MADISON - The word ‘or' is an ominous sight on the offensive side of the ball on the Wisconsin depth chart.
That two letter word carries a lot of weight, especially since it could signal indecisiveness on the part of the Wisconsin coaching staff. According to Head Coach Bret Bielema on Friday, the Badgers have so many options at some skill positions that it would be unfair to label a single starter.
For example, it was made knows that although junior Scott Tolzien will start for the Badgers at quarterback in the season opener against Northern Illinois next Saturday, redshirt freshman Curt Phillips will be involved, although Bielema did not let any of those details slip.
When it comes to the running backs, Bielema isn't shy about the wealth he has in the backfield and how he's not concerned about having multiple contributors.
"First off in the pass, I think there has been one guy that has stood out more than the rest," Bielema said. "I go back to when Brian Calhoun was here, he handled most of the workload because he was the best at everything. P.J. Hill when he was a freshman was unique because he was the one guy we felt that could handle everything better than most.
"Now more so than ever we've got four guys that really overall give us pretty good answers on any situations. There will more of a committee effect this year."
In addition to the ball carries, the ball catchers at UW have stepped up their game across the board, giving UW a solid alternative if the running game is stymied.
"From spring to where we are now, Nick Toon is noticeably different, Isaac Anderson re-did how he goes about his business and the guy that probably is the X-factor there is how much can Kyle Jefferson and David Gilreath give us," Bielema said. "They have been guys the last two years that have given certain elements of their game, and if they can maintain and expand their roles, that would be a huge jump at that position.
"The (other) X-factor would have to be Kraig Appleton. He's got great athletic ability and (we need) to try and figure out what he can give us at the line of scrimmage."
Having sufficiently learned and moved on from last year's 7-6 season, Bielema has engineered a renaissance of sorts for 2009, the primary factor being high accountability and a zero-policy tolerance policy.
Stressing in this camp to work together on every play and in the classroom, being accountable for yourself and each other and having relentless toughness, having better mental toughness than the opponent, no matter the situation, the Badgers have stayed the course, as the program's discipline has been an obvious change from year's past.
"Those three things have been pretty evident," Bielema said. "We saw accountability, we saw toughness, both mentally and physically, and they are working together. Probably the thing I have seen more than anything is when our defense has success, they encourage the offense to step up and vice versa. That shows we are all in this together."
With a two-deep depth chart that lists only six seniors as starters, including only one (Garrett Graham) on the offensive side of the ball, there are bound to be plenty of wide-eyes when the Badgers go through their walkthrough this evening.
Planning to treat the practice like a pregame routine, including going through their pregame stretch, where they come out of the locker room and adapt all the freshmen, Bielema earmarked at least seven freshmen who should contribute this season (Dezmen Southward, Josh Peprah and Chris Borland on defense and Kraig Appleton, Montee Ball, Travis Frederick and Ryan Groy on offense).
Although he is a redshirt freshman, linebacker Michael Taylor must feel like a true freshman. Redshirting last season after having surgery to correct a nagging neck injury, Taylor missed the majority of spring camp with hamstring injuries and the first half of fall camp with lingering hamstring problems.
Even so, Taylor finds himself as the starting strongside linebacker for the season opener.
"We knew Mike had a lot of ability," Bielema said. "I'll go back to the first time I laid eyes on him in an athletic setting. He came to our camp and there wasn't a guy that jumped out to me watching individual linebacker play as much as he did."
Originally scheduled to close camp tomorrow, Bielema decided to move up the timetable slightly to reward the team for a solid camp and an even-better week of Northern Illinois preparation.
"We were normally going to go (once) today and come in tomorrow and have an opportunity to do a mock-game situation," He said. "I talked to some of (the guys) earlier in the week and basically explained to them that if they gave me what I needed in the course of the week, we would come back this evening, getting a feel for a game day atmosphere a week and a day from now."
Bielema has also brought in a special guest speaker every night of camp, ranging from university housing to administration to athletic directors, to talk about how the Badgers have positively represented themselves on campus and in the community.
Bielema also surprised his team the other day by canceling a late movie and taking the team to a double feature, springing for free popcorn and soda while the team watched G.I. Joe and The Goods.
"To see 18, 19, 20-year-old kids screaming, hollering and high-fiving each other over free popcorn showed me that they are eager and anxious to get on with things," Bielema said.