In addition to finally be able to see drafted players J.J. Watt, Gabe Carimi, John Moffitt and Bill Nagy start work with their new teams, Bielema saw cornerback Niles Brinkley, running back John Clay, wide receiver David Gilreath, linebacker Blake Sorensen and quarterback Scott Tolzien all ink free agent deals with some of the top organizations in the league.
"I thought it's a sign of respect, too, with the people who are signing them," Bielema said Friday at Big Ten Media Days at the Hyatt Regency Hotel at McCormick Place. "The Colts (Gilreath), two guys (Brinkley and Clay) to the Steelers … those are two programs that aren't just signing Joe Schmos. They are doing their due diligence in finding players that fit into great franchises."
The Badgers have aren't thought of as an NFL factory, but they had two more first-round picks in this year's draft and have had 46 players selected overall since 2000. Bielema, like former head coach Barry Alvarez, is getting a reputation as a coach who can develop lesser talent into NFL-worthy stock, particularly on the offensive line.
Of the 33 players currently on a NFL roster, nine are former Badgers lineman and a couple of them, like Cleveland Browns All-Pro left tackle Joe Thomas, spent the summer working out with teammates in Madison.
"I remember one day we had five NFL lineman downstairs working out and we happened to have some offensive line recruits in that day," Bielema said. "It was a fun thing for them."
It hasn't been fun for the opposition. Standing on the sideline watching his defensive line teammates get pushed around, shoved to the ground and out muscled in the trenches, Ohio State senior center Mike Brewster recognized the importance of last year's group to Wisconsin's overall success, and that the Buckeyes front five would be success if they could emulate it.
"You could tell that they had a great group of guys and they usually have a big, talented offensive line," Brewster said. "They carried their team to the Rose Bowl, because it all starts up front. You have to respect a group like that."
Thanks to the offensive line, it's not surprising to see four Badgers running backs on the roster. A season ago, Wisconsin, behind its quality offensive line, was four yards shy of becoming the first program in FBS history to have three running backs eclipse 1,000 yards rushing. Sophomore James White led the team in yards (1,052), junior Montee Ball led the team in touchdowns (18) and Steelers running back John Clay led the team in yards per game (92.0).
Throw in the fact that Wisconsin's two Heisman Trophy winners (Alan Amache and Ron Dayne) both carried the rock at Wisconsin, it's a fraternity that conference running backs would love to be a part of.
"They have a very storied program and they are always very accomplished at the running back position," said Minnesota senior running back Duane Bennett. "Guys have that caliber, it speaks volumes of what that program is based off of and what their goals are. To see young guys like James White and Montee Ball come in and do the things they did last year, be a focal player of that offense, you have to give them respect and know they are next in line to carry on that Wisconsin running tradition."
The talent isn't expected to drop off either, not with the feedback Bielema has received from the NFL Draft board, which has given a favorable ranking to seniors to Patrick Butrym, Bradie Ewing, Antonio Fenelus, Aaron Henry and Russell Wilson to name a few.
"We have more players rated now by the NFL than we did a year ago," Bielema said. "Kevin Zeitler is rated higher than John Moffitt was a year ago, about rated as the same level as Gabe Carimi. I was shocked (by the number)."
Added Butrym: "It's just nice to be evaluated … and it's definitely a goal. Just to know you have the opportunity to play football as a job, maybe prove to be one of the best players in the world at playing football, it's flattering. I really would love that opportunity and I'd get that by helping Wisconsin win games."