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Bielema meets media to preview Badgers' season-opener

<b>Bret Bielema met the media in advance of Thursday's season-opener vs. UNLV.</b>

Bret Bielema met the media in advance of Thursday's season-opener vs. UNLV.

Aug. 28, 2011

Bielema News Conference Small Video Graphic

MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin football head coach Bret Bielema kicked off game week for the Badgers with his first news conference of the season Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium. Bielema's team opens the 2011 season by hosting UNLV at 7 p.m. Thursday.

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: It’s a great to finally be in game week. We have kind of gone with the mantra of, you know, this is really like a Monday of game week for us. Obviously, the game is on Thursday. I’ve been really excited and very pleased with the way they worked throughout fall camp. We wrapped it up last Wednesday night. We had a mock game and kind of kicked full gear into UNLV preparation.

Starting to get a lot of guys back, thought I’d give an injury update. Aaron Henry, he’s full go. Today, he practiced a little for us. Jeff Lewis actually has a fracture in his hand, so he actually practiced last night. Sherard Cadogan should be back any day, coming back from a high ankle sprain. Philip Welch is kicking today as well. He’s kicked a couple times over the last couple days here … there is an outside chance that he’d be with us for the game on Thursday. If not, for sure the next week after. And of course, the big question, Jon Budmayr, will not be with us for this game.

Moving forward, we’ll probably start with Joey Brennan as our No. 2 quarterback, if anything would happen with Russell being our starter, and then actually prepare Joel Stave as well. Both of those guys know that they’re kind of in the mix if called upon. And obviously, Nate Tice is there to help us get out of the game as well. Getting a lot of guys healthy.

I think the part that I’ve really witnessed with this team is we lost a number of players last year, not only to senior graduation, but to the NFL. I thought it’s an interesting stat that there’s 13 guys that have started NFL games this year that were former Badgers, including all five guys that were drafted last year.

So we have a number of guys that have to be replaced, but I like the way that our senior class has stepped forward as well as a lot of our underclassmen kind of taking those leadership roles and helping the younger guys come along and dealing with the adversity of camp and whatnot. So I’m kind of excited to see how these guys handle the pressure once the bullets are flying on Thursday night. So with that, open it up for any questions.

QUESTION #1: (regarding Jon Budmayr’s injury)

BIELEMA: Basically … they went to a hand specialist, I’m sorry, hand, arm, elbow specialist, that said he basically irritated a nerve that had swollen up to the point that it caused numbness in his two fingers in his throwing hand. And until that comes back, he really can’t grip a football and do anything with a throwing motion. Only time will tell how fast that comes back or if surgery is needed. So right now, it looks like he’s going to be out for a prolonged time.

QUESTION #2: You mentioned having to kind of switch days that today is a Monday or Sunday, and how you work the days. Because of that and with the uniqueness of opening on a Thursday, night game, how much of that do you have to prepare the guys for and what their game plan is throughout the week to be ready by Thursday?

BIELEMA: Started at the beginning of camp. You know, we started on a Thursday, which is unique for us. Usually, we always started on a Sunday, and kind of just kept that mode going all the way through. We usually always scrimmaged on Saturday mornings. Here we did it on Thursdays and Fridays.

So kind of been prepping them along that lines all the way through. Thursday, I’m sorry, Wednesday night, a week out from the game, I talked about when we needed to be doing a mock game, almost started at the exact same time we’d be starting the second half of the UNLV game. So kind of been gearing them in that way and really snapping their minds into it.  

Obviously, there’s a lot going on on campus with people moving in and everything going on right now. I’m not oblivious to the fact that tonight’s a Saturday night. But like I told them, it’s a Monday night, and our team moves, and everything moves forward, really lets them begin focusing.

QUESTION #3: Could you expand a little more on how the team did in the mock game, you were a litte frustrated earlier in the week with some of the practice. I mean, did they, were they more crisp or…

BIELEMA: Oh, yeah, like the last time (the media) probably saw us, which would be our hardest day, was that Friday. After we had a scrimmage on Saturday, I really thought I was going to have to really push them through that practice, but they responded very, very well. At the end of camp, you tend to get those tired legs, just kind of monotony in their minds. We kind of freshened it up a little bit, changed the pace. We moved the freshmen from where they’re staying at during summer into going where they’re going to be living for the school year. So just all those little things that kind of brought everybody’s mind back. We had a really good practice yesterday. Today and tomorrow should be our biggest two workdays of the week. And I really expect good things.

QUESTION #4: How unusual is it on the kids that you’ve had before as a coach, as a player, that someone like (Russell Wilson) would be as, his transition would be as seamless as it’s been, not only would he be coming in and being a starter, but be accepted as a leader of this team?

BIELEMA: You know, we don’t normally have a lot of situations. This is my first five-year transfer that I’ve had. So it’s pretty unique. But also I think very well planned out. I go back to, when we first decided to recruit Russell, to me, I knew he was a good football player, and you saw the stats, and you saw the film, and all of those . . . but I wanted to make sure that everything that I thought has happened was going to happen.

I mean, obviously, you can’t predict the future and all that goes into it, but I really researched everything about him. How he transitioned into the Rockies organization, the people there in Asheville, just the way they talked about him. He had only been there a short amount of time so there was a quick transition there even with his teammates. And all that stuff just kind of carried forward.

Now I didn’t know how it was going to be in the locker room and whatnot. And really he hasn’t been in adversity yet, you know, under fire. I mean, we try to do it during practice, but nothing like it will be at game speed. So that’s a test still needs to be conquered.

QUESTION #5: Have you been on a team, part of a team where if it would have gone in the other direction, he may not have been accepted the way he has been?

BIELEMA: I’ve been around a bunch of teams where the chemistry wasn’t always the greatest, but, no, not really. I think, I just go back to my time as a head coach. What we really try to do is emphasize that part of things, and hopefully, that comes out. Obviously, I think just the way he’s handled his business, it’s helped that he had the transition with the Rockies. It wasn’t like the first time he’s walking into a strange locker room with a bunch of new faces.

So the part that really jumped out to me at one of my early conversations with coaches was he has been a professional athlete. He knows the pro side of sports, and that I think has helped him with his transition here.

QUESTION #6: Bret, I think you really wanted the season-opening national TV game, obviously, you moved it, so, but what do you see as the value, some of the value of the things the Wisconsin program will get out of this?

BIELEMA: You know, ESPN contacted us; as much as I’d like to, I don’t have the ability to move games. But they asked us if we had an interest. Obviously, we went through the protocol we have to do here on campus, and everybody allowed it to happen. I think their ability to say that we’re going to kick off the college football season is a big, big deal. They could have reached out to 120 other teams, you know, so to choose us and UNLV and the environment here at Camp Randall.

You know, I saw in one of our press releases that it’s the most night games that have ever been scheduled before in school history. It may be not so much the winning and losing, but I look at all these games that are drawing national attention, and a lot of it that they’re drawing isn’t because of the game, it’s because of what’s going on around it.

Right now, I know Bobby Hauck is a friend that I consider in this business. I know how he runs his business at UNLV. And the way that we’ve able to do things here, I think that there’s a national draw to this because it’s good. We’ve got kids that have done well in the classroom and have done what we’ve asked them to do, and have primarily taken care of their business. There isn’t a scandal, there isn’t a player under investigation, and hopefully, a coach under investigation. It’s just a, it’s a good feeling.

QUESTION #7: When you get into a game like this, in the big picture of your season, do style points matter?

BIELEMA: Coach Alvarez came in and talked to the team and one of the things that jumped out to me during his talk, he talked about how he measures how good a team is if they get better every week. And he referenced to last year, a game that we had early on where we really didn’t perform at the level we should, and it was a closer game as compared to the end of the year when we were really clicking, and how much of a difference points were, just on the efficiency that the team was operating under. So you’re aware of it as a coach, but it’s nothing we really dwell on.

QUESTION #8: Back to the quarterbacks, you talked a little bit about the improvement of Joe Brennan this fall camp. Where specifically have you seen those improvements being made?

BIELEMA: Communication. His confidence in the huddle. It all starts with the quarterback. You know, you’re the guy that’s speaking in the huddle. You better have confidence in what you’re doing. On the same side of it, you have to have confidence in what you’re saying. So I think that really jumped out to me right away. Just his huddle composure is off the charts. And then we do some two-minute stuff where really Paul (Chryst) puts a lot of it on the quarterbacks, making the calls, making the formations, plays, and he’s, just his voice inflexion there is really, really confident. And it made it statement to me. And he just kind of carried himself a little bit better, you know.

I had a nice meeting with him last night, just he and I visiting. And you could tell there’s just a little bit of a change in him personally I think, which is a positive thing. He made a comment to me last night, ‘Coach, I’m ready to be the No. 2 quarterback. And if called upon, I’ll be ready.’ Just for him to say that, I don’t think you can, most kids can’t fake that type of confidence.

QUESTION #9: Back to Jon Budmayr for a second. When we talked to him the other day, it was Monday, he said he hoped to wait to see if it would respond. Is there a point where if the decision has to be made to have surgery, that having surgery and a lengthy rehab would affect his ability to compete like in next spring and next year or would he be out for too long?

BIELEMA: Not from what I’ve been able to gather. We’re still kind of getting some new information as far as, from everything I’ve been told, again my limited knowledge of medical, is when you’re dealing with that type of situation, with a nerve, it’s really very dependent upon body and how you react, and not one scenario can be, you know, parlayed, or forecasted, for another guy in the same situation. So a lot of uncertainty right now, but I really do believe that, you know, come next spring, he’ll be fully ready to compete for the job.

QUESTION #10: What’s your approach with the field goal job this week? If Welch is healthy is it his, or is it going to be an open competition?

BIELEMA: I’ve really been happy with Kyle’s progress. One of the things that we did last Wednesday is I tried to put as much pressure as I could on the kickers, and see them perform under as much pressure as we could. And both Alec (Lerner) and Kyle (French) responded very, very positively. Welch, as we know, has already been able to kick in pressure situations, so if he shows me during the course of the week; more importantly, Coach Partridge will make the ultimate call on that. I really believe, Phil, because he’s been there, done that, can kind of slip back in this week. And if he shows he’s stroking the ball good … he probably wouldn’t do kickoffs. Alec will handle that. But I can see Phil being our field goal kicker if he shows it this week.

QUESTION #11: Back to Russell for a second. You know, even the fact of all the attention that he’s got coming in since he came here, and the fact that you only really  have one first chance to make that first impression, how much do you as the coaching staff, or does he have to worry about guarding against that, trying to throw five touchdown passes on the first possession, doing too much?

BIELEMA: Again, if we were dealing with maybe a redshirt freshman, sophomore, junior starting his first game, but he’s been a three-year starter.I know he wants to make first impressions, and everything he’s done so far in fall camp has done that, but obviously the first time in Camp Randall under the lights in front of 80,000, national TV, you want to put on a good showing. But just knowing Russell and gauging him, I would guess that’s not on his agenda.

He’s going to worry about making a first down. I think you really get a sense of what people are when they’re tired and when you’re around them a lot. And every time he gets in the huddle, he’ll make a comment, either, ‘Let’s be great here,’ or ‘We’re down in the red zone,’ ‘We want touchdowns, not field goals.’ He’s just always thinking about the game, and that really gives me an indicator that that’s truly how he thinks and operates.

QUESTION #12: When you talked before about the fine line you have to walk with using starters and key guys on special teams, and when the decision was made to use (Jared Abbrederis) on punts and kickoffs with James (White) on kickoffs, was there any concern, you know, maybe we are exposing those guys, especially on kickoffs?

BIELEMA: I’d say probably Jeff, in my going on six years, I’m probably involved in that area as much as anything. I think Lance Kendricks helped me get through that process last year. He wanted to be part of special teams. And when he got hurt at the Iowa game, he’s like, ‘Coach, I can do that, you know, in pre-game warm-ups.’

And I kind of took that approach. Now we probably will limit guys so that they are only part of two major units, not just (Abbrederis), but a guy like David Gilbert, guys like Dezmen Southward, Antonio Fenelus, Devin Smith, we just got to make sure that we’re not taxing them, not only during game time, but as hard as we practice and as hard as rep, you got to be smart about, during the week, how much work you’re giving as well. Naturally, there’s a little bit of a concern, but also it’s not going to affect whether or not they’re back there or not.

QUESTION #13: Bret, in regards to Nick Toon, how does he look since he came back, with the health of his legs? And have you had to kind of challenge him a little bit this year like you had to challenge him maybe a little bit before the Rose Bowl, I think you said?

BIELEMA: Well, Nick looks like a guy that had a couple days off where everybody else was working. I mean, he really looked fast and crisp. And his feet feel good. I think he feels good. Nick is a confidence guy, you know, and I think he’s feeling pretty confident where he’s at, and he has caught the ball nice during the course of practice.

Nick and I, as is the case with all seniors, kind of have a lot of individual conversations with him. A lot of times, when you developing a relationship with a kid early on, you can kind of speak publicly about what you think they need to do, and maybe in front of other kids; whereas a senior, someone that’s got the respect of where they’re at, a lot of times, those conversations are in private ... I wouldn’t say I’ve had to do anything more with Nick than I have with all the other seniors.

QUESTION #14: Bret, Bobby Hauck was talking about how he has looked at a lot of other schools with regards to rules on social media and how you manage that. He’s banned his players from using Twitter, that type of thing. Do you have specific rules going into this season for that?

BIELEMA: Really since I’ve been the head coach is really when this whole social media thing has really started to blow up. Facebook was already incorporated by the time I took over. I know Brian (Lucas) and his staff kind of monitor certain things. One aspect I always try to point out is we bring up guys that really post really dumb things and try to show how stupid you can look at times. We’ve basically have always said under the premise of don’t point anything out that you wouldn’t want your mother to read or don’t point anything out there that could motivate our opponents.

But I’m really a strong believer in if you try to use examples a team that has a bunch of rules, or a bunch of rules that are going to get possibly broken or violated, so I haven’t banned it. I will case-by-case ban someone. Okay, if I find them to be really, really inappropriate with what they might Facebook-ing or tweeting or all that jazz. But on the same account, I think it’s a freedom of expression. I don’t want to be that guy that comes across as an absolute dictator, it kind of lets kids not be who they are in today’s age.I can see why some people have banned it, to be quite honest.

I try to tweet. I’m not that creative. I feel like I’m boring everybody, (but) as a head coach, I have to announce my captains. You know, you guys want to have it, and I tweeted, I go home at 10 o’clock at night, and every news station had it covered. So, I mean, there iare some benefits I think to getting information out there, and it’s a controlled manner. Now I use it completely different than I’m sure most of my players use it.

But I thought it was great. We had Troy Vincent came in and did a presentation that he does all across the country from an NFL point of view. And threw up a couple examples of guys in our room that had tweeted something recently, and how inappropriate or how silly you could look.

QUESTION #15: Bret, now that you’ve seen Russell Wilson kind of pretty much a month on the practice field, what are you most impressed with him as a player?

BIELEMA: How he’s handled all of this. I basically, what, about ten days ago, kind of nixed everything going on … he was getting the New York Times, he’s got Sports Illustrated. So really about, I guess it was 10, 12 days out from our game is when I really kind of just said, okay, enough is enough. But it really comes natural to him. I don’t think it makes him think any bigger than who he is or what he is. I think the kids were kind of overwhelmed by it.

But strictly on the football field, his football IQ is really exceptional. I’ve never taught him in a classroom, but my guess is the same thing there. Why was he able to graduate in three years? The maturity level that that young man has and the way he can process everything going around him, whether it be schematically with Xs and Os, whether it be locker room chemistry, whether it be media chemistry, he’s got a pretty good handle on everything.

QUESTION #16: You know, coming off the Big Ten title, complacency could be an issue. Have you seen anything specifically that puts your mind at ease, or is that still to be determined?

BIELEMA: Well, it’s still to be determined I think because I think the true assessment of a team is how you respond to adversity. So until we really have that during the course of the season, I’m talking about game-time adversity, you really don’t know. But as far as work ethic attitude, the way that the seniors have kind of guided the underclassmen, and the pride that they take and the way they work, I think give me a really good indicator of where our guys are at.

And I think they have used the way that we finished the Rose Bowl game, and the way that we finished the season, as a little bit of a sour taste and realized what opportunities are in front of them if they are able to handle the adversity of this year and keep pushing themselves forward.

QUESTION #17: Bret, I know you had asked Chris Borland not to take any undue risks, and I know this is two different situations, but knowing the inexperience at quarterback after Russell, did you ask him not to take any undue risks?

BIELEMA: Well, I’m not going to really have that conversation with him, but I can just tell by the way he practices and everything  he’s a guy who’s going to be able to get some yardage with his feet, but I don’t really see him lowering his shoulder and trying to do anything. I think he’s a guy that would find that place to go down. He’d find a guy to go out of bounds or whatnot. But that’s the case for I think hopefully all of our players.

QUESTION #18: It kind of goes to his IQ?

BIELEMA: Yeah. I think he does get it. But you know, again, if we were dealing with a guy that was going to start for the first time, I would have those conversations. But we have a guy that has pretty good success already.

QUESTION #19: Has your O-line come together kind of like you envisioned?

BIELEMA: Because of injuries, there have been a lot of guys rolling through there. I’m very excited to see Josh Oglesby get out there. I think he’s earned that spot and has played as good as he has all fall camp. I think with the injury to Kevin Zeitler, Ryan Groy has popped in there and did a really nice job. Kevin is back with us full time now, but (Groy is) a guy that really showed that he could play in there and play well.

And then Casey Dehn, my hat goes off to him. He actually has a little bit of an ankle sprain right now, probably getting back today or tomorrow, but he’s really done a nice job at guard and tackle and everything we’ve asked of him. So that group really gets it. You know, I bring them up quite a bit and reference them to our team about the way they handle their business, the way they practice. I think Bob Bostad has done an outstanding job of conditioning them mentally and physically.

I think they took a lot of pride in there’s a guy who’s possibly starting for the Dallas Cowboys that couldn’t get in the starting lineup a year ago. I always used to laugh. Last year, we had so many scouts coming through and a lot them would gravitate to the O-line. I’m watching them work out and they would be like, ‘Coach, these guys look better than our guys.’ A lot of times, they would make a reference, and I’d kind of laugh, whatever, and then you see what our three (NFL) rookies have been able to do and that’s kind of impressive.

QUESTION #20: Bret, you mentioned your captains a minute ago. Do you like the mix of personalities that they present and how will that translate on the field?

BIELEMA: Yeah, when we sat down to count the votes, it was just me and Mark Taurisani. And as the votes starting coming in it was pretty much, they just kept listing the same four guys. And I was kind of thinking about that, because I think the very first vote we counted was Bradie Ewing’s, and the next one was Aaron Henry’s, next was Patrick Butrym, and then Russell. And it is a unique mix. It is blended perfectly, two offense, two defense. I didn’t play with the votes…

I mean, you’ve got two kids that grew up in the state of Wisconsin, and Bradie, when he got up and talked to the team, and Patrick (too), referenced to being a captain at a school that they idolized growing up, and now to come full circle and stand there. And then you got two guys coming from out state. And obviously, Aaron Henry, all the trials and tribulations, a guy that turned down Florida, a national championship team, a scholarship offer, to come play at Wisconsin and leave his home state. He talked about that. And Russell just made reference to he’s never been a part of anything like this. How he really, truly loved everybody in the room and how he felt accepted when he came in. And it’s nowhere close to where we’re going to go, but he was just generally excited to be here.

That’s, the culture that we have … everybody’s got a little bit different story, but they all come together as one.

QUESTION #21: Bret, what stands out to you when you watch UNLV, and what sort of challenges do you expect from them on Thursday?

BIELEMA: A UNLV question. Nice, Rob, appreciate it. I think that, as I watch the film, referencing what I said about Coach Alvarez, you saw them get better in every game. They, on special teams, are willing to take risks. They ran three fakes last year in the punt game, so Bobby’s always had that edge to him in every team he’s coached. They have a tremendous group of coaches. You can really see the details. They got better and better every game. And I think their skill is exceptional. I think they really have a couple wide receivers, playmakers that are very exciting players to watch.

I know what’s coming, because I know how good a coach he is and they’ve had an entire year now to ingrain it in their system. Defensively, you really saw them probably become more sound as the year goes on, what they’re doing, what they’re believing in. So it’s going to be.

But yet, on the same hand, I know they’re going to have a lot of surprises. I mean, there’s going to be offensive and defensive and special teams schemes that we haven’t seen on film, and we’re going to have to adjust to them during the course of the game.

QUESTION #22: Bret, getting back to Bob Bostad and the offensive line for a second. Earlier this month, you told me about (assistant coach Chris) Ash being an angry guy, and you wanted the defense to look like that. What is it like with Bostad, no one is going to call him Mr. Sunshine, I’m just curious if the offensive line, in what ways do you see his influence?

BIELEMA: It’s probably a great question for the offensive linemen, but I will take that and run. Bo is a guy who, I gotta go back a couple years ago and I asked every coach, I went around the room and I gave them a topic to talk about. Bob played linebacker in college and I was always intrigued why he wanted to coach the offensive line and how that came to be, and he basically referenced to how he believes that it’s the foundation of what a good program should all be about. It starts with offensive line play, the concept I think of training just as much mentally as physical conditioning, a way of thinking. You know, when it’s really hot weather, I’m always the guy that makes the O-line go over and get a drink of water because they have this mentality they’ve got to keep repping.

I think Bo takes a tremendous amount of pride in the way his guys play and he talks details. And you know, if you give Bo an opportunity, he’s actually one of the most enjoyable guys to be around. But he also is very … angry is probably a good word. But I love watching him. I think he has three daughters and one son. And you can see when he interacts with his son the human side of him, which is really, really fun to watch.

I think the thing that separates Bo is details. He will talk about, you know, split stance, a tip that maybe a defensive player has given us on film more so than probably any coach I’ve ever been around. He’s just really exceptional about details.

QUESTION #23: Bret, going back to UNLV for a minute. It’s pretty common to hear how players made their biggest strides from their freshmen and sophomore year, year one to year two. Can the same be said about a head coach, in year two in a program?

BIELEMA: Yeah, I would say so, absolutely. I mean, Bobby had so much success prior to UNLV. It was just a matter of time. You assume those things are going to continue to move forward. Part of what I think, just in my years as a head coach, if you come in new to a situation, I think one of the reasons that we were able to have success here in the transition with Coach Alvarez and myself is I was here for two years. I knew all the complexities of what Wisconsin is, the positives and the negatives.

A lot of times I think when coaches are hired, a lot of times, they’re being thrown into this negative situation. And people at that respective university are going to be guarded on how they’re going to work with this new guy. And it just, from what I’ve been able to witness and watch with buddies of mine in the profession that go into it, that that’s probably the biggest obstacle to overcome.

The Xs and Os part is kind of easy because Bobby has a sense of offense, defense, special teams … but all that other stuff that makes the chemistry so unique, the only way you know it is learning it. I was able to be part of that for two years, and then I’ve gotten better every year just through five years of coaching experience here at Wisconsin that’s unique to here.

QUESTION #24: One offensive lineman we haven’t talked about is Ricky Wagner. Does that mean he’s had a good camp?

BIELEMA: Yes. I think Ricky has made the transition from right to left. I know it comes with a lot of expectations, left tackle at the University of Wisconsin. And I think Ricky is going to be able to hold up to that. Ricky is kind of a quiet guy, doesn’t say a lot, he just kind of goes about his business. He might have an exceptional block, he walks back to the huddle the same way as if he wasn’t so good. He’s just an even-keel guy. It’s really fun to watch him have success.

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