BRET BIELEMA: It's finally good to be into game week. I know our kids are excited to go against somebody of a different uniform. Thought they've really handled camp well, even down to the close, scrimmaging last Wednesday to the mock game that we went through Friday. We did get some players back on Sunday. Gabe Carimi was in full go. Jake Byrne, who basically missed the last two weeks of camp, returned on Sunday and should be 100% for this week, so that gives us some more depth there at the tight end.
As far as the two offensive linemen, Billy Nagy and John Moffitt, both of those guys may return this week. If not, we expect to have them back next week. It kind of is a day by day with those guys. They have put themselves in a position as good as they can, and it's just a matter of how well their body responds to what they're doing. They're both in full gear and doing certain things with the trainers. They just haven't gone live against our defense. So those two guys remain in doubt.
And on offense, we're going to play three freshmen for sure, Kraig Appleton, Montee Ball and Travis Frederick should be three freshmen that get on the field for us. And on defense, for sure Chris Borland and Josh Peprah. Still have a couple guys in question, maybe Dezmen Southward as well as some defensive linemen, but that is going to be determined, maybe not this week, but the week after.
So with that, I'll open it up for questions.
QUESTION #1: How is Gabe looking? I mean, is he completely, 100% over everything? Obviously, he's a tough kid.
BIELEMA: He actually practiced on Thursday and Friday during scout team work, when it wasn't going against live defense. But one of the things that we wanted to do yesterday was go good on good again. So Sunday we went out there, and he was going against our number one offense versus number one defense, and really moved around well. I think he'd be the first to tell you that he was glad he practiced because he had just, you know, not being able to go through things for about 10 days, he had a little bit of a, I mean, with cadence, just getting off on the right foot. He's a guy that will really take advantage of these next two days of practice for sure. But, yeah, he had no repercussions or anything that indicated he won't be anything but full go.
QUESTION #2: Bret, you said last week, after talking about the quarterbacks, you told Scott Tolzien you wanted to see how he would respond to the pressure of being a starting quarterback, and we'll know Saturday, but what have you seen in terms of response in practice since then?
BIELEMA: That's a good point. You know, we actually had the discussion Thursday morning after meeting, so Thursday afternoon was the first time that we went out and had some scout team work set aside solely for Northern Illinois, in addition to working against ourselves. Thursday, Friday, Friday afternoon in the mock game, or Friday evening, and then Sunday, he's been as good as he has been all camp, the practices you guys saw.
Again, I'll go back. He really does a good job of getting in and out of the huddle, pointing things out, just really handles the situation well, so he's really responded pretty well. And I tell you what, all three of them have. Curt Phillips has continued to make strides and, you know, we've tried to put him in a position where he knows exactly what's going on. He may not because he hasn't been here as long as them, but what he's been doing.
And the guy that I'm probably most proud of, and I brought him in and, you know, shared with him some of the stories that I've gone through as a player and a coach, is Dustin Sherer, going into his senior year with high expectations and not being named the starter, has been just tremendous with our guys, not only Curt but Scott. Anything that he can get involved with and help with, Dustin's doing that.
QUESTION #3: Coach, with your three injured linemen, when they're all fully healthy, how much do you expect to play them in the first game, just because they've missed so much time in camp? Do you expect them to, are you going to try and limit them in any way or you're just going to put them out there and see how they respond?
BIELEMA: Well, again, I think all three guys are individually different. Just referencing a minute ago what we said about Gabe Carimi, I don't think anything's different there. He's going to line up the first half and play as long as needed to be and, you know, he's the guy that, because he's gone through this injury before, he's had to deal with it and was able to respond probably a little bit better this time than he was a year ago during the season.
And then John Moffitt and Billy Nagy, both of them are two different type of injuries and different healing processes, but they've continued to come along and move along. I think (for) John, they're more interested in how he responds the day after what he does, because they know he's going to be able to push himself through, and it's a matter of just getting that thing solidified and scarred down.
Bill Nagy kind of has two different issues going, with a hand and with a foot, but both of those guys, a lot of it, again, depends on how they respond to the work we give them each work day. John hasn't had any setbacks to this point.
QUESTION #4: You guys have talked in the off season a lot about protecting the ball, and Dave (Doeren) has also talked about getting more turnovers. As a staff, have you done all you guys can to get a better turnover margin this year than last year?
BIELEMA: We certainly hope so. It's been a point of emphasis. And the part that you enjoy as a coach is when you see something on the field that you really emphasized come through. And the accountability factor for that offensively has been really good. One of the positives out of going through so many wet practices was there was some pretty good ball security. We had a number of quarterbacks running through, there weren't a lot of center exchange issues, for the most part, between the center, between the quarterback and the running back. There weren't exchange issues in the run game. So early indicators of that, but bottom line, nothing gets proved until you go into the game on Saturday.
And you know, probably more so on defense because, just the way practice flows and the way it kind of happens, you can get a guy that, for instance, we have orange cones set up at 30 yards down field. That running back, as he crosses that cone, then his whole body kind of goes and a guy will come by and try to take a swipe at the ball or different plays during practice that you don't know it during game situations if they'll be real, but early indicators are hopefully that will.
QUESTION #5: Could you talk about Scott Tolzien's recruitment? He committed late, and there was a big group of guys in December who committed. Is that a so-called Plan B guy who panned out or?
BIELEMA: You know what, he's the Scott Tolzien plan. Every kid is recruited in a different fashion. Some guys are going to come in with 20 offers. Some are going to come in with none. So every recruiting story is independent to that person. Scott was ironically being, I think, recruited heavily by Toledo. Randall McCray had been the lead recruiter there at Toledo, and then I had hired him here, so he knew a lot about him. Paul (Chryst) had been aware of Scott, and had kind of been working through the process with him. But you know, he's a guy that we identified and eventually, when we made the offer, I don't know where he stood in the pecking order, but the greatest thing he's done is he's come here and he's taken full advantage of every opportunity.
QUESTION #6: One injury question. Is Brendan Kelly close to returning?
BIELEMA: He did. He got off crutches on Friday. What they did is try to identify specifically what was making that groin flare up, and they think they alleviated that, or tried to minimize what's going on in there. He got an extensive pool workout on Saturday. Sunday came in, was sore just because he hadn't done a lot in about 12 days, and this week we're going to continue to progress, and whether or not he plays on Saturday, again, a little bit determines on what he recovers during the week, but expect him to be into the mix next week.
QUESTION #7: Bret, how confident are you that your special teams will be better this season, and can you maybe touch on some of the things you've done to make that happen?
BIELEMA: Well, going back to January a year ago, we talked to our kids about (that) everybody on this team has something to take pride in. They have a role. The unique thing to special teams is when you're going out and you're recruiting people, if you're talking to a linebacker, you're talking about linebacker play. You don't really bring up the aspect that they're going to be expected to be a contributor on special teams. Or when you're going out and signing a DB, he wants to come in and be the starting corner. He doesn't want to come in and be the right guard on punt, you know.
So it's kind of a thing that I've really tried to engrain in their minds from a year ago is that, yes, it takes 33 percent of the games, of the staff during a game, but it has a bigger effect on the overall picture on one given play, because defensively you may have 60, 70 snaps, on special teams you have only four or five reps of a punt, only four or five reps of punt return a game, maybe three kickoffs, three kickoff returns. So your number of chances to make a bigger effect on the game are shrunk, so we have to maximize every one of those.
We really put a special emphasis on 10 guys doing their job together in the return game with one guy running. It could be a big play. Same thing from a coverage standpoint. One guy is going to kick the ball, the other 10 got to cover it. So hopefully we kind of emphasized that we all need to work together. It's not just working, they got to work together. I like what I've seen so far.
The one part that probably comes into a factor here at Wisconsin, more so than maybe some other places, is just depth. You know, a guy like Dezmen Southward, really feel could be a great special teams player or a good special teams player for us because he can run and hit. But what special teams can he get involved on? So it's really, over the last two weeks, we've really tried to narrow down the personnel that we're using and put the best players on the field, whether they're a starter or not. The best person to be that role on that unit has to be effective, and it's just a point of emphasis.
QUESTION #8: How important are your safeties to eliminating the big plays that were a problem last year? And in that Saturday scrimmage we saw some big plays, and could you kind of address what happened there.
BIELEMA: You saw some big plays both ways. They came up with some big plays too. So, yeah, there was really only one long pass play with the ones, and that was more a fault of the linebacker that was in coverage on the tight end, so that kind of takes the safeties out of the equation, but they are the last line of defense most of the time.
I like the way that both Jay Valai and Chris Maragos, after coming into fall camp with a certain expectation of what they'd be competing for, and then have it change into they're the star guys, they're the number ones and they got to bring along and develop the guys under them, have really, you know, embraced that role. But you know, what we've really stressed defensively is not just safeties. Whatever your responsibility is to eliminate the big play, you got to do it, and hopefully they're buying into it just as much as anybody. I know Jay Valai has really made a conscious effort of doing that. And one of the reasons we went to Chris Maragos a year ago was, you know, Chris has to line up, and he's got to be perfect on every snap, but the one thing he can do is he understands a little bit of where he needs to be in the field and can get a guy down.
I remember his first game being a starter a year ago. He had two nice cut tackles in the open field. One of them created a turnover, which had a huge impact early in that game.
QUESTION #9: Some fans might look at this on paper and say like, oh, this should be a mismatch, the Badgers against a Northern Illinois team. Does the fact that it's the season opener maybe help take away or eliminate any concern of guys overlooking the game, since this is the first game of the year? And the last time you were in this situation maybe at Cal Poly, the result of that game get their attention that you can't overlook anybody?
BIELEMA: Well, two games, two different comparisons. I think Northern Illinois, the advantage we have as players and coaches is we see them daily on film. They're a team that played Tennessee to, I believe, a 13-9 game a year ago. Minnesota had to score on their last series to win that game. So two BCS opponents were right in their hands and able to beat them, both of them on road, at Tennessee and at Minnesota.
They're a very good football team. Coach Kill has done a tremendous job of getting Northern Illinois to where it was, that's four bowl games in five years, which is an impressive record. And they've got good players. They had the 16th overall pick a year ago. He was a tremendous player, but they're up front. Defensively, they were number one or number two in every defensive category a year ago, return four defensive starters, seven offensive starters.
So our guys are aware of what's coming in here Saturday, and they're in tune with that. The outside world's view is important, because it's reality, and they have to make their own judgments. But the guys that are going to take the field on Saturday will know the importance of the opponent we're playing.
QUESTION #10: Back to the safety position for a second. The last time we spoke to you about (Shane) Carter and (Aubrey) Pleasant, you said they would not be back through camp. Is there any update there? Are they done or do you anticipate there's a chance they might return?
BIELEMA: No. I can't go into specifics or comment. I just, basically at the time, said that they'd both be suspended indefinitely, and that's where it stands.
QUESTION #11: Bret, to this point, you guys have been practicing without schoolwork in the background. I mean, school starts on Wednesday. How does that change anything? And then also, did you like the focus the guys gave through camp too without school in the background?
BIELEMA: It's kind of twofold. You do like just concentrating on football. As coaches, we always say, hey, ‘You don't got to worry about anything else but football', and they understand that, and they are able to tune into it. On the same account, this week, not only do classes start on Wednesday now, freshmen had a three hour meeting academically this morning with over in the Kohl Center with all the other incoming freshmen. So when they come back over here today, you never know where their head is going to be.
And once you get a little bit more established in the program, your sophomore year is easier than your freshmen year and vice versa as you move along, but there's always that newness on Wednesday for classes. You know, we try to get our seniors to help them out as much as possible. If they see them wandering around campus, don't tell them that the building they're looking for is two streets down and on the other side of town. Help them out.
And we really try to be proactive, I think. Our Academic Student Services really, they take them literally to where every class is going to be. They take them to the bookstore and help them get their books and get it situated. But when you start classes in the middle of a game week, you're always a little bit apprehensive of what the results could be.
QUESTION #12: Bret, Travis Frederick got a ton of valuable reps during the fall, you know. And if Moffitt can't go this week, how confident are you that he's ready at such a mentally important position, at center?
BIELEMA: Well, I'm glad that he got a lot of reps in the spring, to be quite honest. You never know until it happens. Travis Frederick, because of the position he put himself in, which made us excited to recruit him, being the student he was, came in early and got all those reps in the spring. So those were critical. You know, those were critical for him to be able to step in this fall and make the calls he's making.
And for you that have interviewed Travis, you may think you're talking to a 50-year-old man. I mean, he's very well versed, very educated. Our guys make comments all the time, because when he just talks, he comes across as a very intelligent person, and he's handled that very well. I like the fact that during fall camp he's been able to handle that and kind of had a little bit of a valley there, and he rised back out of it, and has really put me in a position this week, I'm not hesitant to see him play, I'm excited to watch him play.
QUESTION #13: Do you think you'll play two middle linebackers, (Culmer) St. Jean and (Blake) Sorensen or what's the situation there?
BIELEMA: Yeah. I think we will play them, Tom. I slashed them, just like we did at quarterback. We expect to see both in the game. So when I tell you guys we treat every position the exact same, I'm telling you the truth. I think that, you know, Blake, the thing that he brings to the table, he brings us some depth at the mike linebacker. One, you know, disappointment, what Culmer's doing, what happened was, and I think it actually happened after you guys weren't in practice anymore. Leonard Hubbard stubbed his toe, and really wasn't able to practice all the way up until a little bit yesterday and full go today. So all the sudden we're depleted at the mike linebacker when we moved (Chris) Borland to the outside. And I thought Blake, with the experience he's brought at the outside, he might be just as good or even better at the inside, and then really felt with Jaevery (McFadden), with Mike Taylor, and Chris Borland, those three guys can give us some depth out at the outside linebacker position, and those two guys in the middle, which we felt might be able to give us the best winning combination.
QUESTION #14: How big an advantage is it to start your first four games here at Camp Randall where you guys have had so much success in your time as a coach?
BIELEMA: It's a big advantage, you know. But on the same account, it's all going to get down to who's the best team in Camp Randall on Saturday. We've had success. You guys know our record over the last, since I've been here. You know it's something our guys take a lot of pride in, so it's going to be something that hopefully is a good thing in the end, but on the same account, you know, there's certain players that actually do better when they're on the road because they don't have the stress or the feeling that they've got to perform at a certain level. But I think because of the comfort level and the guys that we do have returning, I expect good things to happen for us on Saturday.
QUESTION #15: This game was originally on the schedule to be played in DeKalb. Could you ever foresee a reason or a time in the schedule where you'd play a MAC school on their?
BIELEMA: Well, if I'm not mistaken, it was part of a multi-game package that, you know, involved a two for one, which they came here twice, maybe even three times. John (Chadima) or coach (Alvarez) might know that. But what began to happen is we really liked the idea of having the opportunity to play Northern Illinois at Soldier Field. So what we did is we made contact with them. They were already playing a game there this year in Soldier Field, if I'm not mistaken, and that's why the swing went to coming here this year and us going down there next year, because they could only do that one time per year in the way that they structured things, and that was the way we kind of just fell through.