MADISON -- After announcing Monday that many of Wisconsin's injured players would return this week against Northwestern, Badgers head coach Gary Andersen handed out more good news after Thursday's practice.
"I try to watch those kids coming off of injury very closely, and early in the week there was a whole bunch of them to watch," Andersen said. "My eyes were catching them as much as I could, and Dallas (Lewallen) along with Melvin (Gordon) and Kenzel (Doe) and the list goes on, seem to be just fine."
Lewallen, Gordon and Doe are all expected to play Saturday, and Andersen said Doe will go back to returning punts and kickoffs as well as lining up at wide receiver. Tight end Jacob Pedersen is also expected to return against Northwestern, and Andersen said cornerback T.J. Reynard will be available but likely won't play much.
The Badgers' bye week appeared to come at the perfect time.
"I really like the timing of it because of the number of injuries," Andersen said. "We may not have had some young men last Saturday, at least not at 100 percent."
Senior linebacker Conor O'Neill took advantage of his opportunities during an early-season absence from junior Derek Landisch, and the two now share the starting inside linebacker spot next to Chris Borland.
Even though only one can start each game, Andersen said getting production from both has been a great commodity for the Badgers.
"I like both those kids, the way they move around and the way they play," Andersen said. "It's a good complement for Chris. It can also relieve a little bit of pressure off of Chris at practice and he can do some different things. It's a good one-two punch. It's a good recipe. We've just got to keep them all healthy."
Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda said Wednesday that O'Neill will get the start against Northwestern on Saturday, but that the snaps will be split.
"The times that (O'Neill) has played, he's been the player of the game," Aranda said. "His playmaking ability has been off the charts. I'm a big fan of his, and I think between Conor and Derek rolling out, that Rover linebacker spot will be a productive spot for us.
"I've never had two guys that are so close and so productive in terms of what their output is."
-- Former Ohio State and NFL linebacker Chris Spielman gave a motivational speech to the Badgers after Thursday's practice.
When Andersen was asked if he invited Spielman to talk to the team, though, he said, "I'm not supposed to say anything about that."
-- Andersen commented on the importance of this weekend as it pertains to recruiting, and touched on how essential this year's class is for Wisconsin.
"This time of year, all the kids are coming out on recruiting trips," Andersen said. "It's a big weekend. It's highly contested, just like it's been the whole year. Our numbers are loading up pretty quick this year, which is a positive thing. It'll be a great weekend. The weather's going to be good. This is a big recruiting class for Wisconsin. We have a senior-laden class. We've got to fill in some holes, and we're looking to hopefully get 30 new kids in this program by next August. That's the plan."