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Coach Bielema talks Spring FB with Big Ten Network

The Big Ten Network's "Big Ten Tonight: Spring Football Report" debuted Wednesday night and Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema joined host Dave Revsine for an interview.

Bielema talked about his overall impressions of spring practice, the development of QBs Scott Tolzien and Jon Budmayr, the attitude of the team and the upcoming Spring Game.

Can't be at Camp Randall on Saturday?

Practice12_13.jpgWell 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.

Spring practice report No. 12

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.

Watch highlights and post-practice interviews with RBs John Clay and Montee Ball

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.

Practice No. 12 Photo Gallery

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.

Practice12_11.jpgBig 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.

Weather looking perfect for Saturday

Practice7.jpgUW'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.

The game will kick off at 2 p.m. and admission is free to the public. Approximately 23,500 fans turned out last year as the Cardinal team, comprised of the No. 1 offense and defense, defeated the White team 56-20. The day was similar to this year's forecast, 61 degrees but cloudy at kickoff.

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.

Did I mention everything was free?

Spring practice report No. 11

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.

Practice No. 11 Photo Gallery

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.

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

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.

Practice11_10.jpgBack 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.

Spring practice report No. 10

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."

Watch video highlights from practice and Coach Bielema's post-practice interview

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."

Practice10_4.jpgSplitting 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.

Practice No. 10 Photo Gallery

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.

Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel had a wonderful story on the relationship between Jaxson and Tolzien last October.

Thomas tops one man's list

Thumbnail image for Thomas_Joe_Minn_06.jpgFormer Badger Joe Thomas has made two Pro Bowl appearances in his first two seasons in the NFL. Obviously the current Cleveland Brown left tackle is one of the best offensive linemen in the league. According to Andy Benoit of the New York Times, he is the top left tackle in the NFL.

Notre Dame? Nebraska?

Head coach Bret Bielema caused a bit of a stir with the following tweet before yesterday's practice: "Also trying to lock up a home and home contest with Notre Dame or Nebraska for the future. (Home 2012 away 2015). Would be fun for WI fans."

This morning he was on The Big 1070 in Madison with Mike Lucas and Matt Lepay and talked a little about scheduling.

UW's 2010 and 2011 schedules (PDF)

"One of the biggest surprises that came to me as a head coach was how often I would get questions about scheduling. It really jumped out to me. As an assistant you just go about your business and grind out. I knew there were going to be certain things ... but I would say that the task of scheduling and the amount of questions I get outside of the world of football was just amazing about scheduling.

"So I kind of just threw it out there because it's something that we've been working on for a while. When I took over, I quickly saw that we had home-and-homes with Arizona (State), Oregon State and Washington State that took us all the way out to 2015. And when you're trying to schedule a premier game, those things are scheduled so far out in advance that it just gets so difficult to get people to commit and lock in.

"We scheduled Washington last year. We've got those guys out in '17 and '18 for a home and home, which should be great. We've got Virginia Tech, which will be '16 and '17.

"So what I was trying to first fill was 2012. The first time we can travel as a unit is 2015. So we've got to find someone in that slot and there's a web page that you can go to that's open for us as administrators and coaches and you can kind of find out who fits that mode. Now you never know how accurate that information is but Notre Dame and Nebraska were two teams that jumped out to me. I knew Coach Alvarez had connections at both so he made some calls, I made some calls, we've had some discussions.

"When Kerry Cooks, my DB coach, left to go to Notre Dame, we talk all the time and I just said, 'Hey, throw it out to (head coach) Brian (Kelly),' and Brian expressed an interest back so Coach (Alvarez) I know reached back out to their A.D. and I sent Coach Kelly a message as well so we started there.

"And actually for (Nebraska head) coach (Bo) Pelini, Jeff Jamrog, ... a guy that I've known for a long time helps with scheduling out at Nebraska, that one might be later than sooner because I believe in 2012 they already have a road game so they couldn't come out again. That's the dynamics that just gets overwhelming."

Listen to the complete interview on theBig1070.com

Spring practice report No. 9

After a week off from practice for spring break, the Wisconsin football team was back in action inside the McClain Center on Tuesday afternoon. Wearing full pads, the Badgers wasted no time getting right back into the spirits of things as the Badger drill kicked off a spirited practice.

Video highlights from practice plus post-practice interviews with QB Scott Tolzien, WR David Gilreath and OL Gabe Carimi

Spring break must have made some of the players antsy because the intensity was there from the get-go. Most notably, the showdown between wide receiver Nick Toon and defensive back Aaron Henry during the Badger Drill at the beginning of practice resulted in a bit of a skirmish. As you can see from the photo though, both players were all smiles later in practice.

Practice9_10.jpgInjury update
The time off enabled some players to get healthy and resume practice. Starting MLB Culmer St. Jean was back at his linebacker spot, while RB Montee Ball was no longer wearing the green, no-contact jersey that he had donned in the team's previous week of practice.

Fellow running back John Clay was in attendance at practice but was using crutches following surgery on his right ankle on the Thursday before spring break. Clay had a protective boot on the foot as well.

Practice No. 9 Photo Gallery

Highlights galore
Tuesday's practice featured several notable plays, so let's break them down:

In 11-on-11 action, QB Scott Tolzien used a play-action fake to find TE Lance Kendricks wide open as he crossed over the top of the secondary for a would-be score.

As the rest of the team was engaged in run drills, the wide receivers went 1-on-1 with the defensive backs. CB Antonio Fenelus, who you'll discover made several nice plays on Tuesday, had the play of the drill. WR Isaac Anderson ran a fade route down the sidelines and had a step on Fenelus, but at the last moment Fenelus lunged forward and was able to break the pass up.

During the skeleton drill, redshirt freshman CB Dezmen Southward made a nice break on a comeback route and was able to disrupt the pass.

In the 3rd down drill, WR David Gilreath was open on the sidelines, the pass was hung up in the air and Fenelus was able to recover and knock it away.

Later in the same drill, CB Niles Brinkley had an interception that would've gone for a touchdown. RB Bradie Ewing was running a crossing route underneath and QB Jon Budmayr looked for him, but what Budmayr didn't see was Brinkley camping out in the zone. The pass was right to Brinkley who picked it off and ran away with it.

Move the Ball
As practice approached the 24th and final period, the team finished things up with the "move the ball" drill. The No. 1s got it for two possessions, while the No. 2s had three cracks at it.

With the No. 1 units on the field for a 2nd-and-4 situation, WR Nick Toon looked to have hauled in a 25-yard pass down the near sidelines, but CB Devin Smith stayed on him and was able to punch the ball free as Toon fell to the ground, resulting in an incomplete pass.

Toon redeemed himself later on the drive though. He caught a 15-yard slant, but it was no easy grab. The pass from Scott Tolzien was behind him, so as Toon cut to his right, he had to reach back with his right hand and haul in the pass to his shoulder pads.

The No. 1 offense came up empty on their opening drive though as Fenelus stepped in front of a pass intended for Toon in the back of the end zone and intercepted it to end the drive.
The No. 2 defense was stingy on its first go-around. Facing a 3rd-and-6, RB Kyle Zuleger caught a pass underneath, but Southward was there right to lay a hit on him and bring up a fourth down.

The second possession for the No. 2 offense was more successful thanks in part to a scrambling effort  by Budmayr. After the pocket broke down, he rolled out to his left and, on the run, found TE Jacob Pedersen open in the secondary for a 25-yard pickup. The drive stalled in the red zone though.

The No. 1 offense found redemption on its second drive, culminating in a pretty connection between Tolzien and Toon. It looked like the defense was in a zone, and as soon as Toon was released by Smith, Tolzien fit in a pass before the safety could get over the top.

Former safety Chris Maragos was at practice. He had worked out earlier in the day as he gears up for the NFL Draft on April 22-24. Maragos mentioned that he had heard he could go as high as the fourth round, but a good bet would be on him being taken somewhere in the fifth-seventh rounds. He said hearing that buzz excited him because he feels like it mean it's become more and more likely that someone will take a chance on him.

The Badgers are back in action on Thursday afternoon with practice at 3:45.

Back in the swing of spring (practice)

Spring Break 2010 is over and the Badger football team will head back to work today. UW will practice starting at 3:45 p.m., its ninth of 15 spring practices. The rain looks like it will hold off so we will be outside in Camp Randall Stadium.

The Badgers will practice two more times this week (Thursday and Saturday), before three practices next week and the Spring Game on April 17.

There's been a lot of down time so to make sure no one has missed any coverage, here are some links from around the web:

Old Jefferson, the new Jefferson
Stars beginning to align for LB Rouse
Badgers' O'Neill tackling tough transition
Brown continues to be Mr. Reliable for Badgers
Abbrederis lets it rip in spring practice

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Wisconsin's Conor O'Neill has different kind of weight issue
Abbrederis grabbing golden opportunity at Wisconsin
Chris Maragos Blog: Getting ready to visit teams
Jaevery McFadden Blog: Swimming with the Dolphins

Big things ahead for Wisconsin's Kendricks
Video interview with RB John Clay