Coach Bielema talks spring football




March 10, 2010

Watch Bielema's press conference

MADISON, Wis. -- Head coach Bret Bielema held a news conference on Wednesday to preview the start of the football team's spring practice season. The news conference is now available to watch on UWBadgers.com and a complete transcript can be found below.

Bret Bielema: Good to be back. It's good to start up on Saturday. A couple things out of the gate, we've brought in two new coaches. Obviously those have been released to the public, but Chris Ash will work with our defensive backs. I've known Chris for a number of years and really like the fit that he's brought already to our staff, as well as coaching up our players. He'll work primarily with our secondary, all four positions.

Greg Jackson was just recently hired. He hopped on a plane from New Orleans on Monday at 10:00 in the morning, but got delayed in Chicago for about eight hours. He finally got in here late Monday night. And yesterday, we introduced him to Wisconsin by taking him to a Mendota outing in Oshkosh with 400 people, so he's been officially welcomed to Wisconsin. He's had a lot of experience both playing-wise and coaching with the nickel, as well as linebackers and in DBs, so he'll assist really on the defense side of the ball at a couple different positions, as well as running a phase or two of the kicking game. But those two guys in particular we're really excited for what they bring.

I just met with the scouts (for Pro Day) upstairs. The guys that will be working out for them today, we're obviously wishing them their best. This is a big day for some of those guys. Obviously, Garrett [Graham] and OB [O'Brien Schofield] were invited to the [NFL Scouting] Combine, and OB, because of his injury, is limited in what he can do, but I think both those guys have continued to impress the scouts with just their abilities away from the game.

I thought I'd just run through a number of guys that will be limited in some capacity throughout spring ball, and I'll just go in numerical order, no order of importance. The first guy that will jump out to you, John Clay, will not participate in spring drills. He's currently getting through one rehab and then, in a few weeks, will have another rehab that will take him through spring ball.

But our goal for us, for what we need out of John in the fall, we thought the best option for him is to get completely healthy. And for that to be obtained, he's going to be in full swing, projected to be on June 7 when we start our summer program, which will give him basically an eight-ten week window to get ready for the fall season. Last year, he was kind of limited in summer drills and he really felt that affected his play early on. He actually got stronger as the season wore on, so we want him to enter fall camp in good shape.

The next guy, Chris Borland, number 44. Chris had an operation on his shoulder shortly after the bowl game. He will not participate in spring drills, but his rehab and everything is on course for where it needs to be.

Zach Davison, number 46, tweaked his ankle a couple weeks back. We expect to bring him back in some part of the first part of spring ball. If not, definitely the second half.

Mike Taylor, number 53, who obviously had the knee surgery after the Iowa game, is doing extremely well. He's out there and he's doing certain things with our training staff. He hasn't been cleared, and we don't foresee him getting cleared to be in spring ball, but he should be full force for our summer conditioning.

Tony Megna, just a little side note, Tony's kind of removed from the program. I've kept him on the roster, but he's going through some of the health issues that he went through last fall, just getting that straight. He won't be with us in spring ball and hopefully will return in the fall, but that's a point yet to be determined.

Peter Konz, number 66, still some of the issues that came up. We knew he was going to be gone for, I believe it was six months at the time that it happened. He's doing very well. He can do everything in our program except for contact. He can't have contact due to his condition. So he won't be with us, but will be full go for us in the fall as well.

Gabe Carimi came back after the bowl game, tried to gut it out and tried to keep moving forward, but he did go back in and have a minor surgery that should recover in time for him to make the second half of spring ball. When you come up to practice on Saturday, you'll see him out there moving around, running around. He would be technically cleared to go, but he's not ready to be full force action just because he hasn't been out there very much as of late.

John Moffitt had a minor procedure that has caused him to be sidelined. Right now, he and Gabe have totally different injuries, but will kind of be easing into spring ball as well here in the first two weeks and expect to get [Moffitt] back for the second half of spring ball full go.

And then the last guy, number 97, Brendan Kelly, as you guys all know, last year was limited. He actually had a surgery done probably about four to five weeks ago, and everything he's done to this point has been very, very positive. Again, he should be in the second half of spring ball.

One of the advantages of this year's spring ball setup, there's a little bit later spring break for us, so I wasn't able to get it all before or all after. We split it up. We're going to have eight practices before spring break, seven after spring break, and then culminate with the spring game on the [April] 17. So with that, that's as much information as I got. You guys can open up for questions.

QUESTION #1: Coach, obviously, you know, as you just listed off, a couple big names on that list of missing spring ball or some of spring ball. How much does that, I guess, set the team back moving forward into next season when guys like that can't participate?

BIELEMA: Well, for the most part they're offensive guys too. One of the strengths of our team next year on paper would be the returning experience of our offensive line with Gabe [Carimi] and John [Moffitt]. That's going to be a positive thing in our light. It's negative from that they're not out there, but a positive to find out where those other guys can play and an opportunity to get reps for the players that are behind them.

John Clay, the thing that excites me about his injury is I think you're going to see an even better John Clay down the road. The issues he had are going to give him a lot of relief and allow him to be an even better football player. That makes me excited. The continuity, that's why we have spring ball. There's more of an emphasis on fundamental improvement than scheme improvement, and we're going to be able to do that with a lot of other players.

QUESTION #2: Bret, two part question. Are John's issues the ankle or ankles, and can you address the three suspended guys, what that stands right now?

BIELEMA: John Clay basically had a history before he even came here, and this is, it had never been addressed. Last year at that time, we kind of looked at it and felt we should or could maybe with rehab, do different things to make him stronger, but I think you'll see a big grin on his face.

I met with him and his parents a week ago on Saturday, and he already feels so much better when he's out there moving around. He could technically, if I wanted to, we could get him cleared to go through spring ball and then have the second procedure after spring ball, but I really felt it was in his best interest to get this one along as far as we need to. He couldn't have them done at the same time because he wouldn't have been able to walk. A guy needs to go to class and be a student.

John Clay is getting up I believe it's four days a week and is in a swimming pool by 5:00 a.m. doing conditioning, because that's the only time of the week he can get in the pool to get him his rehab. The commitment that he's shown goes way beyond what the normal student-athlete is going through here right now. So I'm really excited about him.
As far as the three players that were suspended, they're suspended from the team indefinitely. They won't be with us during spring ball. If any change in their status occurs, I'll keep you updated then.

QUESTION #3: Hey, Coach. Eighteen returning starters, how much does that obviously excite you as a head coach to have that amount of depth coming back?

BIELEMA: Well, it's good since you have players that are returning, but the bottom line is the players from last year need to improve and be better. I think we've seen that before, where if we don't make ourselves better, even though we're coming back, it doesn't do anybody any good. It's good from an experience standpoint, but also it's a different coaching method, because now you have to take players to a new, higher level.

A lot of times when we have younger players, that learning curve is huge; you can see those improvements literally day to day. As they get older, the way they improve the best is to make them address their weaknesses, and sometimes that's not the most enjoyable part of coaching is to make them do something that they don't do well, better. I think this group has really bought into that, and hopefully we'll see that come out.

QUESTION #4: What's your two deep at linebacker going to look like on Saturday? Can you address that position with the guys out?

BIELEMA: As you know, Blake [Sorensen] and Culmer [St. Jean] primarily played Mike for us this past fall, but because of our depth issues, Blake will probably be in that lineup as an outside linebacker. Kevin Rouse will be in there as well. Kevin Claxton will be in there at outside linebacker, as well as Ethan Armstrong at the mike linebacker backing up Culmer, knowing that Blake can hop in there as well. And then our outside linebackers will be those three guys, primarily Blake Sorensen, Kevin Rouse, Kevin Claxton, and then Coddye Ring-Noonan, who's also a walk-on linebacker, just because Mike and Chris aren't in there, as well as Nick Hill, who would have been a guy that's in that mix.

QUESTION #5: Bret, you spoke glowingly last year about the leadership from your four captains. Spring ball is a time to kind of cultivate those kids and find those leaders to step up. Is that right?

BIELEMA: Yeah. But at least last year, I didn't pick captains until ten days out from our first game. Now, a year ago at this time I saw O'Brien Schofield, Chris Maragos, Garrett Graham and Mickey Turner make strides, but they weren't quite there yet. In my coaching career, I've never seen someone change as much as [O'Brien] has from day one to this final product, but he's a guy that was late for our spring game. If you remember, he was running with the twos because he didn't quite learn that importance of being on time. And he has now, and that's the final product, but it's still a work in progress.

QUESTION #6: You mentioned Greg, your new coach, having some special teams responsibilities. How are you going to do that this year with special teams?

BIELEMA: Well, it'll be divided. One thing that we are going to work early on is we're going to work punt, similar to what we did a year ago. Coach [Charlie] Partridge will be involved with that. He'll be the lead dog on that one. And then as we install through spring ball, we're going to have a variety of different coaches take the lead roles on the other aspects, but that will kind of be played out as we go through spring ball.

QUESTION #7: Coach, is this a fun day for you, seeing guys, you know, go through their four years and now they're, you know, progressing, they're where you want them to be, you know, when you had them four years ago?

BIELEMA: I don't know if it's a fun day because, you're excited for them, but on the same account you're sad because you don't get to be around them much anymore. But yesterday I was sitting at my desk, and Jimmy Leonhard walked through the back door with Chris Maragos. Those are two guys you would love to have in your program, and they're obviously going on and doing great things, but both of those guys were perceived in similar type of situations.

Jimmy was a guy that they loved him on film, but then they meet him and he looks like he should be getting his driver's license, and you get scared. I know those guys as real. I just met with those scouts, and I told them, `hey, I can tell you without a doubt these young men that you're going to work out today are very good football players. You're going to judge that. You're going to put the stopwatch to them. But as far as what they bring to the table, it goes beyond anything that I've been around.'

I've never received as many texts, maybe it's the new world and the technology, but during the combine, if I knew a guy, a scout, a position coach, someone that's involved with the team that sat in on an interview with O'Brien Schofield or Garrett Graham, I instantly got a text: `Just met with OB. What an amazing individual.' Garrett Graham, just one thing after another complimenting their skills as people, and that's the fun part.

QUESTION #8: Bret, you hinted on signing day a little bit about changing around recruiting areas. Can you, with two new coaches, can you kind of share what you've, have you finalized . . .

BIELEMA: Yeah. We haven't nailed everything down yet, but that was the driving force in some of the interviews. Obviously you're hiring a football coach, but in today's world that encompasses so much more. One thing that Greg [Jackson] brought to the table is he's from Miami, but I really liked the affiliation that he had on the East Coast with his playing experience and has spent time out there. We'll put him kind of in the area that we were already in this past year, as well as exploring up in the New Jersey and New York area.

Chris [Ash] will take over [former UW coach] Randall [McCray]'s area in Chicago, and then we'll kind of expand in a couple different areas and maybe we'll draw from a couple others, but those are yet to be determined. Other areas have yet to be determined. I have three coaches on my staff, including Coach [Bob] Bostad, who have had experience in Texas. And as much presence as we've had out of there, we're not going to pull out of there. [Former UW coach] Kerry [Cooks] was a primary recruiter in there, and obviously, with the departure of him, it may not be as large of an emphasis.

QUESTION #9: Coach, I realize you haven't even kicked off spring ball yet, but you've got 18 guys coming back after 10 wins last year. I know you keep a 1-0 mentality, but do you talk to the guys openly about Big Ten championship, or do you not even like to mention that right now?

BIELEMA: No. I thought it was great. Our seniors had a meeting, and it was brought up by them. They've learned that you're never going to skip a step to get to where you want to be and get there. You have to put in the daily work. Our seniors met, and a couple juniors were in there, and what they basically shared with me after the meeting was they want to do nothing but work on the day-to-day improvements to get to where they need to be. At the end of spring ball, then we'll attack summer conditioning, and we'll attack fall camp, and then obviously go out to Las Vegas for our opener. Because of what they've done, they realize those things are obtainable. But if you begin to think about that, you'll never get there.

QUESTION #10: Bret, what factors led your decision to move Dippel from end to inside, and do you guys feel you'll have enough personnel there to keep J.J. . . .

BIELEMA: Yes. Dip is going to play outside and inside. I'm not going to move him. He's done very well. Tyler is a great example of a typical Wisconsin kid. He was a linebacker in high school. We thought he'd be a defensive lineman. And since he's been on campus, his work ethic, his attitude, and he's gotten bigger and bigger. So in body type, he's a defensive end now, but he could grow even more into the defensive tackle and we're just trying to find our best mix in there right now. And it's an advantage for him. David Gilbert and Louis Nzegwu, those guys probably are only outside guys. They can't play inside. But Dip might have that ability to do both.

QUESTION #11: Coach, after a ten win season, was the team consensus that you guys were satisfied with that, you felt like you could have done more? I mean, where did the team stand, I guess, at the end of the season, where do they stand now?

BIELEMA: I don't know. It's behind us. But I understand where you're coming from. Obviously, to beat Miami was a great feeling, but the great thing is for us, every game that we lost last year is back on our schedule. Iowa, Ohio State, Northwestern appear once again for us, so that part is kind of something you can play off of as a coach. But unless you win every ballgame, you're probably never going to be satisfied. If you truly are a great competitor, unless you win them all, you're never going to be, because you always think about what I could have done or should have done or may have been.

QUESTION #12: Coach, how different is this spring going to be compared to last spring with Scott Tolzien and the rest of the quarterback position?

BIELEMA: Well, I guess we don't have Dustin [Sherer] in there, so that's different. But Scotty has worked so hard to improve. Curt Phillips and Jon Budmayr, those three guys are always around each other. They're all a little bit different and they all bring a couple different skill sets. But Scotty is so steady; he just worries about the improvement of where he's at and where he's going. Curt needed to expand his package and knowledge of the game, and I think he's done that. And then Jon was kind of swimming last spring, and this fall as well, being a little bit injured. So he's back being healthy. It's going to be fun to see how those three guys continue to come. But obviously the game experience, Scotty said the only way you get better is you have game experience, and Scott's got a lot of it.

QUESTION #13: Bret, can you address the progression of Brian Wozniak for you at tight end? I believe he's added like about 30 pounds since coming on campus, and how do you foresee him fitting in this spring and going forward?

BIELEMA: Well, we're excited about Brian because of the tradition we have here at tight end play. You know, Garrett [Graham] is obviously gone. Lance [Kendricks], the way he emerged, especially in that bowl game, is very exciting. But Jake Byrne, Brian Wozniak, Jacob Pedersen, Zach Davison, unfortunately he's got that little injury, Rob Korslin, a walk-on from Brookfield Central, those five guys have got to emerge and give us the production that we've had over the last couple years. And if we don't, then we have to think about personnel and where we're at, but I think they're going to step into it. I think the reason Brian came here was of our tradition.

I shared with you on signing day that if you're a tight end and you truly want to be a great tight end in college football, there's no better venue to come and do that than the University of Wisconsin. It became very apparent to me our last two games, when you played Hawaii and Miami, that those teams had trouble defending the tight end passing game. When you play in the Big Ten, we use the tight end, Iowa uses the tight end a little bit, Michigan State uses the tight end, Ohio State uses the tight end in a little different way, but you have to learn to defend the tight end if you play successfully in the Big Ten.

I don't think that's the case so much in the outside world. And that's why you saw our numbers at that position jump in certain games. Just like now, we have a tight end that we're recruiting. Believe me, he gets inundated with the production that our tight ends have, and I think that's why Brian's here too. You know, Sherard Cadogan called me the day after the [bowl] game, said, `Coach, the reason I'm coming to Wisconsin is your tight ends caught 13 balls against Miami. Sounds like a good idea to me.' And that's where we can go.

QUESTION #14: Bret, what's your expectation for Dezmen Southward and Conor O'Neill in the secondary?

BIELEMA: Well, Dez in particular is so raw. If you know his story, he played basketball his first three years of high school. Because he grew up in Florida, the high school coaches saw this gym rat running around the high school and said, `hey, why don't you try spring football,' and they had a phenomenal athlete on their hands who has got great savvy. He's very tough. He worked the whole year down on our scout team. I wanted to play him at the beginning of the year, but one of our first simulated game practices he jumped offsides four times on punt return, which, if you know that, that gives the other team a first down. So it quickly became clear to me he wasn't quite ready yet to be there.

He's been a little limited with his hand. We're going to keep him at corner. If we lined up our 88 guys that we have in spring ball right now on the goal line, and ran a 40-yard sprint, I bet you he might win the race. He's very gifted, very athletic, very talented.

Conor, on the flip side, has been a linebacker. We recruited him as a linebacker. But because of depth and because of what we saw, the defensive coaches really wanted to give him a chance at safety. He worked there all during bowl prep, has looked good, and we're excited to see what he can bring to the table at safety.

QUESTION #15: Coach, how important is it that, you know, a guy like [Scott] Tolzien not get too comfortable with where he's at at quarterback, being that I'm sure there's still obviously going to be a QB competition, so to speak, come spring ball?

BIELEMA: Yeah. I think Scotty competes every day within himself, not to throw out your coach speak, but he really does. Scott doesn't need competition behind him. His competition comes from within. That's just what's motivated him. He's got a military background. He's been an outstanding student his whole life, and he just really gets better by playing against himself, and I think that is great. He wants Curt Phillips to be the best Curt Phillips can be. I'll bet you if you interviewed him, he'd want Jonny Budmayr to be as good as he can be, and that's part of what makes him pretty special.

QUESTION #16: Coach, you touched on Mike Taylor. Do you anticipate, when he does come back, that he'll be able to step back into that starting lineup, and what kind of impact do you . . .

BIELEMA: Oh, I hope so. I think 53 [Mike Taylor] and 44 [Chris Borland] are pretty good players. Both those guys, it's frustrating to see them on the sidelines. One of the things I like to do as a staff is I have my offensive coaches break down our defensive players and I have our defensive coaches break down our offensive players, and they get to give scouting reports and they have to give detailed analysis of each player. [Running backs coach] John Settle was in charge of linebacker play, just like he would be if we're playing Ohio State, Michigan, whoever. He writes and makes a write-up on the linebackers, and he was just impressed in watching through those games about Mike.

There's a play in particular, no one saw it unless you watch the film and you watch the end zone copy. There's a play in the Iowa game that I don't know if I've seen a better linebacker play in all my years of coaching, and he's a redshirt freshman. Now, he's got a long way to come. Part of the reason that injury came about is just the way he took on a block. So he's got a long ways to come, but the potential is off the charts for him.

QUESTION #17: Even with the guys out on offense, you got an awful lot of experience back on offense. How good do you think the offense can be, and what does all that experience allow you to do in the spring, you think, offensively?

BIELEMA: Especially with the experience at quarterback, now you don't really have to limit the install, and you can kind of grow and say, `he couldn't see this read a year ago, but he can see it now.' I still say that I have one of the best quarterback coaches that I've ever been around. And to have that development that [Scott Tolzien] and Coach [Paul] Chryst have been able to do over the last couple months is going to be exciting. Then with the experience of the running backs too, those are usually the two things that you worry about here at Wisconsin. And then as many wide receivers, although we're waiting for a couple of them to jump forward, as good as they are, I think that's an exciting element as well.

Offensively, the numbers last year were very, very good, especially when you start looking in the red zone. I think we had 100 percent red zone scoring and 100 percent inside the four-yard line were touchdowns. I mean, those numbers are hard to beat. That gets you excited about those numbers coming back, but you have to push them to more production and more success.

QUESTION #18: So, Bret, last year at this time things weren't where you wanted it to be, coming off a bowl game, attention to detail, those kind of terms. How different is it this year coming into spring?

BIELEMA: Well, it was better from the standpoint the kids knew kind of where we were going right away. They kind of snapped in and we've had very few tardies or anybody doing things in a way that wasn't going to help us win. They kind of right their own ship, and it's fun to sit back and watch it, but I love to be the guy that comes in and you have to be the heavy once in a while too, which is good.

But as far as just their work ethic, their attitude, last Saturday I've been known when we're doing a station drill we may do, we have six stations set up and they got a variety, a different level of minutes. And guys were thinking that sometimes I'll just stop the whole thing and we'll start it over, and I think they were kind of on edge because they thought they were going to get brought back, but they were doing it the way they were supposed to do it, so we moved forward. I think that's the part they really realize now is the work ethic that you got to have to get to where you need to be.

QUESTION #19: Bret, you briefly touched on the receivers a couple questions ago. Which ones would you like to see jump forward?

BIELEMA: Well, Nick [Toon] has a tremendous amount of ability and skills. He's a guy that, because of the way he's physically built, should be able to have a huge impact on the game. I know this, when number 1 [Toon] and number 32 [John Clay] play well, Wisconsin plays well. Those guys have got to be our guys and have to understand that. David Gilreath, you're not going to notice it, but he's probably put on about 10 pounds. He's got little bumps now in that shirt. I think he's going to be stronger. His feet feel great, and I'm excited about his attitude and his energy and where he's going.

You hope Kyle Jefferson takes a step forward. He's had some success in the track. I brought up to him about the possibility of redshirting. He pretty much told me I was crazy, that he wanted to play and move. I thought he might bite on [redshirting]. And and then Isaac [Anderson]. Isaac has had a lot of success here, and he's had some frustrating days too, and you hope now going into your senior year that that light bulb comes on and stays on for the entire season.

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