MADISON, Wis. -- At his weekly press conference Monday, Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema told reporters he did not know how long cornerback Devin Smith would be sidelined with a foot injury, other than he is definitely out for Saturday's game against Northern Illinois. That means, for now, junior corner Marcus Cromartie gets more time to show how much he has matured.
"[Cromartie] has a lot of ability. He kinda grew through a maturity phase, he's very competitive," Bielema said. "He's really stepped it up in the last year, and I've kinda noticed a certain sense of maturity going back to last spring."
In a way, the Badgers are starting to see where a few minor injuries in fall camp can help a team's depth down the road. Bielema mentioned that Cromartie got a lot of reps in the fall when Smith was sidelined for a brief period.
"[Cromartie] worked with the ones a lot, and I think he jumped in Saturday and played extremely well," Bielema said.
If Smith is held out for an extended amount of time, or even sidelined for the season, the onus is now on Cromartie to show he can play consistently enough to be a major factor on defense. And with Peniel Jean and Darius Hillary pushing for playing time as well, this is Cromartie's best chance to prove he can live up to the potential suggested by his physical tools.
Gilbert grows up
By all accounts, defensive end David Gilbert played extremely well on Saturday. Bielema had high praise for his junior end, and said it looked like Gilbert has "come into his own."
"David has always been genetically gifted - He's very well put together. I think the thing he's probably taken to the football field more is the fundamentals that coach Partridge teaches every play," Bielema said. "Kids take a big step when they have that 'killer mentality,' that sense of 'ok, I've got something here.'"
"I know on Saturday he was having his way with an offensive tackle a couple of different times and I walked in the locker room at halftime and David is going nuts about 'Whoever gets this guy, you should own him.' He'd always been this nice baby-faced David Gilbert, who I saw grow into a man right in front of us."
Getting consistent production from Gilbert would give the Badgers' pass rush a big boost, as they're still looking for someone to draw defenses' attention like former Badger J.J. Watt used to. It also helps that Gilbert still has a year of eligibility left, and could be a stabilizing force on a defense set to lose six starters after 2011.
-- Defensive end Pat Muldoon suffered a dislocated elbow, and is out for at least a week.
-- Linebacker Kevin Claxton is not on this week's depth chart after fracturing his wrist, but Bielema hopes to get him back to practice sometime this week. In the meantime, Ethan Armstrong steps into Claxton's spot at strong-side linebacker.
-- Senior kicker Philip Welch is still out with a quad injury, but Bielema said they're looking to get Welch back in a week or two.
News and Notes
-- Bielema said Russell Wilson won the team's offensive MVP award after throwing for three touchdowns in the first half last Saturday. On the defensive side, cornerback Antonio Fenelus and defensive end David Gilbert split the honors.
--Linebacker Mike Taylor won the Big Ten's Defensive Player of the Week award. Taylor registered a career-high nine tackles, one sack, one forced fumble, and combined for another tackle for loss.
-- Bielema has a high opinion of NIU quarterback Chandler Harnish, a redshirt senior familiar to the Badgers. Harnish started at quarterback against the Badgers in 2009, where he completed 15 of 24 passes for 174 yards.
"He's the guy that makes it all go," Bielema said. "He can run the football, throw the football, but probably more than anything you can tell he's very smart and very disciplined."