Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Bielema era begins as Badgers open 2006 spring practice

New coaches, new drills, new season.

With the 2006 season still officially 168 days away, the University of Wisconsin football team took its first snaps of the Bret Bielema era as spring practice opened Saturday.

"It feels good," said senior quarterback John Stocco, one of only three returning starters on offense. "We have been just working out for awhile now, and it feels good to get out here and practice. It's exciting because you see so many younger guys, and we've got quite a few holes to fill, and you see them excited."


In the first of 14 practices that will lead up to the Spring Game April 22, UW worked out without pads, but in helmets on both Saturday and Sunday, and began to soak in the tutelage of a revamped coaching staff.

As the players took the field for the first time since defeating Auburn 24-10 at the Capital One Bowl in what was Barry Alvarez's swan song as Badger coach, it quickly was apparent that there was some new management in charge.

Using a new timing system where practice is broken up into roughly 22 five-minute periods, the team began the first period with a special teams field goal kicking drill that had become commonplace during the Alvarez tenure.

To commence Bielema's career as head coach, the drill was a little more high octane. Rather than simply kicking two field goals from the left, middle and right side of the hash marks, the team set up for field goals in all three spots right away and ran the drill in a much more rapid-fire format.

"We started off practice traditionally with the field goals. … The idea is that we have [one team on each side] so that its just boom, boom, boom, boom and then come together," Bielema said. "That's the first thing we do as a team, so it sort of sets the tone for [the] rest of practice."

The drill epitomized a movement of energy through the UW coaching squad and practices. "Energetic" was the word most often used by players when asked to describe the almost all new coaching staff and how they ran practice, very much befitting the style of Bielema.

"The coaching staff that we have, they're young and they bring the same intensity that coach [Bielema] does," said junior receiver Marcus Randle El. "They bring so much intensity to the team, and it just goes through everything."

Bielema stalked from quarterbacks to receivers to linebackers and every other position group, monitoring practice in his trademark all-red running suit. Uncharacteristically quiet and tranquil, Bielema occasionally offered up advice for players while they stood aside waiting for their next repetition but otherwise was rather reserved.

"He comes up and he gives pointers when he feels it's necessary, but the individual coaches are great," said senior linebacker Mark Zalewski.

"I was trying to be a little conscientious of that, just letting coaches establish themselves and allow them to go about their business without me being there to influence the flow of the drill," Bielema said. "I was just trying to stay at a distance and kind of look around and watch."

His coaches, on the other hand, were as feisty as Bielema has been in the past.

"Big-time high energy," Bielema said. "Today, I had to put a coach rule in there. I usually have players stay 15 yards back, but today I had to put up cones and say that players and coaches need to be behind that line. They like to get out there and mix it up, and I don't mind it after the play, just not during."

The main theme of the first two days of spring practice was for players to become accustomed to the new drills, terminology and demands of their new coaches.

"I think today was a big learning day for us," Stocco said. "We want to get used to the drills and know everything that we are doing, but as we go along, we want guys to step up and make plays for us."

For example, one new drill to the UW program is the "chute" drill for defensive linemen, where linemen are forced to stay low when coming out of their stance because of a bar that is above them. The drill was brought in by new defensive line coach Randall McCray, who has already become one of the more recognizable coaches on staff. McCray has already begun to employ his extensive use of a football taped to a hockey stick, to simulate the snapping of the ball.

"There's a few things that are different, a few things that the new coaches are emphasizing, but for the most part, we have been able to keep a good sense of [normalcy]," Zalewski said.

After the second day of practice, the players were all eager for the first day of full-contact practice, slated for Monday evening.

"Once you get the pads on, it's a much different, physical game," Randle El said with a Cheshire cat grin. "And once you get physical, baby, it can get heated. … The linebackers want to hit the running backs, the safeties want to hit the receivers. That's the way it's going to be."

Leave a Comment
Donate to The Badger Herald

Your donation will support the student journalists of University of Wisconsin-Madison. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to The Badger Herald

Comments (0)

All The Badger Herald Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *