As the weather warms up outside, it means one thing for the Wisconsin Badgers: spring football. After holding the first team meeting over the weekend, UW head coach Bret Bielema met with the media Wednesday to talk about the beginning of spring practice.
Wisconsin’s first practice is scheduled for Saturday morning, and the Badgers will practice 14 times (eight before spring break and six after) leading up to the annual spring game on April 17 at Camp Randall Stadium.
If Bielema’s press conference could be summed up in one phrase, it would be this: “[…] will not participate in spring drills.” The UW head coach announced nine players who would miss all or some of spring football, including several offensive and defensive starters.
Bielema listed the players in numerical order, beginning with No. 32 at running back.
“John Clay will not participate in spring drills,” Bielema said. “He’s currently getting through one rehab, and in a few weeks he’ll have another rehab that will take him through spring ball.”
Clay, who has had a history of ankle problems, was limited last year during the Badgers’ summer program, something that affected his early season play, according to Bielema. Since Clay needs work on both ankles, Bielema added he could not have the operations at the same time so that he can still walk.
Additionally, Bielema noted he believed his running back could be better in his junior season after some extra rest. That’s saying a lot, considering Clay is the reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year.
“We thought the best option for him was to get completely healthy,” Bielema said. “The thing that excites me about his injury is I think you’re going to see an even better John Clay down the road. The issues that he had I think are going to give him a lot of relief and make him an even better football player.”
As a part of his rehab, Clay has been working out in the swimming pool at 5 a.m., four days a week, Bielema said.
Along with Clay, eight others were announced as missing at least part of spring football: linebackers Chris Borland, Mike Taylor and Tony Megna; tight end Zach Davison; offensive linemen Peter Konz, Gabe Carimi and John Moffitt; and defensive end Brendan Kelly.
While the lack of reps in spring football could be seen as a setback for some of the players listed, Bielema maintained a positive outlook, noting it could give other players additional time. He also added many of the injuries are on the offensive side, which is likely to be the Badgers’ strength in the fall.
Backups to see plenty of time at LB
As the Badgers head into spring football, they will have just one starting linebacker from the 2009 season in workouts. Jaevery McFadden, who participated Wednesday in UW Pro Day, left one open spot, while the absence of Borland and Taylor leaves Culmer St. Jean as the only returning starter participating in spring camp.
With that in mind, Bielema and staff will get plenty of time to see who they’ve got as backups behind Borland, Taylor and St. Jean. Likewise, Wisconsin’s top backup at middle linebacker, Blake Sorenson, will see more time.
“Because of our depth issues, Blake will probably be in that lineup as an outside linebacker,” Bielema said. “Kevin Rouse will be in there as well; Kevin Claxton will be in there at outside linebacker as well as Ethan Armstrong at the mike linebacker backing up Culmer, knowing that Blake can hop in there as well.”
Claxton, a 6-foot-1 junior from Florida, is moving to linebacker for the 2010 season after spending his sophomore year in the defensive backfield as a safety.
Badgers make changes to coaching staff
In addition to discussing his athletes, Bielema talked about some changes within his staff. Among them was the addition of assistant coaches Chris Ash and Greg Jackson, both on the defensive side of the ball.
Ash was hired to replace Kerry Cooks, who left to join the Notre Dame coaching staff, to coach the Badgers’ defensive backs. Jackson, the UW nickel/linebackers coach, was hired following the departure of Randall McCray to Middle Tennessee State.
According to Bielema, Jackson had an interesting trip to Madison after his hiring was announced last week.
“He hopped on a plane from New Orleans on Monday at 10 in the morning, got delayed in Chicago for about eight hours and finally got in here late Monday night,” Bielema said. “[Tuesday] we introduced him to Wisconsin by taking him to a Mendota outing in Oshkosh with 400 people. So, he’s been officially welcomed to Wisconsin.”
Along with the new faces comes a new way of working with special teams.
Bielema, who had been helming the Badgers’ special teams, has given up the additional duties for the 2010 season.
“It will be divided,” Bielema said of the special teams responsibilities. “We’re going to work punt similar to what we did a year ago. Coach (Charlie) Partridge will be involved with that; he’ll be the lead dog on that one. As we install through spring ball, we’re going to have a variety of different coaches take the lead roles on the other aspects.”