When head coach Bret Bielema first looked at the schedule for this season three years ago, he knew a this week would be a good one for his team to have a bye.
Little did he know just how right that assessment would be.
With several players battling through injuries, the Wisconsin football team is hoping to take full advantage of its time off this week, a strategy that involves getting several players lower on the depth chart additional work while resting several starters.
“A lot of times with our rotation what we did was we repped our twos probably more than we did our ones, just to try get an emphasis on some of those guys we’re going to need down the stretch,” Bielema said. “Case in point, losing Mike Taylor for the remainder of the season. It makes not only Chris Borland move up but also the guy behind him.”
Taylor, the Badgers’ leading tackler through seven games and starting outside linebacker, went down with a right knee injury in the first half of Saturday’s game and did not return. The redshirt freshman tore his anterior cruciate ligament, an injury that will require surgery and will keep him out for several months.
“The way it looks right now, he’ll probably have surgery in the next two weeks,” Bielema said. “He will probably miss spring ball, but should be ready for summer workouts.”
Though Borland is expected to move into a starting role in Taylor’s absence, the true freshman is far from the only one at the linebacker position that will see his role increased in the coming weeks.
Bielema noted junior Blake Sorenson, who has already been working both at the middle linebacker position — where he is listed behind Culmer St. Jean on the depth chart — and outside linebacker recently, will move into a more prominent role in the team’s rotation.
“Basically, Blake will backup almost all three linebacker positions,” Bielema said.
The tough question, though, is what to do at the position behind Sorenson and Borland. Both have been strong in backup roles, but with them seeing more playing time, the Badgers will need others to be ready in case they go down.
According to Bielema, the current situation has sophomore Kevin Rouse and redshirt freshmen Leonard Hubbard and Matt Groff as the linebackers next in line behind Sorenson. He did not rule out, however, the potential use of true freshmen Nick Hill and A.J. Fenton or sophomore Tony Megna.
“Ideally you would love to redshirt [Hill and Fenton],” Bielema said. “But [playing] would not be beyond a possibility if one of them jumps out in the next week and a half.”
Pressure on Welch to perform
After missing his sixth attempt of the season Saturday against Iowa, a 38-yard try, sophomore kicker Philip Welch’s spot on the depth chart is not exactly 100 percent secure.
The Wisconsin coaching staff has had Welch face more competition this week, giving true freshman kicker Alec Lerner additional work in practice.
“(We are) applying pressure, probably as much pressure as we can,” Bielema said. “We moved Alec Lerner over to the ones [Tuesday] in practice during our kicking period.”
Bielema added that Welch went 4-for-4 on his tries while Lerner was 3-of-4 as they split time evenly. Lerner’s sole miss likely had a lot to do with nerves.
“The first one I almost knew he was going to miss,” Bielema said. “When I moved him over, I didn’t tell him I was going to do it. I wanted to rattle him.”
From the infirmary
The linebacking corps is not the only position where the Badgers have been hit by injuries recently.
Wisconsin had two players go down on the offensive side of the ball Saturday, as running back John Clay missed several plays in the first half after tweaking his ankle and tight end Garrett Graham left the game in the second quarter with a concussion.
Bielema was optimistic about the condition of both Clay and Graham, though neither has practiced so far this week. A pair of offensive lineman also sat out Tuesday,
“Gabe Carimi, Billy Nagy, John Clay, Garrett Graham. That’s it on offense that didn’t work out,” Bielema said. “That was my call, just to get the other guys reps.”