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Bielema previews Spring Game

<b>Bret Bielema instructs Jordan Kohout during one of the Badgers' spring practices.</b>

Bret Bielema instructs Jordan Kohout during one of the Badgers' spring practices.

April 19, 2011

Coach Bielema News Conference Small Video Graphic

-- Head coach Bret Bielema spoke with the media on Monday to preview this Saturday's Spring Game at Camp Randall Stadium and give updates on the state of his team. A complete transcript can be found below, while archived video is available through the link at the top of the page.

Bret Bielema: First off, I'm very excited to get to this weekend. Hopefully, we'll have a little bit better weather. I was watching some of the other conference games around this past Saturday and realized the weather affected some of those crowds.

One of the things, I'd also encourage is the Kids Fair. If somebody hasn't gone to that, it's an unbelievable thing. My entire football team will be in there as well as all the other student-athletes from the university, and it's a pretty neat experience for one-on-one contact. It's very rewarding, not only for the kids that get to come, but for our players too. It's pretty special.

From a football point of view, I really liked the growth we've had over the last four weeks. I thought each week we've literally seen guys get better, especially at certain positions. I think I'm getting older. I have to bring in a depth chart now just to remember who's all on there if you guys ask specific questions.

We just had a personnel meeting this morning after our scrimmage on Thursday. One of the changes that we're going to make this year to the spring game to kind of spice it up a little bit, and, I think, give a true assessment of where we're at, I'm going to actually play ones against ones. We'll put our number one offense out there against our number one defense and let guys compete.

I think it'll be a cleaner game and really give us a better understanding of where we're at. So that'll be a little bit of a different twist that I think will give us a better quality game and really give the fans an outlook on to, hopefully, you have one of the better teams in the league competing out there; one of the best offenses, and one of the best defenses in our conference going head-to-head, so I'm excited for that.

With that, really, the only injury information out of Saturday, which was better than I thought originally when I saw it, that some of the guys were there. Jacob Pedersen got rolled up by James White, and it's just a sprained ankle, so nothing significant with him. He probably is not going to be able to play in the game this Saturday, but, really, that was the only thing coming out of Saturday that was new that will have an impact.

I think, offensively, our offensive line has really continued to grow and develop. I really like the development at right tackle between [Rob] Havenstein and [Casey] Dehn playing it out there and really have a good competition going there. With [Ryan Groy stopping in at center after Peter [Konz] getting hurt, I thought Ryan, really, the last week, has had his best football here in our program.

At the tight end, I really like the growth of Jake Byrne and Brian Wozniak and Jacob Pedersen. That group, in addition to Sherard Cadogan, should be a nice group of the tight ends. And then at quarterback, Jon [Budmayr] has continued to get better every week and I really like some of the things he's doing. He needs to be really sound with the football, making good decisions.

And the two freshmen really show nice signs at times. Both of them have a lot of talent. The composure that Joel Stave has is incredible, the way he's been able to handle that, as a true freshman coming in at the semester.

And, defensively, I like what our guys have done. I like our new coaches, the philosophy and some of the coaching that they've changed a little bit. I think, up front, Louis Nzegwu and Brendan Kelly and David Gilbert are going to be three really good defensive ends. Inside, Patrick Butrym's giving great leadership, and I really believe we've got four or five guys inside now that are probably as solid a group inside the interior tackles since I've been here.

And then the linebackers, of course, we don't have [Chris] Borland out there, but I really like what Marcus Trotter's been able to do in, at the inside linebacker position. And Mike Taylor and [Kevin] Claxton have been good on the outsides with [Conor] O'Neill and [A.J.] Fenton really coming along and Cameron Ontko.

And in the back end, our two corners are playing as good as they've ever played, Devin Smith and Antonio Fenelus. And I really like at safety, Aaron Henry, of course is going to be our starting free safety, but there's a competition between Dezmen Southward and Shelton Johnson that has been really, really good. I think we've got three safeties that can play Big Ten football on a winning level.

With the kicking game, [Philip] Welch and [Brad] Nortman continue to do a nice job, and we'll kind of figure that out, more detail with those units in the fall. With that, I'll open up for any questions.

QUESTION #1: Coaches are always concerned about injuries in spring games, Bret. Did you consider that when you thought about the ones versus the ones?

BIELEMA: Yeah, but ever since I've been here, we go ones-ones the entire spring, so, really, I think it might actually help us. If I'm a one, I'm an established player, I'm trying to think if I'm a Louis Nzegwu or a Patrick Butrym, and the next night laying in bed Friday night or when I'm getting ready on Saturday morning, I know I'm going against twos, it's not as competitive as we want it to be. And I think we have enough guys, especially communication-wise, I'd like ones working with ones against ones to get a realistic picture of what can happen.

QUESTION #2: Kind of off topic, but skip ahead a little bit. What are the odds the Nebraska game's going to be at night here to open up?

BIELEMA: Well, I know there's been talk about it. Nothing's been confirmed. But if I'm a person who watches Big Ten football, I know that's a pretty big game and pretty big exposure. I think if we're doing things right, and Nebraska continues, it'd be a very high showcase game.

QUESTION #3: What do you know about ticket sales for the spring game, and what do you expect the crowd to be?

BIELEMA: I'm expecting the crowd to be hopefully as good as it's been in the past, and that's been anywhere, I know they've said from 12,000 to 20,000, somewhere in there in everybody's guesstimate.

I know we've pre-sold 4,000 or somewhere around there, so that's a positive thing. Obviously, the Nursing School benefits from all of that. The reason we did it is, obviously, to help different causes out. But, bottom line, I'd like to see our guys have some type of crowd there to get an exposure for guys that haven't played from a communication and just getting a feel of the game day environment. Obviously, it's not going to be sold out so it won't be as real next year.

QUESTION #4: How important is a clean, competitive spring game to kind of get a jump off point into the summer so the guys are going to be more motivated?

BIELEMA: I think one of the things we pride ourselves on here is playing clean football, error-free and mistake-free. Just this past Saturday, we made a big deal of it if guys have a penalty or if there are turnovers or anything like that.

Obviously, we'd want to be as clean as we can. But especially now what we're going to do is have all the offense in one color, defense in another, so the scoring system's going to be something I've got to tinker with. But, hopefully, it's going to be a great environment.

QUESTION #5: Bret, you've mentioned the offensive line in general, but what have you seen specifically out of left tackle and left guard with [Ricky] Wagner making the switch and Travis [Frederick] coming off a year where he didn't play?

BIELEMA: What we were hoping has happened did happen with Ricky. He's been pretty seamless in that. It's a totally different feel for him, but he adapted pretty quickly. I see that first two weeks was a little bit, but now you see him feeling a little more and more confident, played his best scrimmage on Saturday.

Travis, he's one of the smartest kids on our team. He's one of the strongest kids on our football team. But he just didn't play competitive football last year, so it's been fun to watch him get in the mix just keeping his balance and straining and fighting and competing against good players.

The thing that's really happening nice for us, inside offensive guard and center positions as well as the flipside on defense, is we really got some great competition going on there against each other, which is just making them that much better.

QUESTION #6: Another guy that's out, who I would assume you would expect to have a big impact, is going to be [Nick] Toon next year. And Barry [Alvarez] has always said that if you have a really good team, your seniors have to play well. What are your expectations going to be for him?

BIELEMA: Nick, when that thing went down, I remember I had his dad and him come in. I had known what was reported to him, and they were going in for further information with the doctors. But both he and his dad kind of had gloom and doom and were really down.

I sat down and I said, `Hey, this is the greatest thing that could've happened,' and kind of flipped it on them and said, `What I know of these type of situations, it's not a matter of if it was going to happen as when it was going to happen and so glad that it happened a week before spring practice rather than a week before fall camp,' and tried to take that spin on it.

Nick's been really good. He's great with our younger players. If you go back to two years ago when it's probably his best year, was when he stayed injury free and healthy. I know he wants in the worst way, we want in the worst way, and if we'd all get that done, I think he could have a really special impact on our team and our season.

QUESTION #7: Bret, I know 11 of the 12 Big Ten teams, their spring games or some of their practices are being televised by the Big Ten Network. I know Nebraska elected not to. But do you kind of withhold anything because of that? I mean, I suppose you do anyway because of the spring game, but do you pull back because of that possibility, being on TV?

BIELEMA: I'm not going to pull back a great deal. I don't want to see it turn into a blitz fest or anything like that. I watched Penn State Saturday night and have caught Purdue, I think, last Thursday, I was watching them. So we'll have our own little spin on it.

But, no, I think we're going to go out and play. Football, everybody's got everybody's film now. Every year we change up enough offensively and defensively just by natural occurrences, whether it be coaching changes or new players or new strengths. So I don't think somebody's going to get an innate advantage over that, but it definitely will be pretty much our playbook wide open.

QUESTION #8: Bret, when you evaluate [Jon] Budmayr, how much do you take into account the young receivers he's working with? Do you think that's impacted how he's looked at times?

BIELEMA: That and I think also now he's been taking snaps from three different centers all spring with Pete [Konz], Ryan [Groy], and Jake Current too. So that's a little bit different. All three of those body types, every snap's a little different and kind of been erratic with that.

But not only a young group of receivers, but guys that really, the timing, and the patterns and stuff are really inconsistent, and I think that can mess with a quarterback as much as anything. And you know what? We've been going good-good, so he'd had a pretty good defensive line coming down his throat the whole time too, and I think that's had an effect.

QUESTION #9: Bret, when you look at your defense collectively, particularly the ones, have you noticed a more aggressive demeanor out of them? And if so, how much does that relate to the coordinators and their philosophies?

BIELEMA: I do think that the one defensive line, in particular, you've got David [Gilbert] and Louis [Nzegwu] who play a lot of football, Patrick Butrym played a lot of football, and the three other tackles are a little more confident and aggressive than they were a year ago, so that brings it up.

I think we have, probably, aggressively in our blitz a little bit more this spring than ever before. I know that Chris [Ash] and Charlie [Partridge] have gotten together and worked with Hux [Dave Huxtable] and the package he had brought and really kind of had some schemes that I think fit nicely into our package that we currently had.

But when Dave [Doeren] left, and the natural transition happened, what I said is, `we have a certain philosophy we want to adhere to, but your nuances and your things that you really feel strong about, don't hesitate putting them in.' That's what they've done.

I think, overall, this group, since I've been here, I don't have to worry about this group being aggressive or working. I think they're just tempered that way now, and the way we've been able to build things over here the last five years.

QUESTION #10: Bret, what are you feelings about the rule, the two new rules that were introduced this past week, specifically, the one that allows you to take time off the clock at the end of the half?

BIELEMA: Yeah. Obviously, that can be a very big thing. Dennis Lipski was our umpire that was here this past week, and he was in the bowl game in the season in there that could've really been affected by that. Teams got a motion penalty and stopped the clock with three seconds, whereas, now the game would be over with and done with.

I'm going to, actually, during the summer, try to set up some game sequences and see how you'd handle that exact situation on the clock. And then the other one that I think is going to be a big deal, and we're still actually putting together tapes and clips to get rulings on this is the cutting. Not only, I thought it was weird when I read it, it's not only offensive players, its defensive players.

If you really watch our film, you'll realize a lot of teams like to submerge on our offensive linemen, our bigger guys, and cut their legs out, which always is a little bit scary. But now that's going to be illegal in a lot of ways on the field, both offense and defense, so it could really change the game.

QUESTION #11: You mentioned, when you were talking about the defensive line, you mentioned Brendan Kelly, and everybody knows his injury history. First of all, on him, are you surprised he's put himself in a position to help you?
And kind of, a question about [Chris] Borland a little bit, he gave you guys so much off the edge as a freshman. I know that you're planning on using him in the middle, but in a perfect world, if he's healthy, do you still envision him maybe being able to move around in certain packages?

BIELEMA: Yeah. Brendan has been at every practice. Every time you turn around, he's like five Brendan Kellys. He's always in the weight room. He's always eating up or gotten a weight shake going.

I've never seen a guy around this program so much. But he just hasn't been on the field, but he's continued to train. He's been able to condition. And if you guys remember, we played him as a true freshman, because he's a really good player. So, on Saturday, he might've been our best defensive end if you just rate every snap productivity. Because he hasn't played so long, he's got a lot of desire to get out there, and he's a great kid. So it's great to finally see him back out there.

Chris, the reason I wanted to move him inside, his normal down and distance, he can cover so much more ground. But, yeah, on third down, there are very few people that could block him.

Just the element of that and then what we're excited about, we really haven't had a Mike linebacker, this is nothing against, I love all the guys that have played here, but we haven't had a Mike linebacker with the ability that he's had. And for some of those pressures that we were talking about and different things, if you've got a Mike linebacker that can be a good blitzer, that's a really good thing.

QUESTION #12: Is [Dezmen] Southward pushing Shelton Johnson for that starting job? And you've talked about Dezmen's athletic ability since he's been here. Is he starting to understand the position a little more too?

BIELEMA: I think so, big time. I'm sure if you watched the scrimmage, he had some very, very good plays. He's very athletic. He's got a better understanding. DeMontie [Cross] has really done a nice job, a lot of one-on-one time with him and develop him. He had an emergency appendectomy right before the spring start, so he's kind of playing with some pain at the beginning.

They're tied for the one-two, whichever you want to say, but Dez has probably played a little bit better as of late. And, unfortunately, Shelton broke his finger, so he'll be in a cast. I know that'll limit him a little bit here going down the stretch. But I think those two, in addition to Aaron [Henry], really give us some depth for those positions.

QUESTION #13: What can you reasonably get out of [Josh] Oglesby and Curt Phillips when camp starts next summer?

BIELEMA: Well, hopefully, both of them will be able to go through the summer part. Now we're not around, but just if they can get into drills and start communicating and getting the huddle.

I know Josh, in particular, he's been right there all along. We started increasing his, and then kind of his knee reacted, so we backed off a little bit. But both of them, hopefully, will be able to be involved in all of summer conditioning. And then, obviously, when we hit fall camp, it's going to have to be a see where they're at and get them in front, get in front of our guys.

QUESTION #14: Have you made a decision on [Greg] Russo yet, if you're going to bring him back into camp, and when's that decision going to be?

BIELEMA: Unfortunately, he's had a shoulder injury. I really think the defensive line, in particular, likes him in the room. I think he's competitive and he's really only technically got one year of eligibility. So we'll have a conversation next week after we compete with everything. We'll talk about guys that we're going to bring back in. But, you know, I like having him around, and he's a good energy.

QUESTION #15: Brad Nortman and [Philip] Welch, what do they need to do next year?

BIELEMA: Well, Brad, I think, the part that he brought out of the game last year that he really did a nice job in the pooch punt situation and changed the game for us in a lot of scenarios. He thinks he's a part time running back now with his success on the two fakes, but he's always quick to point those out. I told him, `oh, you weren't even famous for punting until I let you run that fake punt.' But I think if he just continues to make that same growth and did a nice job for us.

I think, Phil, he needs to be very, very consistent. We've talked too about if he can handle both the kickoff and the field goal responsibilities because we have two other guys, [Kyle] French and [Alec] Lerner, who've done a pretty good job. We might want to balance that out. But, again, that'll be a situation how he handles everything in the fall.

QUESTION #16: Bret, you've often said it's a bit of a challenge to keep [Chris] Borland off the field, and I think [Dave] Huxtable said it's a challenge to keep him out of the film room. I'm curious how Chris has really evolved during the spring when, you know, he can't practice. But, you know, he's trying to get that mental aspect, so when he gets back, that that rust factor won't be there for so long.

BIELEMA: Yeah. A, he does a great job out of practice. He's like another coach out there. He's always got a script and communicating what the calls are. Every time I turn around, he's up there watching film doing a nice job. Chris is one of those active guys. I doubt he's ever in his room. He's probably just always on.

He missed a class, and we found out why. He didn't miss class. He was part of the demonstrations. He was down there on campus. I said, `now wait a minute. You're from Ohio. You've never paid a tax dollar in your life here in Wisconsin.' But he felt the need to go down and protest, so he's just one of those active kids.

I thought it was pretty interesting, because during practice, he'll actually, coaches don't want to watch from a certain angle so they see things. Chris always wants to watch from behind the line of scrimmage, which tells me he's seeing the right things.

QUESTION #17: Have you been able to tell yet what kind of influence [DeMontie] Cross will have on special teams? I mean, you mentioned his work with the safeties. Do you have any inkling yet who's going to be the leader to handle the return job?

BIELEMA: Punt returns, I just asked that question today. DeMontie is actually going to run our kickoff coverage as well as our punt return units. And the thing that, I'm sure you've noticed when you've interviewed him, DeMontie's a very confident man, and his composure in front of the group is very good. He's got great rapport with the kids.

He's worked in all four phases of the kicking game when he was with the [Buffalo] Bills. He's never seen our shield punt so Charlie [Partridge] is running that. And if he grasps that well enough, I might have him run punt as well. I'm going to keep Rudy [Joe Rudolph] involved with kickoff return because it allows him to coordinate that and get his little stamp on the program.

But DeMontie's had a huge influence on us special teams-wise, and my defensive staff is as good as I've had, I think, right now, just the communication and the knowledge, and the experience that's in that room.

As far as punt return and kick returns, I would bet you if I was to play a game tomorrow, my number one punt returner would probably be Abby, Jared Abbrederis.

Aaron Henry is looking very capable, and he's going to be on me every day to let him do it, so I'm sure he'll get his chances. And then Kenzel [Doe] has really gained confidence as a punt returner just in the short two or three weeks that we've really been emphasizing it. Obviously, we really worked on it on days when we're outside, but he's a natural guy.

Those three guys will probably handle punt return and kick return. We've got a host of guys, I think, I'd like to see back there in the fall, Nick Toon and Jeff Lewis, because those guys got some speed and some size.

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