Badgers get back to the gridiron

UW kicked off bowl practices Saturday, with a first glimpse at position changes and a focus on underclassmen

The University of Wisconsin football team returned to the practice field Saturday, for the first of 12 practices in Madison prior to its Christmas Day departure for Tampa, Fla., site of the New Year's Day Outback Bowl. The Badgers (9-2) learned earlier this week that they will face Georgia (9-2) in that contest.

Saturday's practice, Wisconsin head coach Barry Alvarez said, was modeled after the team's spring workouts, with younger players working out for the duration while the veterans joined midway through the workout. For underclassmen who spent the regular season on the scout team, Saturday was their first opportunity to work extensively with position coaches since fall training camp.

"When you don't play in a bowl game you don't get these practices and this allows you to continue to improve certain positions," defensive coordinator Bret Bielema said.

In addition to preparing for Georgia, the Badgers can use bowl practices to prep for next season. Wisconsin's defense, for instance, will feature an entirely new starting cast along the defensive line and in the secondary.

"There are about 10 kids specifically on the defensive side of the ball that we really feel are going to be big players for us next year and we need to continue to make those guys grow," he said.

Bielema singled out sophomore strong safety Johnny White, redshirt freshmen defensive end Jamal Cooper and defensive tackle Justin Ostrowski and true freshmen cornerbacks Allen Langford, Jack Ikegwuonu and Antonio Freeman. linebackers Nick Sutton and Jammar Crane, defensive tackle Nick Hayden and defensive end Mike Newkirk.

"I think it is a very important couple of weeks for them to realize that we want to put the pressure on them," Bielema said. "Those guys are going to have to come out and compete next year. That's what we need them to do in the next month."

In keeping with the competitive spirit UW has instilled throughout this season, Saturday's practice concluded with a scrimmage, in which the second- and third-string players received the bulk of the reps.

"I'm just trying to keep some type of rhythm so that when we start in earnest getting ready for Georgia that our guys are ready to go," Alvarez said.

Alvarez added that the team will continue with a spring-like format for Sunday's practice and for the team's three practices next weekend. The Badgers are also conditioning during the week with strength coach John Dettmann. Formal preparation for Georgia will begin Dec. 15.

"We'll give them the scouting report and institute an initial game plan," Alvarez said.

The Bulldogs officially accepted their invite to the Outback Bowl Tuesday, but Bielema said the teams agreed to exchange film Monday.

"I've watched every game on them," he said. "We'll use a breakdown on certain films. They are very, very athletic at the skill positions."

Lewis, Pressley find new homes

Bowl workouts are also a traditional time to change positions. Two changes of note have occurred on the offensive side of the ball where highly regarded true freshmen Sean Lewis shifted from quarterback to tight end and classmate Chris Pressley moved from tailback to fullback.

Lewis is redshirting this year and began spending some time at tight end during Wisconsin's bye week five weeks ago. He continued to spend time at quarterback and participate in meetings with quarterbacks until this week, however. Lewis, from Richards High School in Oak Lawn, Ill., has gained 30 pounds since last summer and stands 6-foot-7, 235 pounds.

"When we recruited him we felt he was a very good athlete," Alvarez said. "I think he could be a trim 255. He always ran well. I think he could run better than 4.7 [40-yard dash]. That gives you a big tight end that can run."

Wisconsin had great success converting another star Illinois prep quarterback, Owen Daniels, to tight end. Daniels, in his second season as a pass receiver, has 23 catches for 348 yards and two touchdowns this year.

Pressley, a 6-foot, 260-pound back from Woodbury, N.J., ran eight times for 22 yards but fumbled twice in Wisconsin's season-opener, subbing for an injured Anthony Davis. He has run just three more times since, picking up 14 yards.

"He'll blow you up now. He will whack you," Alvarez said. "His technique wasn't as good as you wanted but we can teach him that. The key is that he'll run in there and put 260 pounds on you."

"I think we've got some tailbacks and it looks like we might be able to sign a couple," Alvarez said. "I think [fullback's] his natural position. He's very physical and that's where we want to take a look at him."

Wisconsin will have to replace Davis at tailback next year but will have transfer Brian Calhoun along with sophomore Booker Stanley and freshman Jamil Walker at its disposal. The team has secured a verbal commitment from Lewis' prep teammate Dion Foster, a record-setting senior at Richards. In accordance with NCAA rules, college coaches are not permitted to discuss recruits until they have signed letters of intent in February.

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