March 8, 2010
MADISON, Wis. -- With spring practice less than one week away, head coach Bret Bielema took some time to answer some questions for UWBadgers.com. In the first of the two-part Q&A, Bielema talks about the team's mentality heading into the start of practice, who is stepping forward as leaders and what some of the keys on offense will be in the spring.
Q: How excited are you to get back on the field?
Coach Bielema: “You’ve always got a certain level of anticipation. But because of the numbers we’ve got coming back and because of the way we finished 2009 you can sense a little feeling of urgency by everybody, players and coaches.”
Q: How did the players approach winter conditioning? Any difference between last year (coming off a 7-6 season) and this year (coming off 10-3)?
Coach Bielema: “The changes were two-fold. First, with Ben Herbert back for a second year, he’s not one to stay steady. He wanted to throw a couple of wrinkles in there because of the makeup of our team. With the veteran players coming back we thought we’d need to challenge them to get to a higher level. Also, we had a number of guys that couldn’t participate in conditioning and aren’t going to participate in spring drills including Mike Taylor, Chris Borland and Peter Konz. So some of our major players aren’t necessarily involved in the day-to-day competition, you have to be wary of that.”
Q: You talked about how last year’s senior class may have been small in numbers but gave you great leadership. Have you seen any players try to assume those leadership roles?
Coach Bielema: “On the defensive side of the ball, I know Jay Valai is trying to do everything he can from the back end. Culmer St. Jean and Blake Sorensen have been great at the linebacker position. J.J. Watt, Patrick Butrym, even though they aren’t seniors, they are really the most seasoned and experienced defensive linemen. They’ve really done a great job on pushing the defensive line.
"I think Scotty Tolzien on offense is trying to do everything he can to make a step forward. Then we have a bunch of quiet leaders on offense, guys like Nick Toon, John Clay. Throw in Lance Kendricks, he’s gotten a lot of playing time. You can really see those guys trying to make a step forward and then John (Moffitt) and Gabe (Carimi), they’ve been great at trying to get people going.”
Q: Who are some “under the radar” players you will be taking a look at this spring?
Coach Bielema: “The defensive line position, we need to find interior defensive lineman. It’s going to be interesting to see who emerges out of that group. We’re really excited about the development Patrick has had but who else emerges. At end, between Louis Nzegwu and David Gilbert, I’m anxious to see who comes up big, because we have great competition going on between them.
“In the back end, we’ve got a lot of corners who have played, but we have to see who rises to the top and potentially ends up being our best combination there.
“On offense it’s going to be fun to watch what wide receivers really want to take their game to the next level. We’ve got three or four senior receivers that have been around for a long time and really haven’t taken that step forward, in addition to Nick Toon. Another tight end that I’m excited to see exactly what he can do is Jake Byrne, to see exactly where he is and see what kind of step he is ready to make.”
Q: With seven offensive linemen who have started games at Wisconsin, what is going to be the emphasis for that group? Will you start to narrow down combinations?
Coach Bielema: “It’s probably a time to get better at being football players. Peter Konz won’t go through spring ball so now that number is a little smaller. When you talked about newcomers, Ryan Groy is a guy that has looked exceptional during winter conditioning and what he’s done with his body. So to see how he emerges and comes forward it will be entertaining. And also Josh Oglesby has really been concentrating on trying to take another step at his game.”
Q: With so many returners on offense, does it give you more freedom to do more things and not worry so much about the basics?
Coach Bielema: “Yes and no. There is going to be installation with our new guys, but on the same account ,some of our older players, you hope there is going to be retention. We always start on day one with the fundamentals of what we do. So that will be a good point to start from. Because Scotty has so much more experience now than he did a year ago, you really feel like he can handle a lot more at the line of scrimmage, which will only make us better at converting plays."
Read part II of our Q&A with Coach Bielema here. Also be sure to check out Coach Bielema's pre-spring practice news conference on Wednesday at 12:30 p.m. live-streamed on UWBadgers.com.