The dawn of a new season is quickly approaching, and all things are falling into place for the Wisconsin football team’s 2011 season opener against Nevada-Las Vegas Thursday night.
The Badgers, who experienced an influx of bumps and bruises over the course of fall camp, are, for the most part, healthy and prepared for the season.
Head coach Bret Bielema listed off a number of players with recent ankle injuries — Rob Havenstein, Casey Dehn, Kevin Zeitler, Sherard Cadogan and Brian Wozniak — who are back to full health.
Running back Jeffrey Lewis, who suffered a small fracture in his left hand, has not been slowed by the injury, according to Bielema. The redshirt freshman is wearing small cast underneath his glove.
“It really hasn’t affected his ball security,” Bielema said of Lewis.
Wide receiver Manasseh Garner, who sat out most of fall camp due to a hernia, has nearly returned to full health, Bielema said. Garner is still expected to miss the opener but should be involved in preparations for - and play in - the Oregon State game on Sept. 10.
And after spending weeks in the spring and fall playing against each other, Bielema said that along with the healing has come an increasing amount of intensity among the team as the opener approaches.
“It’s also at the point where I think they’re ready to hit someone else,” Bielema said. “There’s been a lot of Wisconsin, Wisconsin. I think ever since we started getting into UNLV prep it’s gotten a little more intense with the scouts.”
With three-year starter Philip Welch out with a leg injury, Wisconsin will feature a new lineup in the kicking realm.
Redshirt sophomore Alec Lerner will handle kickoffs while redshirt freshman Kyle French will take care of field goals and PATs.
Bielema said French has a range of about “45 [yards] and in” but has seen him convert on a 53-yard field goal before and will allow him to attempt a kick from that distance in a game.
Share the load
While last year’s Wisconsin backfield included a “three-headed monster” at running back in Montee Ball, James White and now-departed John Clay, Bielema mentioned Tuesday he hopes to give four running backs the chance to carry the ball Thursday night.
Nevertheless, it will be the carry-overs from last year’s “monster” that will carry the load.
“I think in the first half for sure Montee Ball and James White will be what you see but we’d sure like to see [freshman Melvin Gordon and Lewis in the game],” Bielema said.
“I think just pure speed-wise Jeff Lewis might be the fastest of the group. I think Melvin probably has the most juice of all four of them. I really like the options we have.”