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B5Q Mailbag: Badgers Fall Camp, Week 1

Well, it's finally here. I know I've been promising a mailbag for a couple weeks now and I finally got it done.

I appreciate all the questions. Let's keep them coming all season long. I narrowed it down to five, which I will do each week through the end of the season. 

We're on kind of a weird schedule because camp started on a Thursday and the first game is on a Thursday, but it's still technically Week 1 of camp even though it started last week. There's always four weeks of practice leading up to the first game -- three weeks of camp and then the first game week -- so that's what we'll run with for now.

Let's get at it:

How has Russell Wilson's transition been? What specifically has he been working on? How smoothly is the offense operating? - @danedlebeck

Based on what we have seen and heard so far, it's hard to imagine his transition to the Badgers going any better. I expected there to be a little bit of a lack of acceptance among current players -- and I still find it hard to believe that there isn't at least one player on the roster who hasn't fully accepted Wilson -- but it really sounds like he is fitting in perfectly with this team.

Every single player has talked glowingly about Wilson's work ethic and skill, but it might be his leadership that ends up being his most valuable asset. The Badgers lost a ton of leaders with last year's senior class and I'm already getting the feeling that younger players are looking to Wilson for guidance. That's a hell of a statement for a guy who is walking on campus having earned nothing at Wisconsin yet.

What is he working on? Right now, it's the playbook. Wilson said Sunday that he spends 10-12 hours a day studying the playbook. That almost seems impossible, but he's determined to get the entire thing down by the first game and he believes he will.

As for how smoothly the offense is operating, it's still a little to early to judge that but all reports from Monday's first open practice were positive. Almost every reporter at practice was impressed by Wilson's arm and accuracy, but there's still a ton to be figured out at wide receiver and tight end. Stay tuned.

Looking at the schedule, there are a number of big, primetime games (Nebraska, Ohio State, Michigan State), but do you see any trap games out there? – Kevin, Verona, Wis.

This is a great question, Kevin. The Illinois game is a scary one if you ask me. It comes late in the season and is the second of two straight road games, following the big rivalry game at Minnesota and preceding what could be a Leaders Division title game against Penn State. Ron Zook has a lot of holes to fill at Illinois this year, but there's a lot of hidden talent in my opinion. I expect the Illini to be decent this season -- certainly good enough to upset a team as good as the Badgers in Champaign. 

Also, don't be surprised if Northern Illinois gives Wisconsin a scare at Soldier Field. NIU has a lot of talent returning and is receiving votes in the coaches poll. Quarterback Chandler Harnish got a crack at the Badgers as a sophomore two years ago and almost brought the Huskies all the way back in the fourth quarter at Camp Randall. He's the best QB in the MAC and it seems like Wisconsin always has at least one scare against a non-conference opponent early in the season.

Is pressure greater when you are picked to finish at the top of the league or when you are picked low and want to prove the media wrong? - @wudelhoven, Madison

Pressure is definitely greater when you are picked at the top. Expectations are what drive pressure, so the lower the expectations, the less pressure there is to live up those expectations. Low expectations can often loosen up a team, yet still drive them hard to prove the experts wrong. That can be a dangerous combination.

With that said, Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald told me last week, "pressure comes from not being prepared" and that couldn't be more true on the football field. Trust me, when it's 3rd-and-long, a quarterback isn't feeling pressure because his team is ranked 10th in the country. But he might be feeling pressure if he doesn't completely know the playbook and can't make his reads. If he is prepared, he's confident and loose, no matter what the experts are saying.

Where did our former running back coach go? - @BZall10, Madison

John Settle was the running backs coach for the last five seasons before joining Ron Rivera's staff on the Carolina Panthers in the off-season. He holds the same position with the Panthers.

Thomas Hammock is now the running backs coach for the Badgers. He was the running backs coach at Minnesota for three seasons before serving as the Gophers' co-offensive coordinator last season. With the turnover at Minnesota, he was in need of a new job and Bielema picked him up. He was previously a graduate assistant at Wisconsin in 2003 and 2004. He was a running back at Northern Illinois and ranks ninth all-time on their career rushing list with 2,432 yards.

Adam, I know you work in Chicago and cover a lot of Bears stuff. What’s the deal with Soldier Field’s turf? Is it going to be a problem for the Badgers? How can a franchise like the Bears mess up something so simple as a playing surface? – Marcus, Kenosha, Wis.

Marcus, I don't know what to tell you. The Bears players constantly complain about the playing conditions and the Chicago Park District -- which owns and operates the stadium -- says it is willing to install Field Turf, but the Bears' management says it is happy with grass. The bottomline is that the field simply isn't maintained well and it's embarrassing and unacceptable for an NFL franchise. The Bears now say they are going to work closer with the Park District to maintain the field, so hopefully that will improve conditions by the time Wisconsin faces Northern Illinois Sept. 17. I wouldn't count on it though.

Bielema said new sod will be put down before the Bears open the season at home against the Falcons Sept. 11. That leaves five days for the field to recover before the Badgers' game.

If you want to submit a question for next week's mailbag, you can e-mail me at aahoge (at) gmail.com or drop me a tweet (@b5q). I look forward to taking your questions all season long!

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