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Safety the key to any kickoff modifications

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Thumbnail image for 100918FB-5590-18.jpgRutgers head coach Greg Schiano has made news recently with a revolutionary proposal to eliminate kickoffs from college football. One of Schiano's players, Eric LeGrand, was paralyzed last season while covering a kickoff vs. Army.

Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema, who oversaw special teams early in his head coaching career and still has a hand in it, has long been in favor of reducing the injury risk on kickoffs.

"I do think there are some things we can do to try and limit the amount of full-speed collisions we subject our players to on kickoffs," Bielema said, "whether it's moving the kickoff up to the 35-yard line, which the NFL has done and would lead to more touchbacks and maybe some safety concepts that the NFL has introduced, a lot of which we implemented into the college game last year."

While the onside kick has gained attention as being a potentially dangerous play with more teams moving towards a set up where the first wave of players simply tries to take out the first line of defenders, essentially freeing up their back line to go after the ball, Bielema is more concerned with a full kickoff.

"In an onside kick, you're dealing with 10-yard sprints," Bielema said. "It's the 30- or 40-yard sprints when you've got a full head of steam and the opportunity to blindside somebody that really concern me. Watching the hockey game last night, you can see the consequences when someone is caught off guard with a violent hit they aren't expecting. I think in all sports everyone is looking to reduce the risks in high-speed collisions."

Some have compared eliminating kickoffs to eliminating the center jump after made baskets in the early years of basketball. Men's basketball coach Bo Ryan pointed out that the reason for the center jump because in the early years, the peach baskets that were used had a bottom, so the ball needed to be fished out of the basket before being put back in play.

According to Ryan, the women's physical instruction teacher at Springfield College was the first to suggest taking the bottom out of the basket, thereby eliminating the need for the center jump after each made basket.

That's your nugget for the day.

Bielema, Ryan team up to help fight cancer

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photo.JPGHead coach Bret Bielema is surrounded by inspiration. His mother is a 22-year breast cancer survivor. His secretary Lisa Powell is a survivor as well. And this week, he was literally surrounded.

Bielema and head men's basketball coach Bo Ryan were the honorary starters for the Madison Race for the Cure, which drew an estimated 14,000 participants at the Alliant Energy Center on Saturday morning.

"I've got a mother that's a 22-year breast cancer survivor so any opportunity to work with Susan G. Komen has been very special for me," Bielema said. "I've grown to appreciate the people of Madison and all the people that support this cause. To see close to 14,000 people out there on Saturday was wonderful."

After spending much of Thursday and Friday together for the Badger Days event in Wisconsin Dells, including golfing in the same foursome on Friday, Bielema and Ryan have seen a lot of each other recently.

"What made it especially entertaining was spending most of the morning in a truck with Bo Ryan," Bielema said.

Following the race, Bielema moved into the survivors' tents to mingle with the participants.

"I was actually in the survivors' tent at the end of the race and hugged probably between 100-200 survivors and got to congratulate them, making it a very special event."

Bielema also hosts his own event to benefit the Susan G. Komen Foundation, Football 101 for Women. Held Wednesday at Camp Randall Stadium, the event is in its third year.

"The event is once again sold out," Bielema said. "Every year we've done it we've increased the numbers. This year we're up to about 300. It's a great way for us to raise awareness of breast cancer but also educate women about football. It's a football 101 class that will give them some insight into our program and what we think is important."

For Ryan, the Race for the Cure was just the start of a busy weekend. He headed back up to Wisconsin Dells on Sunday for "An Evening with Andy & Friends Dinner" and Monday's "Andy North & Friends Golf Getaway." Both events were designed to raise money and awareness for the University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center.  

An auction accompanied Sunday night's dinner, during which a pair of seats behind the Badger bench for the Marquette game fetched more than $11,000. Among the celebrities in attendance were ESPN's Erin Andrews, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and former Indiana coach and current ESPN men's basketball commentator Bobby Knight.

Borland talks health, 2011 prep at Badger Days

Sophomore linebacker Chris Borland, who is coming off a 2010 season that saw him play in only two games due to shoulder injuries, accompanied the UW coaches to Tuesday's Badger Days event in Green Bay.

Borland talked to Matt Lepay about his health, starting summer workouts and the team's outlook for 2011.

 

2011 NFL Draft notes

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With the 2011 NFL Draft in the books, let's take a look at some of the more impressive notes for the Badgers:

• With J.J. Watt going No. 11 to Houston and Gabe Carimi at No. 29 to Chicago, UW was one of just five schools in the country to have multiple first-round picks (Alabama, Auburn, Colorado, Missouri, Wisconsin).

• It was the fourth time in school history and first time since 2001 UW has had multiple first-round selections.

• Wisconsin and Alabama were the only two schools in the country with at least three players drafted among the top 50 (Watt, Carimi and Lance Kendricks).

• Wisconsin's four players taken in the top 75 tied Alabama and North Carolina for the most of any school in the country (Watt, Carimi, Kendricks and John Moffitt).

• The Badgers had four players taken among the top 75 picks for just the second time in school history, matching the 1985 draft.

• UW had four players taken in the first three rounds for the first time since 2001.
Wisconsin's five total draft picks were the most since 2006 (Watt, Carimi, Kendricks, Moffitt and Bill Nagy).

• Wisconsin and Florida were the only two schools in the country with multiple offensive linemen selected (both had three).

• It was just the fourth time in school history and the first time since 1988 UW has had at least three offensive linemen drafted in the same year.

• Wisconsin has had 10 first-round picks in the 2000s, tied for second-most in the Big Ten.

Badgering ... Manasseh Garner

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Garner_Manasseh_APSU_10.jpgSophomore Manasseh Garner was one of just four true freshmen to play last season, seeing time on offense (wide receiver), defense (defensive end) and special teams. As the Badgers kick off spring practice, Garner will be on the move once again, sliding over to a tight end/H-back role. We caught up with him after the Badgers' first practice to check on his progress.

Read "Badgering..." in the latest issue of 'Varsity'

What was it like coming in and playing right away as a true freshman?
"It was quite an experience because it's your dream to play college football and every freshman plans on coming in and playing. Some guys decided to redshirt but I just wanted that extra experience level and the coaches had faith in me that I was ready to contribute."

How will that experience help you moving forward?
"Just having a feel for the game. Getting a sense of the pressure you may feel from all the fans, just being out there with your teammates and being able to share in the victories on the field."

What's the transition like from wide receiver to tight end?
"There's more a physical and mental aspect to it. In my opinion it's like a second seat to the quarterback because you have to know the whole offense. You have to know the line, what they do, as well as what the receivers do. On the physical part, you have to go and hit somebody on every play. We have a tough line and have a reputation as being a tough team so you have to embrace it."

After playing both offense and defense, do you feel like you've finally found a home at tight end?
"Definitely. It was fun and a blessing to play defense. It's actually helped me out with my reads at tight end, watching the linebackers and how different defenses may work. I always wanted to play offense but defense was a blessing because it helped me become a better offensive player."

What are some things you hope to improve on during spring practice?
"Just to learn and to compete. Hopefully get a solid position contributing out on the field."

Jackson moves on to 49ers

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The Badgers have lost another assistant coach to the NFL as the San Francisco 49ers announced Thursday that they have hired Greg Jackson as their assistant secondary coach. Jackson spent last year as a defensive assistant at UW, coaching nickel backs and assisting with the linebackers.

Jacksoin_Greg_OSU_10.jpg"Though his stint in Madison was brief, Greg's contributions to the entire football program were great," head coach Bret Bielema said. "We wish him nothing but the best with the 49ers and want to thank him for his time with the team. He is a good coach with a bright future."

Last season was Jackson's only year at Wisconsin. He came to the Badgers after coaching the previous three seasons at Tulane. He was also an assistant at Louisiana-Monroe and Idaho.

Before entering the coaching ranks, Jackson played 12 seasons in the NFL with the New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, New Orleans Saints and San Diego Chargers. Jackson was a teammate of 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh during his final two years with the Chargers.

Jackson is the second UW assistant in less than two weeks to move on to the NFL. Former running backs coach John Settle accepted the same job with the Carolina Panthers on Feb. 4.

The 2010 season starts today!

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As morning rains gave way to afternoon sun, Fall Camp 2010 officially kicked off Sunday at 3 p.m. when the Badgers gathered in the McClain Center for a meeting with the UW Compliance Office. That was followed by a team meeting to go over the plans and expectations for fall practice. Team dinner was at 5:30 p.m. with another team meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. to do over offensive and defensive goals.

The last word from Big Ten Media Days

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Courtesy of who else but Jay Valai. Valai was moonlighting for the Big Ten Network, carrying around a flipcam and interviewing other attendees. The finished product is now up on BigTenNetwork.com.


Badger Days - Kohler

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IMG_8428.JPGThough there was a threat of bad weather the entire day, Badger Days Kohler was a hit from the early morning to the late evening. Here are some observations from 24 hours in Kohler.

Photo Gallery / Badgers Days - Kohler video

•    Tuesday night, following the Green Bay Badger Days, the bus took us to Whistling Straights for a private reception in their Championship Locker Room. Upon entrance, everyone filed into the locker rooms to check out the names. Of course, Tiger Woods was the big one but folks also looked for local guys Steve Stricker and Jerry Kelly as well as favorites Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia and Ernie Els.

•    There were hors d'oevres and drinks in the sitting area of the locker room where the coaches and staff mingled for a couple hours. Coach Alvarez labeled it a "staff retreat" and it was another great chance for the coaches to talk on a myriad of subjects.

•    Wednesday started with a round of golf for most of the coaches and staff at Blackwolf Run. Coach Alvarez's wife, Cindy, was actually the talk of the day as her lessons from the day before obviously paid off. Women's basketball coach Lisa Stone, who played with Cindy, raved about her improvement, saying she had at least four pars and one birdie. Everyone talked about what a terrific course it was and what a good time everyone had. I don't know how it is at other athletic departments but all of our coaches talk about how close our coaches are and how well they all get along. This two-day stretch was another example.

•    The actual Badger Days event was held at the Shops at Woodlake. They had a huge tent set up for us in the parking lot with use of an atrium area overlooking the lake where Coach Alvarez, Coach Ryan and Coach Bielema were set up at their autograph tables.

Badger Days takes over Lambeau

IMG_8270.JPGThis 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.

Photo Gallery / Badgers Days - Green Bay video

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:

ON WISCONSIN