Notes: Bielema Still Looking for WR Depth

The word thrown around Tuesday was 'scary.' While the word has been used around Wisconsin's fall camp to talk about the team's talent, potential and athleticism, the word was used after Badgers' practice to talk about the lack of depth and experience at the receiver's position.

MADISON - When healthy, Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema knows what he is getting from No.1 receiver Nick Toon and No.2 receiver Jared Abbrederis. It's what's after the Badgers starting duo that has wide receivers coach DelVaughn Alexander reportedly calling the lack of experience ‘scary.'

"He's the wide receiver coach," Bielema chided. "I like him to be scared. It keeps him on his edge."

Whether that edge is a positive or teetering off a ledge is debatable, but the fact remains that Wisconsin's reserves have a combined three career catches for 32 yards.

Toon has game experience (34 games, 17 starts), good size (6-foot-3, 220 pounds) and a proven track record of success (10th in school history with 107 catches, 11th all-time with 1,521 yards), but health was an issue last season and in fall camp. It's made Bielema call for him to be more consistent.

Bielema said the same thing about Abbrederis, who finished the 2010 season with 20 catches, 289 yards and three touchdowns and is listed opposite Toon on the depth chart.

Jeff Duckworth was listed on the two-deep depth chart for the season opener Sept. 1 against UNLV as Toon's backup. Duckworth has a decent camp catching the football and staying healthy, but Bielema isn't willing to label the redshirt sophomore as a ‘dependable receiver' yet.

"At times," Bielema said. "I would love to be able to classify him as that. He's a little bit inconsistent with some of the details, sometimes catching the ball and also where he needs to be, especially in red zone situations. I know this, he's a great kid, works very hard … and I think once he tastes it a little bit, if he were involved in a touchdown catch or a game-winning play, that confidence could go through the roof."

Bielema said not only is he waiting for Connor Cummins, Kenzel Doe and Isaiah Williams to make huge strides and take a backup role, but the Badgers are planning to use at least one of their freshman wide receiver in addition to Doe (who enrolled in January) and the favorite appears to be Madison Memorial's Jordan Fredrick. Fredrick has overcome a nasty fever and sinus infection that limited him at the start of camp and has received multiple reps with the second-team offense over the last several weeks.

"Jordan Fredrick has shown really good thing, but, at times, lacks focus," Bielema said. "I hope he (gets on the field). He's capable of doing it. If he continues to play big and do good things. He has two or three good ones, then maybe a step back and then move forward. Bottom line: he was running around at Memorial last year playing wide receiver, cornerback and safety, trying to figure it all out. We got more specific with him and hopefully will pay off."

The depth could see a boost when sophomore Manasseh Garner (hernia surgery) could start practicing as early as next week. The outlook, however, is not as good for sophomore Chase Hammond, who is out indefinitely after serious ankle surgery.

Fresh Faces

In addition to Fredrick and Willis, Bielema expects at least four freshmen should play this season, tailback Melvin Gordon, cornerback Darius Hillary and linebacker Derek Landisch.

"Landisch got a lot of good reps with our second-team linebackers and it depends on the health of Mike Taylor and Kevin Claxton," Bielema said. "He's a guy that looks like he can make a lot of plays."

Gordon should get time on offense and still might return kickoffs later in the season, as Bielema had expressed hesitation of putting a true freshman in a return role early in the season. Hillary and Landisch likely will contribute on special teams.

"Darius and Derek are very instinctive," Bielema said. "They cover the ground with good speed."

From the Infirmary

Bielema was pleased with the amount of players that were returning fully or returning in limited capacity, a good thing with Wisconsin running eight periods of scout team work on Tuesday.

Sophomore running back Jeff Lewis suffered a blow to his left hand on Monday and was thought to have broken a bone. It turns out that Lewis hurt an ‘old fracture' to a bone he injured in high school, avoiding serious consequences.

"We're going to do a couple more tests," Bielema said. "If everything seems to go the way they think it is now, he should be back...as early as Friday."

Bielema is also anxious for the test results of sophomore quarterback Jon Budmayr, who will go in for more tests on his inflamed right elbow on Thursday.

"I think they are honing in on specifically what actions we can take," Bielema said.

Bielema hinted that there is a small level of concern with his backup quarterback either being redshirt freshman Joe Brennan or true freshman Joel Stave. Although Bielema said fifth-year senior Nate Tice can help the Badgers depending on the situation, he's comfortable with the amount of work his two young quarterbacks have experienced in camp.

"One of the benefits of Jon's bad situation is they have gotten a lot of quality reps," said Bielema, who would prefer to redshirt Stave if possible. "They have improved a great deal. I am really excited about both of them. If we had to play a game tomorrow, we would probably go more with Joey Brennan and see where he's at, but the idea is both of them have to be ready."

Extra Points: Bielema said Tuesday was one of their more physical practices due to the fact that he wasn't happy with the sloppiness of the day. Wisconsin will get tonight off and have a mock game at night, hitting every phase of offense, defense and special teams as well as unique situations like onside kicks, block kicks and fake kicks … Sophomore right tackle Casey Dehn was walking with a boot on his right leg and was said to be out indefinitely … Bielema likes the fact that with Jared Abbrederis and James White doing punt and kick returns, he has two veterans that have had few problems catching the ball in pressure situations.


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