French and Lerner step in for injured Welch

MADISON - With just under two days until the start of the 2011 season, the Badgers' personnel picture is coming into sharper focus. Head coach Bret Bielema spoke with reporters today after practice and gave a few updates about his team before they take on UNLV this Thursday. 

With Welch hurt, French takes over

Ever since Bielema mentioned that senior kicker Philip Welch was fighting to keep his starting spot, there's been speculation as to how a kicking platoon would work. However, the kicking situation has cleared up a little bit since then. Bielema said that Welch is still battling the quadriceps injury that kept him on the sideline during parts of camp, and he will not play against UNLV. 

"Alec Lerner will kickoff and Kyle French will be our field goal and PAT kicker until further notice," Bielema said, who also mentioned that Welch might have a hard time taking his job back from French if he plays well. French and Lerner came on strong in camp, so much so that Lerner was going to handle kick off duties regardless of Welch's status.

Willis stepping up at wide receiver

The Badgers' depth (or lack of it) at wide receiver has been a common topic during fall camp. Senior Nick Toon is the only upperclassman receiver on the roster, and there wasn't a lot of separation between the younger options during camp. However, Bielema mentioned that true freshman Fred Willis has impressed him recently, and it looks like he is pushing Jeff Duckworth to be the third receiving option this Thursday.

"I think the three main receivers right now are obviously Nick [Toon] and [Jared Abbrederis], but a guy that's really come on as of late is [Fred] Willis," said Bielema, who mentioned that Willis has fully recovered from a thumb injury he sustained in camp. "[Willis] is probably the fastest guy on our offense," Bielema said, "He's just a quick learner and very physically, genetically gifted. He's really benefited from being in our program." 

Willis' surge means that fellow freshman Jordan Fredrick will probably redshirt this year, along with A.J. Jordan.

Injury Updates

  • Wide receiver Manasseh Garner is almost fully recovered from a hernia surgery. Bielema doesn't think he will play against UNLV, but does think he'll be ready to go against Oregon State. 
  • Offensive linemen Rob Havenstein and Casey Dehn are both back after ankle injuries held them out of practice.
  • Running back Jeff Lewis suffered a small fracture in one of his hands, but is able to wear a cast and not have any problems holding onto the ball. He is still available for Thursday. 

Notes

  • Bielema said Montee Ball and James White will get most of the carries in the first half against UNLV, but Jeff Lewis and Melvin Gordon should see action in the second half. It looks like Gordon has definitely earned a spot this year, and will avoid having to take a year off to redshirt. 
  • There are still a few scholarships available because of injuries to a few players, but Bielema said they haven't assigned them to any walk-ons and don't have a timetable for doing so. When they finally do assign the remaining scholarships, I would expect Abbrederis to be one of the first guys in line. 
  • Bielema mentioned that French's range is about 45 yards, but he would be comfortable letting French try a few field goals from about 50 yards out as well. 

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