Football notes: safety essential to bowl week

Practice schedules leave plenty of free time

TAMPA, Fla. — The University of Wisconsin and Georgia football teams are here this week to win a New Year's Day bowl game. Preparing for the Outback Bowl, however, involves much more than simply practice. The teams must balance football, fun and safety.

There is plenty of free time. The Badgers and Bulldogs practice each day prior to Saturday's kickoff but there is no class work to worry about and plenty of diversions in town.

Both schools had local police and/or security officials meet with their teams upon arriving in Tampa. This is a common practice for teams in bowl games, a kind of orientation for players in new environments. The very real dangers, however, are all to palpable after Vanderbilt running back Kwane Doster was shot to death in Ybor City at 2 a.m. Sunday morning.

"We even had some kids down in Ybor [Saturday] night," Wisconsin head coach Barry Alvarez told the Tampa Tribune.

Ybor City is just east of downtown Tampa and a short trek from each teams' hotels. Neither team is restricted from visiting the bustling nightlife district, a favorite area for tourists and locals, but each team is enforcing curfews that it hopes will subdue any potential problems.

"When you've got 120 guys you've got to have some boundaries to the fun," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "There's a big responsibility that they have because they are Georgia Bulldogs."

Georgia's first practice was Sunday evening, followed by a Monday afternoon session. The Bulldogs, though, had 8:30 a.m. practices scheduled Tuesday through Thursday, leaving plenty of time for recreation. The Outback Bowl has some events scheduled for both teams, including Tuesday's Busch Gardens outing and Wednesday's Bowl Beach Day in nearby Clearwater, which bowl officials expect will draw 10,000 fans.

"We want to give them a lot of time," Richt said. "Normally we do. We'll probably be done by noon [with practice] the next few days and they'll have a lot of free time after that."

Wisconsin maintains a mid-day practice schedule through Tuesday before shifting to morning workouts Wednesday and Thursday. Each team will conduct a walk-thru Friday afternoon.

"We're smart about when we plan those things," Wisconsin defensive coordinator Bret Bielema said. "We always do our work before we go in and do any of that stuff. To me it would be impossible to do one of those functions and then come and try to conduct a practice."

Charting youth

At the beginning of bowl practices, Bielema singled out 10 young players who he wanted to watch carefully. As bowl practices near their close, Bielema said Monday that freshmen linebacker Jammar Crane, defensive end Mike Newkirk and defensive tackle Nick Hayden, redshirt freshmen defensive end Jamal Cooper and defensive tackle Justin Ostrowski and sophomore safety Roderick Rogers had stood out.

"I think after those couple weeks of practice we really liked what we saw," Bielema said. "We wanted to put them in pressure situations. Part of playing this game is getting your body in a position to compete on every play. A lot of kids just aren't used to it. It's a different level of intensity."

Trick up your sleeve coach?

Wisconsin head coach Barry Alvarez typically saves his "specials", as he likes to call them – trick plays such as reverse passes, double passes and the like – for spring practices and fall camp. Then very rarely dusts them off in the regular season.

Georgia coach Mark Richt has a similar feeling towards gimmicks, which can wow fans but make many coaches more than a little antsy.

"We have tricks [in practice] every week," Richt said. "We don't necessarily use them every time. We are probably practicing some plays we practiced since the beginning of last year and hadn't used yet. So whether or not we use any, I don't know. A lot of times I'm a lot braver in mid week. Then when it comes time to do it on game day I don't do it quite so often."

Quote of the day

Wisconsin defensive coordinator Bret Bielema, discussing Georgia's 6-foot-8, 253-pound tight end, Leonard Pope:

"I think he's a body that can get a body on a body in the running game."

Badger Nation Top Stories