"I love teams like this," Alvarez said following Saturday's morning practice, the Badgers' second of 15 scheduled this spring. "They can make huge strides in the offseason, which they did. I think you've got guys stronger. I think they move a lot better. I think they really prepared themselves well for spring practice.
"It's all about rebuilding a team. Every year starts anew and every team has a different personality and has to be approached differently. We have a lot of guys who are trying to establish themselves, which is good. That's very healthy. Yet we have a lot of veterans and guys that have played a lot of snaps. That's a good mixture. So it's just getting everybody better. I always expect young players to improve the most."
The Badgers had a pair of lively practices Friday and Saturday, though each workout was non-contact, with the players in helmets, shorts and jerseys. Alvarez said he was happy with how the team opened its spring practice season, which he took as a proof of strong offseason workouts.
"We had a heck of an out-of-season," he said. "I thought our kids were really sharp yesterday, first day of practice. I was impressed with what we got done in shorts. Now, we'll take another step tomorrow and see how some of them hold up when it's live."
The Badgers will practice Sunday, Monday and Wednesday in pads before an intermission for the university's spring break. The Badgers will have 10 practices left after the break, and will space them out between April 1 and April 16.
"I like to split it up like this because it makes the players think about football for a longer period of time," Alvarez said. "We'll have most of the things installed the first five days. Then you can just clean it up and draw from it as you go through the rest of spring."
Stanley has an opportunity to respond
Booker Stanley did not enjoy a memorable 2004 campaign. Serving as Anthony Davis' backup, Stanley played in 10 games, starting three, and ran for just 350 yards and two touchdowns on 115 carries. He averaged more than 4.0 yards per carry in a game only once last season.
Yet Stanley opened UW's spring practice as its No. 1 tailback for the simple reason that he is the only returning tailback with any experience playing for the Badgers. Brian Calhoun transferred from Colorado, where he was a starter prior to last season, and spent 2004 on the Badgers' scout team while sitting out a transfer year. The only other tailback in spring ball, Dywon Rowan, also spent 2004 on the scout team.
"There has to be a starting point and we're going to start with [Stanley] there and see where it goes," Alvarez said. "Book's played some good football for us. He didn't play his best ball last year but we know he certainly is capable."
Stanley ran for 523 yards and five touchdowns on 133 carries as a redshirt freshman in 2003. But his confidence was shaken after some rough outings last season. Placing Stanley No. 1 on the spring depth, Alvarez said, did not have anything to do with instilling confidence in him.
"You have to have success to build confidence," Alvarez said. "That's about him. There's nothing anybody can say, you just have to play better. You've got to read your keys, respond to what you see. You start doing things the right way then your confidence will come. There isn't nothing any coach can say. Guys have to do it."
All eyes on Calhoun
Calhoun ran for 810 yards and five touchdowns on 195 attempts in his last season with Colorado. A nifty runner with elite speed, Calhoun has already impressed with his elusiveness and exceptional hands. Calhoun's skills as a receiver can create matchup problems for opposing defenses.
"He brings a versatility," Alvarez said. "You can jump him to a wideout and it's not just putting a body out there you have to cover down. He can play like a true wideout. He could make you miss and he really has soft hands. He brings a lot to the table and can add a tremendous amount to our offense."
The Badgers would have liked to have had Calhoun available last season, when Davis missed all of four games while battling injuries.
"You wanted to cry last year when you didn't have him to go to," Alvarez said. "But he's really a special athlete. He can do a lot of things."
Walk-ons Ken DeBauche and Zach Hampton will be awarded scholarships in the fall, Alvarez said. DeBauche, a Suamico, Wis., native, unseated then-senior punter R.J. Morse last fall and had a very strong redshirt freshman campaign, averaging 41.8 yards per punt.
Hampton, from Lancaster, Wis., initially played receiver at UW, but was shifted to safety during the 2003 season. He has since become one of the Badgers' best special teams players, serving as a gunner on kick and punt coverage and as a deep man on kick returns. Hampton enters spring as the Badgers' second-team free safety; he has a good shot at a starting spot in 2005.