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Bielema talks spring practice with media

ON WISCONSIN <b>Head coach Bret Bielema addressed the media Monday.</b>
Head coach Bret Bielema addressed the media Monday.

March 26, 2012

• Watch Bielema Press Conference Small Video Graphic

MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin football head coach Bret Bielema met the media Monday to discuss the team's first week of spring practice as part of Wisconsin Athletics' weekly news conference.

Archived video of the media session is available through the link above, and a complete transcript of Bielema's remarks can be found below.

BIELEMA: Our first two days of practice were actually kind of a shock to me, just as clean and as efficient as they were. I've always kind of taken a lot of pride in how we practice here, and we get a lot of compliments when we have different people come in, different NFL former coaches, etc., but the way these guys have practiced the first two days has been exceptional. For as many new coaches as we have out there, different terminology, some different things, this has probably been as good as we've ever had here through the first two days.

So that really jumped out to me. A number of guys have made some progress off the field, just their body types and physical development, and that's really shown up. But excited for tomorrow, because tomorrow will be the first day we're going in half pads with shoulder pads on. It's been helmets only to this point, so been kind of limited.

Just from an injury update, starting on the defensive side of the ball, our defensive line, other than David Gilbert, has pretty much been intact. Everybody's been out there and participating and moving through the drills. At the linebacker position, Mike Taylor obviously won't be involved in the spring drills, but Chris Borland tweaked a hamstring a little bit during the winter conditioning, but he was out there for the first practice. Held him back a little bit on Saturday, but he'll be able to go in there tomorrow and, hopefully, move forward the rest of the time.Ethan Armstrong, too, at the linebacker position. Ethan hasn't been involved in spring drills and won't be with us until the summer.

So in the back end, Devin Smith is real close. He probably is going to take the spring break week to continue to rehab, and then he should be back out there moving forward in the second half of spring ball.

And on the offensive side of the ball, at the wide receiver position, Abby's (Jared Abbrederis) been restricted, but we should get him back after spring break moving forward and hopefully have him full-go. Tight end, (Jacob) Pedersen, same position. Some guys that have played some good football for us, if, they're maybe not yet quite ready, so I said let's just wait on them until after the two weeks that we have here, the week of spring break. That gives them three more weeks of healing and, hopefully, gets them back out there.

And then at running back, everybody's been onboard. No problems or issues there as well as fullback. And then on the offensive line, Rob Havenstein is limited because of a shoulder injury, but every indication is there that he's going to be positive and ready to move forward. Dallas Lewallen is still limited with his knee injury, as well, so those two guys haven't been participating, but we expect them to be involved in the summer workouts.

And then at quarterback, Jon Budmayr got a little bit of good news last week. At the end of the week, he got some indication of what they feel might be the problem. He's actually at the Mayo Clinic this week getting some second opinions for him to move forward and, hopefully, be on the right path there for him. And then Curt Phillips has been involved moderately with the throwing, the individual time -- nothing when we've got live bodies working around in a teamwork period -- but he's continued to make good strides. Other than that, open up for some questions.

QUESTION #1: Bret, if you look at how shorthanded you've been at quarterback numbers the last couple years, are you going to have to take a look at how you recruit that position in terms of bringing in only one a year . . .

BIELEMA: No. I think two things have helped us. First off, I made a decision, conscientious decision my first year, is we were going to sign one quarterback and one tailback every year. Obviously, the predicament that you get in is if you have two quarterbacks, or in our situation, three quarterbacks, and it didn't work out because of injuries and with one because he flunked out.

I think it provided an opportunity of what we saw last year with Russell (Wilson) and made it very unique situation. But there are some unique rules in college football that allow that to kind of move forward. So I think that, that QB position and the running back position are both unique in the fact that you can only get one of those guys on the field at a time, which allows us to, hopefully, get a better person in that slot.

QUESTION #2: Bret, what were the primary reasons behind the moves of (Kyle) Costigan and (Joe) McNamara from D-line to O-line?

BIELEMA: Twofold. Thought that they from the time we recruited them, Costy was a guy that we brought in fully expecting to play offensive line. I know back when I made the transition, it wasn't very popular with coach (Paul) Chryst and coach (Bob) Bostad. They wanted to keep Costy there, but I really felt he had a chance to get on the field quicker and was doing a lot of nice things there.

Probably helped us transition now more than ever, because he did become a little bit more fast-twitch and really began to move a lot better than I ever thought he was going to be able to do. So, Costy, I just wanted to give him an opportunity to get on the field. He was kind of getting buried there with, he was the same age as some of those guys that are playing a lot for us.

And then Joe McNamara, I remember first getting a call from Charlie Partridge, he was on the high school field watching him play offensive line and projected him as a defensive lineman. And we just want to give him that opportunity again, was getting buried on the depth chart a little bit and had an opportunity to join the O-line.

QUESTION #3: Bret, you've got three guys on the team that are, started the year in high school, and, now, obviously started this spring. Just in your experience, what are the benefits of guys coming in early like that, and what have you seen as maybe some possible drawbacks?

BIELEMA: Yeah. There are some positives. Haven't really had a negative (in) the time that I've been here. But you take a look at different guys. I think Travis Frederick is a classic case in point. Travis was able to come in the spring, jumped right into it, and then started as a true freshman. I don't think he would have ever been in that position to do that.

Jake Byrne, a guy that's leaving our program now, never redshirted, but, I think for him to play that freshman year was a truly (positive), because he came in early, in January. And, Curt (Phillips), obviously, his knowledge curve, he hasn't been on the field yet basically because of injuries, but I think it helped him in his situation move forward.

The three guys this year, I can't say enough positive things about Dan Voltz, a guy that from the recruiting process to where we are today, has never been anything but a highlight for us, really does a nice job of whatever you say. Whatever coach (Mike) Markuson says to him, he better say it the way he wants it the first time, because that's the way you're going to get it every time after that.

He's very detail-oriented. Probably one of the more gifted O-linemen since I've been here that I've ever seen come in and handle things so well from the get go. He's going to be a very, very good football player for us, either at the center or guard position.

Vonte Jackson has gone from, I believe, 181 (pounds) to like 198. He's put on almost close to 20 pounds since coming in and looks great. He's just limited because of the ACL (injury), but he is a very, very good football player that we're excited about.

And then Hugs Etienne is probably the most underdeveloped of the three of them. Hugs came to us and has put on a lot of weight. It's been a culture shock; his mom and dad are both Haitian. He comes from an environment that Wisconsin is, as good as we've had weather-wise here, it's still a lot different from the environment he came from. But he has really kind of opened my eyes, done a nice job during the winter conditioning, has been really good through these first two practices.

QUESTION #4: Bret, can you talk about the move of (Sherard) Cadogan to fullback and was that something you kind of envisioned for him when you recruited him?

BIELEMA: Sherard actually, I believe Michigan State was recruiting him as a linebacker, as well as a couple other schools. One of the things that he was attracted to was to play tight end or slash fullback for us. We've been really playing him at fullback last year, even during fall camp, all the way through the season as that slash fullback/tight end, and then he kind of changed his body. I know you guys saw him for the first time Saturday, but he's trimmed up, leaned up. He's moving a lot better and has been very, very efficient.

QUESTION #5: Once the season starts, you're going to have a new punter and kicker for the first time in quite some time. What can you gain out of the new guys that you'll know better after this spring practice? Can you gain anything?

BIELEMA: We’ll try to create as many pressure situations as possible. Frenchie (Kyle French) was 4-for-4 yesterday. It was the first time we did live field goals on Thursday of last week. We didn't do any combined offense-defense field goal competition, and he went 4-for-4.

And then we have a couple new walk-on kids that look pretty good, actually. Drew Meyer, obviously, is our one punter. We have another walk-on that joined us that we're going to take a look at. And then in the fall, we're bringing in another freshman that we feel could come in and compete. But I think, to get kickers ready, it's all about trying to create as much pressure as possible in scenarios that you can -- nothing's going to ever make it 80,000 next fall, but you can try to make it as best possible.

QUESTION #6: Bret, putting Josh Harrison at defensive lineman now, and who does that leave behind (Chris) Borland and Mike (Taylor)? Is (Jake) Keefer in that mix?

BIELEMA: He is. The reason we moved Josh, we moved him last year in bowl practice. We kind of used that time to move guys, and he kind of had some things there that we were happy to see. At the mike position, 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.

QUESTION #7: Bret, how has Marquis Mason come back from his knee injury last year, and can he help this fall?

BIELEMA: You know what? I would say out of -- we're looking at a roster of 98 kids right now -- nobody made a bigger jump, in my opinion, in a certain couple areas from Thursday to Tuesday 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 the 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.

I think he's gaining ground. Tuesday, every time, the ball was tucked because coach (Zach) Azzanni stressed it. And I'm excited even I think the QBs can see here's a guy that’s got a little something that nobody else has. And the more we can bring that out, the better we'll all be.

QUESTION #8: What, specifically, do you want to see from Joey Brennan and Joel Stave to kind of make that next step, maybe not just physically but leadership-wise as well?

BIELEMA: 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.

And I think if you asked, and I know you guys visited with the kids on Saturday, that's been the part that's really jumped out is just how quick everything's happening, and how efficient they've been.

QUESTION #9: Bret, what's going to be your expectation level for Travis Frederick as far as leadership with the graduation losses to the right side of the offensive line?

BIELEMA: I think two guys kind of get lumped into that. Obviously, Travis has played a lot of good football. He's our center. He's the guy that speaks. He's a guy that's a double major in computer engineering, computer science. I mean, he's got off the charts academic-wise. But he needs to take a big step in addition to, I think, Ryan Groy. Those two guys together really need to be the heartbeat.

Ricky Wagner has played a lot of good football, but Ricky's kind of a church mouse, a real quiet kid, doesn't say a lot. So I think it's really got to fall on Ryan and Travis to take a step forward, and they definitely have done that. I've been very impressed.

I was just visiting with Charlie Partridge, our D-line coach, about a couple of the interior defensive linemen, and he said, “Coach, the thing you've got to keep in mind is how good Freddy is.” I mean, Freddy, obviously, I just had a center that went out early in the draft, and I think Freddy has the ability to be equally as good. A different type of player, but he's just so strong and fluid and athletic, it's pretty amazing.

QUESTION #10: Bret, you haven't had to play a lot of guys from the last two recruiting classes, '10 and '11. How important is it going to be for those guys to come along in the spring?

BIELEMA: Huge. I think, for instance, when you asked about the middle linebacker, Derek Watt get a redshirt year underneath him, and now he can play. And we all know Chris Borland's a good player, but if something happens there, we need a quality guy at that position, and Derek's going to be that.

I would go back to last year, for the most part, with our 70-man travel roster, we had about 17, 18 seniors, and then there were nine juniors, which are our nine seniors right now. So you had 25 of our 70 kids that were juniors and seniors. The other 45 made up the rest of our roster. And some of them are getting great experience on the line of scrimmage. Some of them are getting it from special teams. But I get very excited.

One of the hardest things for me right now is we've come off two Big Ten championship seasons, and we can really do some nice things in recruiting. But I only have nine scholarships, so you really have to be very detailed about who you're offering, who you prioritize, who you categorize as a high priority to get. Because when you're dealing with 18, 20, 22, scholarships, it's a whole different world. But when you're dealing with nine, it's very difficult. So it's going to be very important for us to move forward.

I recently sat down that I was highlighting the next two years of Wisconsin football. And the thing that excites me is next year, I think we have a chance to be a very, very good football team, if we get all the right players at the right positions.

But two years from now, we could possibly be starting as many as nine or 10 seniors on offense, and on defense, next year, we'll only lose three, maybe four, starters defensively. So the thing that gets exciting for me is not only does next year look promising, but the year after that. Our two-year forecast is pretty exceptional.

QUESTION #11: Bret, you mentioned with smaller classes, you have to be selective. And I'm sure your opponents in the Big Ten know that. Do you get the, do you think that they can attempt to force your hand by being more active, whether it's in the state or guys you're going after?

BIELEMA: There is. There's no doubt. Especially in-state this year, the world has changed. I distinctly remember someone, a couple people commented that, I should watch the Rose Bowl telecast when I had some time. And with 24 flights in the next 28 days after the Rose Bowl, I had some time, and I watched the Rose Bowl telecast.

And there's a point where they made reference that we had as many as five starters that were former walk-ons from the state of Wisconsin starting on two back-to-back Rose Bowl teams, as well as we typically carry anywhere from 40 percent to 48 percent of our scholarship roster is from the state of Wisconsin.

For instance, right now in our 85-man roster, I believe 34 or 35 of our guys are from Wisconsin, which is roughly 45 percent of our roster. And all the sudden, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, we're getting all these kids in state, which is great credit to them, but I think the secret is out a little bit too.

All of a sudden, people are like, “Wait a minute.” These people that they haven't traditionally been recruiting, they've come in here in abundance and really tried to raid our in-state prospects, and, yeah, force our hand. But, also, I try to emphasize all the time, our priority always starts in the state of Wisconsin. I heard it when I had coach (Barry) Alvarez, when I came to work for him. And a lot of states say that. They used to say it when I was at Iowa, they used to say it when we were in Kansas, but here at Wisconsin, it is the heart and soul of what we are is our in-state prospects.

QUESTION #12: You mentioned the fullback position, Bret. Do you, are you going to use the fullback as much as you did the last couple years with (Bradie) Ewing? And who are you fullbacks behind (Sherard) Cadogan? Do you have many?

BIELEMA: That's a great point, and I kind of said that to Sherard yesterday. I'm like, hey, you want to hear what we call regular personnel, which is 21, or a fullback, a tight end, and two wide receivers. Last year, we ran anywhere from 20 in the low percentages or the low numbers and the higher numbers to 30 times a game, because Bradie's pretty good. You want him involved in that.

And the thing I told Cadogan is, “You want to hear that personnel called more, you need to do well while you're in there.” That's just players always say, well, coaches play favorites. Yeah. We play favorites. They're called the best players. And it makes it really easy to play a certain personnel grouping if you think it can have success. So I'm excited for Sherard.

Also, Derek Straus, a young man, obviously local here that has been pretty impressive in winter workouts. I know Thomas (Hammock) is real high on him, as well, so we might look at some guys post-spring break too, some guys that maybe on the defensive side of the ball, if they're not moving up the depth chart to possibly play a little fullback as well.

QUESTION #13: I think Borland's listed at 250 now. I mean, I don't know how much bigger that is. Just, how does he look physically, and has that diminished any of his athleticism?

BIELEMA: He looks thick. I asked him the same thing. I don't think we'd want him much over 250, but I tell you what, he popped in there on Thursday in between the tackles. I mean, he is as gifted as he's ever been, just the way he can move around, hop around. And the thing that it makes up for because of the shoulder history he's had, the more girth he can have around that shoulder, I think, really makes him feel comfortable and as long as he hasn't lost anything speed-wise.

His power and his explosion, you guys have seen it. I mean you take for instance that Michigan State play in the Big Ten championship game where he hits that kid, and that helmet goes completely (off), I mean, he didn't even hit him in the head. He hit him in the body. But the force that drove that helmet off that kid's head is kind of spooky.

I think there's an Indiana play where a guard came up in there and tried to fill, and he kind of snapped his hips and hit that kid so hard the ball went flying up in there air. I mean, he's got a unique ability to create a large amount of force in a short amount of time and in a small, restricted area that is unprecedented, for me, as a coach, to see.

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