Since the Badgers lost the Rose Bowl Jan. 2, the team has lost six assistant coaches, six starters on offense, five starters and its kicker and punter. It's also replaced those six coaches with slew of new ones (including a new offensive coordinator), dealt with a host of injuries and brought in three incoming freshmen for spring ball who enrolled early.
Given those changes, it likely wouldn't surprise anyone if Bret Bielema reported his team's first two practices of the spring as being less than amazing as everyone gets used to working with one another for the first time. But according to the head coach, that hasn't been the case.
"Our first two days of practice were actually kind of a shock to me, as clean and as efficient as they were," Bielema said at a press conference Monday. "For as many new coaches as we have out there, different terminologies and different things, the intensity has probably been as good as we've ever had here through the first two days. That really jumped out to me."
Bielema said several players had worked to improve themselves physically during the break and praised some standouts from the first two practices.
When discussing his defense, Bielema talked at length about his linebackers. Chris Borland, a 2011 consensus all-Big Ten honoree, is up to 250 pounds after being listed as 244 last season. Bielema said Boland added the weight to protect his shoulders, which he's had multiple surgeries on during his football career. Despite the added weight, Bielema said he isn't worried about Borland's explosiveness between the tackles, which the coach described as "unprecedented." Bielema also said the team is "really excited" about redshirt freshman linebacker Derek Watt, who is the brother of former Wisconsin standout J.J. Watt.
As for the offense, Bielema had high praise for early enrollees Vonte Jackson (running back), who added nearly 20 pounds to his listed high school weight of 181, and Dan Voltz (guard/center). Bielema likened Voltz to Travis Frederick, who became the first freshman in school history to open the season as a starter on the offensive line in 2009 after enrolling in the spring.
"I can't say enough positive things about Dan Voltz," Bielema said. "(He's) 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."
As much as Bielema has talked up Voltz, the freshmen might not even get a chance to play on what is shaping up to be another excellent and deep Wisconsin offensive line. The team returns three players who made at least four starts in 2011: Frederick (who projects as the starting center), left tackle Ricky Wagner and guard Ryan Groy. Bielema said he's counting on Frederick to step up as a leader and fill the void left by Peter Konz, who will likely be a first-round pick in next month's NFL draft.
"Freddy has the ability to be equally as good (as Konz)," Bielema said. "He's just so strong and fluid and athletic. It's pretty amazing."
Notes & Quotes
- Injuries: QB Jon Budmayr, LB Mike Taylor (hip), DE David Gilbert (foot), LB Ethan Armstrong (hip) and G Dallas Lewallen (knee cap) will miss the entirety of spring camp. Bielema hopes DB Devin Smith (foot, groin), WR Jared Abbrederis (foot) and TE Jacob Pedersen (groin) will be able to participate after spring break. QB Curt Phillips (knee) and OT Rob Havenstein will be limited.
- Despite the injuries suffered by Wisconsin quarterbacks of late, Bielema says he has no plans to change up his practice of recruiting only one quarterback and running back per season.
- Bielema on wide receiver Marquis Mason, who is now fully recovered from a ACL and MCL injuries: "He's so freaky athletically."
- Quarterbacks Joe Brennan and Joel Stave completed more than 70 percent of their passes in practice thus far, which Bielema said has never happened during the first two spring practices of the year.
- Bielema said "the secret is out" about the talent among Wisconsin high school prospects. He indicated other teams are recruiting the state heavier than in years past.
- The Badgers first half-pad practice is tomorrow afternoon. Check back tomorrow night for a practice report.