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Bielema, Badgers kick off spring camp

What will likely be one of Bret Bielema's most important spring seasons started Thursday as the Badgers practiced as a team for the first time since the Rose Bowl.

It was also the first time Bielema's new-look staff coached together after six assistants left the program in the offseason. The Badgers started spring practices a bit later than usual this year to try to get everyone, including his six new assistants, on the same page. Bielema said he was happy with his decision to start camp later, and seemed pleased after watching his players practice for the first time this spring.

"Obviously there's been a huge transition with the six new coaches, but today, I'm very excited. I'm not ready to crown us champions yet, but I really am excited about the way they practiced. The communication and the details of lining up and playing football were really good out there today. For our first practice, there just wasn't a lot of mental busts or breaks really at any position," Bielema told reporters after the padless practice.

Bielema specifically noted his only two healthy quarterbacks, redshirt sophomore Joe Brennan and redshirt freshman Joel Stave, played well. Curt Phillips is still recovering from a third ACL surgery but was able to throw Thursday and Jon Budmayr will not play this spring as he rests his injured elbow.

A trio of Wisconsin's freshmen also caught the attention of their coach Thursday. Bielema identified guard/center Dan Voltz, defensive back Hugs Etienne and running back Vonte Jackson as standouts.

"Those freshmen, they didn't look like high school seniors running around out there. They're pretty advanced in their skill set," Bielema said.

Practices aren't open for the media yet, so there's no telling just how genuine Bielema's post-practice assessment of his team was. That said, spring camp is generally more about fundamentals and organization than anything else, so it might not matter where the team is at right now.