Injuring his left foot making a tackle in the opening quarter against Oregon State and returning to the sidelined heavily bandaged and on crutches in the second half, Smith will be out at least one week, maybe more depending on tests done today.
When Smith went down, junior Marcus Cromartie stepped in and finished with seven tackles, the same number of career tackles he had entering the game. Cromartie started his first career game last week when Wisconsin opener in its nickel package. It's a similar situation to what happened in fall camp when Smith was sidelined with an abdominal strain and Cromartie stepped in and emerged as a playmaker with the first-team defense.
"Devin is a good football player," Bielema said. "Devin went through probably a two-week window in fall camp where he was a limited-rep guy, so Cromartie worked with the No.1s for an extended period of time. He jumped in Saturday and played extremely well, because he's been getting reps in nickel (defense), as well."
"Devin's season is in jeopardy," Bielema added later. "If he comes back he'd be a fifth-year senior in a very strange and unusual way."
Always a raw prospect that has had trouble focusing throughout an entire fall camp, Cromartie made as many plays throughout camp as any other defensive back, responding proactively from consistent challenges from Bielema and defensive coordinator Chris Ash to be more of a ball hawk.
"He was a kid that was Hurricane Katrina transplanted to Dallas when we signed him," Bielema said. "He's grown through maturity. He's a kid that all the guys like to have a little bit of fun. He's very competitive. Anytime he makes a play he not only draws a reaction out of our defense, but out of our offense because he's one of those kids that has the ability to make everybody like you or dislike.
"Fortunately for us, he's really stepped it up in the last year."
After Cromartie, the Badgers don't have a lot of experienced options. In moving Cromartie to corner, the Badgers shifted starting strong safety Shelton Johnson to Cromartie's spot in the nickel package and brought in No.2 safety Dezmen Southward to take Johnson's spot.
With the Badgers well in hand in the second half the last two weeks and if Smith is forced to use his redshirt, Bielema has been able to get redshirt freshman Peniel Jean some reps and could possibly use true freshman Darius Hillary or Devin Gaulden as the year progresses.
"Darius Hillary has been right on the cusp of playing," Bielema said. "I haven't played him on special teams … but with these practices, you see these freshmen get really good.
Despite Gaulden having missed all of fall camp after having a rod inserted in his leg to help heal a stress fracture, the freshman has told Bielema that as soon as he gets cleared, which could happen this week, he wants to be able to contribute.
"He's a tremendous competitor," Bielema said of Gaulden. "I basically said, 'Hey, if we can get you going by conference play?' and he was like, 'Coach, I'm all in.' He did a lot on Sunday … He may be able to do a little bit tomorrow and if he can do a little more tomorrow, maybe he can do a little more on Wednesday. If we can't get him this week I think next week might be a viable option."
From the Infirmary
Sophomore defensive end Pat Muldoon will also be out at least one week with a dislocated right elbow and senior kicker Philip Welch will miss his third consecutive game. In Welch's absence, Welch is 1-for-1 on his field goals and 11-for-12 on extra points.
Senior linebacker Kevin Claxton is also expected back this week after missing Saturday with a wrist injury. Sophomore Travis Frederick, after missing last week's game with a strained MCL, is listed as the co-starter at left guard with sophomore Ryan Groy, who made his first career start on the offensive line last week. Bielema hinted though that Frederick probably has the starting edge if he's healthy.
Sophomore Manasseh Garner showed he was a quick healer after getting on the field a little over a month after sports hernia surgery and should figure more into the preparation this week.
"I've always been a big fan of Manasseh," Bielema said. "Manasseh likes football and he is very good at it. We probably threw a lot at him, got in there a little bit the other day and I think he can be a key contributor for us on special teams. I know Russell likes him and hopefully step into a role in our offense that is unique to him."
Gilbert Bulks Up
Transforming his body over the summer, junior David Gilbert added roughly 20 pounds of muscle during Wisconsin's conditioning program to push his weight to 255 pounds. After the spring game where he had six tackles (tied for first among the lineman), 2.5 tackles for loss and one four-yard sack, Gilbert thought some added mass combined with the techniques being engrained into him by defensive coordinator Charlie Partridge would make him ‘a beast' off the edge.
So far, the gains have paid off. Gilbert has registered seven tackles through two games and already set a new career high with 2.5 TFLs this season. In the opener, Gilbert's four tackles and 1.5 TFLs were also career highs and was named co-defensive player of the week for Wisconsin for his play against Oregon State.
"David has always been genetically gifted," Bielema said. "He's very well put together. The thing he has probably taken to the football field now is the fundamentals Coach Partridge teaches every play. If he really understands how his feet got to work, how his hands got to work, is gap responsibilities … he (can) grow into a man right in front of us."
Now the big thing is, according to Bielema, to put two games together back-to-back.
On the Road
Bielema always likes to get something different out of Wisconsin's one non-conference road game each season. Whether it's taking his team on the road to open the season (vs. Bowling Green in Cleveland, at UNLV) or taking them great distances (at Fresno State, at Hawaii, at UNLV), each situation provides a different test.
Wisconsin's trip to Chicago will be the shortest distance the Badgers have played from campus for a non-conference game under Bielema, but there's no question it's the most unique going against former defensive coordinator Dave Doeren.
"I've been very impressed with the way his team has played cleaned, both offense and defense," said Bielema.
After seeing Kenzel Doe, Melvin Gordon, Derek Landisch and Fred Willis get playing time in the first week, tight end Sam Arneson saw the snaps late against Oregon State. Earlier this season, Bielema said he probably wouldn't play Arneson unless he had to. After the way Arneson has practiced in developmental work, Bielema knew he needed to utilize him.
"He's been very good," Bielema said. "He's gotten into every situation. He was running against the ones and not holding anything back. He's been a kid to me that's been very surprising with how well he catches the football."
"Why are we repping this kid 50 or 60 practice snaps and he's not getting out there? " Bielema questioned. "Sherard is in a boot until tomorrow and hopefully we'll get him back Tuesday or Wednesday. So we'll let Sherard stay at fullback and we'll work Sam into his rotation."
Extra Points: Russell Wilson was named the team's offensive player of the week, Antonio Fenelus and Gilbert and were named the team's defensive players of the week, special team's MVP was Brad Nortman, scout team offensive player of the week was Derek Straus and defensive most valuable player was Bryce Gilbert. Additionally, Mike Taylor earned his first conference player of the week honor. "It's good to see good players get recognized," Bielema said referring to Taylor … The Big Ten announced Wisconsin's final non-conference game against South Dakota will be at 2:30 p.m. and be televised by the Big Ten Network … Although ticket sales for this Saturday's game have been slow, Bielema said UW has sold 11,000 of its 12,000 allotment for Saturday.