Aug. 27, 2012
• Watch Bielema News Conference
MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin football head coach Bret Bielema opened the 2012 season with a news conference Monday at Camp Randall Stadium.
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: Very excited to spend the next 12 Mondays with you guys. I enjoyed fall camp. Just the chemistry of this team, I think, is one very unique. Obviously got a lot of depth of scenarios. Got a very small senior class.
Once we awarded Robby Burge a scholarship that means we have nine scholarship seniors. Actually only seven starters going into our opener on offense and defense, special teams. Really a young group, but a group that has a lot of playing time.
Our junior class is huge, a lot of good players. We had a meeting this morning. We went through some team goals, set those things out in front of us. Got into game week preparation a little bit last week and were able to narrow it in yesterday.
Practice under the lights, nice little 14-period practice. But today and tomorrow will be pretty intense and looking forward to it.
A couple of announcements in regard to the depth chart. You'll see the absence of Peniel Jean. P.J., last week, fractured his foot. He should be out anywhere from four to six weeks. Had surgery already.
He's excited about the progress at this point. But a guy that we were counting on, banking on, a guy that's done a lot of really good things. That hurt a little bit. But did give an opportunity now to guys like Devin Gaulden and Darius Hillary, guys in the back end, corner position, to step forward. So that's really the only injury of significance noted at this point. So at this point we'll open it up for questions.
Question: Is Hillary back at corner then now because of that, and who do you like in the nickel spot?
Bielema: Actually, he'll take both those, corner. Devin Gaulden had a nice little camp. I think Darius and Devin are right there neck and neck, taking all the two reps.
We're actually going to take Reggie Mitchell and do exactly what we did with Darius a year ago right now. We plan on he stays down on the big end, works with our guys. If we travel, he'll travel with us. He's literally like a play away from getting in the game.
So Reggie will be kind of that fifth corner until obviously P.J. gets back. But then Darius has been working at nickel as well. He fills in both those roles.
Question: Had to be a hybrid, Darius, at safety. Do you work him in at safety now?
Bielema: Not so much. Not since P.J., and Michael Trotter had a nice couple of last couple of weeks of camp, him and Caputo and walk-on Jerry Ponio in that position as well. Guys that we feel might be able to do that. One thing we don't want to do is take away from Darius being able to maximize at one position.
Question: You said from the Big Ten meetings on that you expect Chris Borland to take a jump at middle linebacker. If you look at his numbers, he had big numbers last year. In what areas, in particular, do you expect his progress and will fans or people notice it if the numbers aren't the same?
Bielema: What did he have, 147 tackles, something like that? Those are huge numbers. I don't really know if that's going to jump. I think as a head coach what you see at middle linebacker, he's the signal caller, guy making all the calls.
I think he's going to be able to adapt on the field to situations that rise up that we don't ever see or we don't prepare him for. He's just going to be able to rely on experience.
I think last year he also had the feeling that he needed to do more than he really needed to do. In the middle linebacker, it's exactly what it means. You're in the middle of everything. They can't run away from you. You should be able to get involved in multiple plays.
Not only in the run game, but pass game. And I just think overall, from what I've seen even on film where we haven't had a lot of scrimmage, live situations, he's just at the point of attack so much faster and quicker that I just have a feeling that teams are really -- you can't block him like you block a normal Mike linebacker.
By that, I just mean there's a standard play that everybody runs and you have a normal routine blocking assignment to get to the Mike linebacker. I don't know if you can really go into game plan thinking that a normal blocking scheme can work for him.
Question: Now that you're entering game week, do you have an idea of what true freshmen might be able to help you this year and what can they do?
Bielema: Couple things on the defensive side of the ball and I'll remember, so I get it straight. Reggie Mitchell will travel with us right now and close to playing.
He's a guy that we've listed as a 3 on all of our special teams depth. Been very encouraged by what he brings to the table and where he's at.
Vince Biegel is a guy that is still in his walking boot. Don't know exactly where he's going to go. Take these next couple of weeks, process where he's at, and have the potential of talking about future playing time if he heals up quicker than expected.
Also on the defensive -- sorry, offensive side, Reggie Love will play for us at wide receiver, he's a definite 2 deep guy. Got him involved in every special team moving forward.
And then Dan Voltz on the offensive line will play. He'll be involved in some special teams plays and also see exactly where he's at. Hopefully get him some reps this Saturday. And probably the surprise of the group is Joe Schobert, actually playing safety for us right now, but plugging him at linebacker. DB coaches want him to stay at DB. Linebacker coach that wants him to move to linebacker. You have a head coach that just wants him to play.
He's involved in all special teams and just very, very impressed with how that young man handles everything that's being thrown at him.
Question: What challenges does Northern Iowa present and how much does their performance against Iowa and Iowa State the last couple of years get the attention of your players?
Bielema: We didn't have to tell our guys twice that this is a very good football team. Obviously coach (Mark) Farley had a long-standing tradition and history of playing well against FCS schools.
I think the part that is very critical for us is to have success early. Defensively, we'll have some new guys in positions. We've got a lot of guys that played some battles, time before us already. They're starting a new quarterback.
So obviously they're going to do certain things we've never seen on film based off his abilities. They're very strong up front, offensive line. That's probably their strongest position, four out of five back starters, and they're big people. Kind of a line that we're used to facing already.
And defensively, although they lost their defensive coordinator, coach Farley, is a long-standing defensive coach, I don't expect to see a lot of changes there. I think they'll move around. They'll do some things very, very well.
They are going to crowd the box. I'm sure they're going to try to make us throw the football if we have to. And they know we've got a first-year starter in Danny O'Brien here at Wisconsin as well.
Kicking game will be critical. Early games, a lot of times you see some unexpected mistakes and things that can come up through lack of experience. We've really been hammering -- during my time here as the head coach, we've never dedicated as much time to special teams, trying to go over and rehearse all the different scenarios that could come out of that.
Question: Speaking of the kicking game, is Kyle French your guy, or could that go all the way up to warm-ups?
Bielema: I don't know if it will go to warm-ups. It might go to Thursday warm-ups. Just because I think they've got to get a mindset after Thursday going forward.
It's been a back and forth deal. Last go-around both of them hit the ball fairly well on Friday night under the lights. We listed Frenchy as a starter in both phases because he's been there and he's done it. But I totally expect Jack Russell to get kicks on Saturday as well.
Question: You've had now plenty of time to get to know your assistant coaches. And you don't have to go on as long as Brian did a moment ago, but could you give us tidbits and some positive things from the six assistant coaches?
Bielema: Start off on defense; I think Andy Buh brings a lot to the linebacker group. You take Chris Borland and Mike Taylor, Ethan Armstrong, those guys had three linebacker coaches in three years. They have adapted to his teaching, methodology very well.
Andy is a very entertaining coach, in charge of our kickoff. It's very fun for me just because I was an old linebacker coach. So to hear the things the way he does, I like it.
And Ben Strickland, a guy I've known forever, has been what I thought he would be. He's been great. He's great with our players, great recruiter. Brings a lot of energy to the table and I think he can always relate to player terms, which is important on offense.
I couldn't be more pleased with Matt Canada. From day one to where we are today, how he's able to mold what we've done in the past, put some nuances on of what he likes to do and what we might be good at and kind of bring that to the whole table.
And then Thomas Hammock has done a tremendous job with Eddie Faulkner, Zach Azzanni and Mike Markuson to make it all blend. Coach Canada was his first coach. He coached him as a player.
They've all known each other in a roundabout way through different sources. And I think that in particular the other three guys -- coach Markuson had to do some transition there just from a new guy coming in and approaching that in a way he had done things and the way we did things up front, has molded that together.
And I think they've been able to really play at a high level these last two weeks, which is encouraging. Zach Azzanni is high energy, high motivation, runs our punt return unit, good recruiter. Thinks outside the box. Always has ideas and willing to talk and work through those things.
The guy that's probably brought more to the table that I just didn't know as well. I liked him. I was encouraged about him. But Eddie Faulkner is very insightful, very intelligent. Thinks outside the box. Really a deep thinker.
I like the way he acts and the way he goes about his business and has really got a lot of really good ideas that I've been very impressed with him and what he brings to the table.
Question: Talking about the kicking situation, kicking receiver, offensive lines, positions that have had battles throughout camp for the starting lineup. How solid going into the first week do you feel that depth chart, that unit is locked in and how fluid of a situation?
Bielema: At all three? At kicker, I feel good. Both of them hit the ball well. I'm going to be intrigued to see how they handle kickoffs.
I know both of them can hit field goals. Kickoffs will be interesting. At the right guard position to see exactly who emerges out of there, between (Kyle) Costigan and Zac Matthias. And a guy that will be cleared to play here sooner or later, a little ahead of schedule, is Dallas Lewallen.
And Dallas, you guys remember back to his freshman year, was scout team player of the year. Someone we're very intrigued with. A guy that obviously comes in with high accolades and high thought process.
He's a guy that can run and bend, because he's been through a lot, you'd think he'd be ready to play. And wide receiver, Abby (Jared Abbrederias) is at a cut above. And (Jeff) Duckworth -- I'll tell you what. I told them I might give them two days off this week. They came back after Saturday's day off. We gave them a 48-hour window to get their legs back.
Duck (Jeff Duckworth) looked like a new man. Jordan Fredrick, A.J. Jordan, Kenzel Doe, those guys all were pretty impressive in yesterday's practice. So I think that's a little bit of who does well this week and who can really make the plays happen on game day.
Question: The offense continues to set the bar higher and higher the past couple of years -- 44 points last year. With all the new players and new coaches, what do you think is a reasonable expectation with the offense, is that sort of unreasonable to continue something like that?
Bielema: I think it's a fun thing to talk about. You know me, I'm probably just worried about the final score. As long as we've got one more than they do, I really don't care. We're not into setting records or putting up numbers. But it's a byproduct of what we've done. I think that's encouraging.
One stat that jumped out to me in the last week or so when I finally got our two-deep narrowed down and I realized this year we returned basically 11-of-22 starters offensive/defensively, that's the same exact number we had last year going into the opener.
And you have a lot of really good players in there, played a lot of good football. But bottom line we're replacing half of our starting offensive and defensive unit, and everybody had concerns last year. And obviously we were able to prevail.
But this year it's going to be a different -- I've never worked with these coaches on game day on Saturday. Saturday we've had a lot of game day experiences. Had another one Friday night. Had one last Wednesday. And tried to simulate it best we can but nothing will be proven until Saturday when the balls start flying.
Question: Couple of questions. Obviously going to be comparisons between (Danny) O'Brien and Russell (Wilson). Due to their similar situations people are going to want to make those. Obviously they're different players. But what does O'Brien bring to the table?
Bielema: As far as the comparison, I get it. Understand it. They both came from the ACC. Both transfers. But that's the end of the similarities.
Danny, I think, what fans might be a little bit -- he does move very, very well. I've been very pleased with what he's been able to do on the move. Create some plays. I always say: A sign of a great quarterback is someone who can make something out of nothing. I think he has that ability.
It's going to be interesting to see how he handles the composure of Camp Randall. I know Maryland has a great stadium, (he has) played in some good stadiums. But we have the second-longest winning streak in college football for a reason.
Our fans are great. Our people get into it. Camp Randall is a very electric environment. And on the same account, even at the home stadium that can cause some people to get some jitters. It's going to be important for him to start off very, very positive.
Question: Do you have to guard against him going out there thinking he has to live up to something, a bar that was set last year, for instance?
Bielema: Yes and no. I think he wants to go out and wants to have success because we've had success. I don't think it has -- I think it's as far from him as possible.
Russell is doing some good things now, too. But we've kind of almost addressed that during his recruiting visit. I'd like to be ahead of the curve on everything. I kind of just assured him, I've read a couple of things and seen a couple of things.
By any means, every man is his own man when he walks through this door. I know I didn't want to put him in 16, being our starting quarterback. It was my idea to go to six. So just cut it in half.
Not mathematically, just -- I went to Iowa, but geez. It's something I think we were very up front, honest with. I don't think the guys in the room really even went down that road. That's going to make print. I can tell you that.
Question: And TV, by the way. Since Russell's name came up, people in Seattle are probably surprised he's going to start for the Seahawks. You are not?
Bielema: By NCAA rules, I cannot bet. But I bet you I've told hundreds of people since draft day to where we are, he's going to be the starter in Seattle. Got a text from several ESPN people that I've been conversing with over the course of the last six months, they were like: You were right.
Coach Alvarez and I, when we sat down sometime soon after the draft, we kind of both said: The one thing I know they played a lot of money to get Flynn and all that great stuff, but until you see what Russell Wilson does behind the scenes and you obviously see what he does on game days, even if he wasn't going to be the starter, you better hope that, if you were the starter if you were Flynn or whoever, you better not roll your ankle one day or have the flu or miss one day of practice, because he will not -- he's a relentless, relentless competitor.
He's so contagious. Someone sent me a video clip, and they sent it because Maragos was on there. Some guy does a locker room deal. And just to see him kind of engage in that locker room, I walked out of there, I'm like: He's got that locker room wrapped around his finger right now.
And I didn't see the plays Friday night. We had a mock game and so I got home late. And I was watching SportsCenter, and I saw coach Carroll grab him after one of the touchdown passes, and I am like: That head coach likes that player. You can tell that.
And I'm just happy for him. Yesterday I didn't want to beat him up, but I shot him a text and said congrats, keep working, take it a day at a time and whatever. And his standard: Thanks, coach. God is amazing. Love you, coach. That's who he is. That's what he is every day. That's why he's where he's at.
Question: Back to the coaches for a little bit regarding (Ben) Strickland. You mentioned the state ties and how he's here and that. But is there any hesitation hiring him because of his youth? He's not that much older than some of the guys on the team.
Bielema: I think 26, 28, right? I'm not saying -- he's obviously a lot more in shape and better player than I was, to be quite honest.
But I saw a lot of the things that I really enjoyed when I was a young coach. And I remember I got mad because people used to write articles that I was this great recruiter, nobody ever wrote about my linebackers, who I thought were playing pretty good. Used to get frustrated by it. And a wise coach once told me: When you're a young coach, make your name in recruiting, the other things will come.
When I got my first chance to be an X and O’s coordinator, I was very excited about that.
But I started -- I called like two or three coaches to get him a job. And I would be talking to these coaches and hang up the phone. And why do I want this guy to go work for somebody else when I know him, he knows our program as good as anybody; I know if I hire him, I'm going to get 110 percent loyalty and everything that goes into it. And then when DeMonte (Cross) left, it kind of opened up the window that much more because I wanted to hire Andy (Buh). It was a two-step process.
I threw it at coach (Chris) Ash and coach (Charlie) Partridge. They were all for it. Kind of hit on some coaches, I think I went to coach Herbs (Ben Herbert) and ran it by coach (Barry) Alvarez.
When I took this job you heard me say all the time: Age is just a number. What Ben Strickland lacks maybe in years of experience he has in years of experience at Wisconsin.
So I think that's an important element. And he's really been a great asset to the staff.
Question: Just to clarify with (Dallas) Lewallen, has he returned to practice yet or do you know when he will?
Bielema: Just being completely honest, he's been with us since day one of fall camp. He's been restricted and they're put him through certain types of tests. And he's right on the cusp of being cleared. He needed to get that other leg to full strength.
And I know they did a strength test on him a week ago, and he was basically almost three times as strong on a good leg versus a bad leg.
They did the test yesterday and he gained all of that back and was actually stronger on the hurt leg than the healthy leg. I think we're right on the verge of either getting him in there either this week or next week.
Now, we have to be human and realize he has not played football for two years, in basic terms. So I just know he's chomping at the bit. He's excited to get out there and it will be a nice element to that guard position when he does.
Question: Just to follow up to Russell (Wilson), too. What do you think that does to the program to have a former Wisconsin quarterback starting in the NFL. Are there residual benefits?
Bielema: Yeah, I hope so. Still trying to get him to do his ‘On Wisconsin’ thing at the end. I don't know where we lost that, 12th man went out the window, I guess.
But, yeah, any type of exposure is great exposure. Someone sent me a clip, I think it was Carolina was playing somebody in the preseason, and an announcer said: Boy, there's a lot of Badgers running out there.
Just stuff like that is worth its weight in gold, just to have -- you guys have heard me say it, tired of printing it, but we put more players in the league the last few years than anybody. Free agents and all that stuff.
And I think we've had more first round draft picks in the last few years than anybody else in the Big Ten, or we're tied for it, whatever it is. Hired a new recruiting guy. He found all these stats that made me look a heck of a lot better than I really am.
There's all these numbers, it's hard to hide how much success we've had. And to be quite honest, we've got nine seniors and I would say five to six of them for sure are draftable guys. Even though they're low numbers, they're really good players.
Question: Has much changed this week as far as preparation goes now that it's game week?
Bielema: Absolutely. You get more locked in, in my opinion, for younger players, it actually gets easier because you're not trying to get such a scope you can say, hey, here's where it is.
Now, we're playing a first-time opponent, UNI, and it's the first game of the year. It can change a lot of things. But I also believe coach (Mark) Farley has had a lot of success because, similar to what our blueprint is -- and it's different type of offense and all that jazz -- but they don't really change a lot of what they do. They just get really good players to execute what they do on a continued basis. So I think there's going to be a lot of carry-over from what we saw last year on film to this year.
So the preparation maybe becomes a little bit easier. They pride themselves on playing physical football, which we do as well. It should be more of kind of the same.
It will get -- what I am, my biggest concern is right now we're not in classes. So we're trying to consume our time. There's NCAA rules that are a lot different this week versus next week. So that's when it really gets to be quite a big change.
Question: I don't know what your comfort level was with Drew Meyer at the end of spring. He wasn't pleased with how he hit the ball. Has he taken a significant step forward in camp?
Bielema: He has. I think if there's one guy, to be quite honest, on our entire roster who has improved from spring to where he is going into Saturday would be Drew Meyer. Just the consistency, the way he's hitting the ball, the operation time he's hitting it with, to know that he has the potential to be a four-year guy is pretty special.
I've been very, very impressed with him. Not to set him aside, but (Stephen) Salata, his backup, is a guy that is going to be holder on PAT field goals. Has come in, done some nice stuff for us in the rugby kicking game, different things that would bring a different element to our bag of tricks. It's just something that I'm excited to see.
No, I might not be as excited when we go to our press game press conference, but going into it I'm very excited to see exactly where we're at.
Question: Montee (Ball) announced he was going to come back for his senior year. That obviously meant there would be fewer carries around for James (White) and Melvin (Gordon). How have you seen those two guys embrace the opportunity to learn from him and maybe not get down about losing some of the carries?
Bielema: I think, first off, both of them realize that they're at their best 100 percent. When you're a player at the level that Montee is, I think he has a certain level of commitment to our program to say: I need to be out there every play. And he may -- in a normal situation or someone that doesn't have as much depth, he may stay out there a couple of plays longer than he should have.
Whereas now he knows: Hey, I just had a great run. Maybe it was second and six, I gained 14. As bad as I want that first down run, I'm a little winded, maybe I can pop out because I know there's not going to be a let off with James White or Melvin Gordon.
And it just breeds a little bit of competitive nature, similar to what's going on at linebacker. I think competition brings out the best out of people when you've got great people. And I think that we've got a testament to what kind of kids we have that just shows that they want to do what's best for the team.
I think one of Matt's (Canada) biggest problems is just trying to figure out that ratio. We've had long discussions on how many touches is he going to get, how many will Melvin get. How many is Montee going to get? Is it through the air? Is it through the ground?
You want to get Abby (Jared Abbrederis) the ball. You want to get Ped (Jacob Pedersen) the ball, and you want to get all those other guys maybe a touch or two in the game. All of a sudden you're looking at a lot of plays.
Hopefully it works out well and they can make the game plan moving forward.