #AllBielemaTeam (follow @BadgerFootball).

Last week to vote for All-Bielema Team

Thumbnail image for Valai_Jay_Mich_09_2.jpgAs the start of spring practice approaches, the reveal of the All-Bielema Team draws closer. Voting ends, appropriately enough, on Selection Sunday.

Fans can go to the Wisconsin Football Facebook page to log their votes. Polling began on Feb. 20 with quarterbacks and continues today with strong safety. There is one more defensive position to vote on tomorrow (free safety), before special teams takes over the weekend.

Nearly 6,000 votes have been logged so far on Facebook with hundreds of others on Twitter using #AllBielemaTeam. Among the closer position battles are:

Thumbnail image for Levy_DeAndre_IND_07.jpgOutside Linebacker
You need two OLBs and while Mike Taylor looks to be a lock on one side, former teammates DeAndre Levy and Jonathan Casillas are battling it out to see who gets the other spot.

Defensive tackle
Like OLB, we need two DTs. Nick Hayden seems to be on solid footing but Patrick Butrym and Mike Newkirk are potential started next to him. They would form a solid three-man rotation.

Shaughnessy_Matt_Iowa_06.jpgDefensive end
There's no doubt who the top vote-getter at this position would be but J.J. Watt needs a partner on the other side to avoid the double teams. O'Brien Schofield had a terrific senior season while Matt Shaughnessy was a four-year starter.

Right tackle
Right now, two linemates are battling for the final spot on the offensive line, Ricky Wagner and Josh Oglesby. Oglesby started 25 games at RT over three seasons and was a first-team All-Big Ten choice as a senior while Wagner started 10 games in 2010 when Oglesby was hurt and earned honorable mention all-league honors.

Be sure to check out the Wisconsin Football Facebook page to register your votes on these races or any of the others. And check out 'Varsity' next week to view the team in its entirety.

It starts up front

Schofield_O'Brien_NIU_09_2.jpg***Vote for the All-Bielema Team on Facebook***

While offensive players may get most of the glory, everyone knows "defense wins championships." And a good defense is only as good as its play in the trenches.

With that as background, voting for the All-Bielema Team d-line kicked off on Thursday with the glamour position of the group, defensive end. The choices consisted of a national award winner (J.J. Watt), two first-team All-Big Ten selections (Watt and O'Brien Schofield) and three NFL players (Watt, Schofield and Matt Shaughnessy). Included in there is a two-year starter who scored a critical touchdown in in the 2012 Rose Bowl (Louis Nzegwu).

Friday we move onto defensive tackle. It may be less glamorous than d-end but strength up the middle is the hallmark of any good defense. And dependability is a common trait among our four candidates.

The Defensive Tackle Candidates:

Butrym_Patrick_IND_2011.jpgPatrick Butrym (2008-11)
Honorable mention All-Big Ten in 2011 ... won UW's Tom Wiesner Award as a senior, given to a Wisconsin-born player for his contributions ... started all 27 games at defensive tackle as a junior and senior ... played in every one of the Badgers' 53 games in his four-year career ... finished with 79 tackles, 10.5 TFLs, four QB sacks, a forced fumble and an interception

Chapman_Jason_IND_07.jpgJason Chapman (2006-08)
Two-time honorable mention All-Big Ten ... winner of UW's Jay Seiler Coaches Appreciation Award as a senior ... started 36 games over his final three seasons ... finished his career with 117 tackles, 15.0 TFLs, and 9.5 QB sacks

Hayden_Nick_MSU_07.jpgNick Hayden (2006-07)
Two-time honorable mention All-Big Ten ... winner of UW's Jay Seiler Coaches Appreciation Award as a senior ... started 39 consecutive games at d-tackle, including 26 as a junior and senior ... career totals if 132 tackles, 21.5 TFLs, 10 QB sacks and six fumble recoveries ... drafted in the sixth round of the NFL draft by the Carolina Panthers ... has played in 53 career NFL games with 28 starts

Newkirk_Mike_OSU_08.jpgMike Newkirk (2006-08)
Second-team All-Big Ten as a senior ... played in all 52 of the Badgers' games in his four-year career ... started his final 26 games, 10 at defensive end and 16 at defensive tackle ... appeared in all 13 games as a sophomore as a backup DT ... career totals of 152 tackles, 29.0 TFLs, 10 QB sacks, two forced fumles and two fumble recoveries

Remember to vote early and often for the All-Bielema team either on Facebook or Twitter using #AllBielemaTeam (follow @BadgerFootball).