As quickly as Bielema wanted to push a disastrous 08 season under the rug, the head coach doesn't want his returning players to be gushing over 10 wins and thoughts of being one of the top contenders for the conference championship.
"The bottom line is the players from last year need to improve and be better," Bielema said Wednesday. "I think we have seen that before if we don't make ourselves better even though we are coming back, it doesn't do anybody any good."
The year and the scenario Bielema is referring to is the 2007 season. After finished 12-1 in his first season (06) in 2006 and returned the bulk of its starters, the Badgers opened that season ranked No. 7 and climbed as high as No. 5 on two occasions. But after a 5-0 start, a rash of injuries contributed to a 9-4 finish and a No. 21 final ranking.
Still, there is reason for optimism, especially since the Badgers return 46 letterwinners and 26 players that were freshmen or sophomores listed on the final depth chart. Only six other teams had more underclassmen listed in their depth charts, and only Wisconsin was ranked. After beating Miami in the Champs Sports Bowl, the Badgers (10-3) will almost certainly open this season in the top 15.
"Our seniors had a meeting and (a Big Ten Championship) was brought up by them," Bielema said. "They've learned that you never skip a step with where you want to be. To get there, you have to put in the daily work. (Our seniors) want to do nothing but work on the day-to-day improvements to get to where they need to be at the end of spring ball.
"Because of what they've done, they realize (a championship) is obtainable but if you begin to think about it, you'll never get there."
Wisconsin opens the 2010 season on September 4 at Las Vegas against UNLV, but Bielema was quick to mention that Ohio State, Iowa and Northwestern (UW's three losses last season) all reappear on the schedule.
"Unless you win every ball game, you are never going to be satisfied," Bielema said. "If you truly are a great competitor, unless you win them all, you are always going to think about what you should have done."
Chris Ash will work with the defensive backs. Ash spent eight of the last 10 seasons at Iowa State, beginning as a defensive graduate assistant in 2000. He was promoted to secondary coach in 2002 and added the title of recruiting coordinator in 2006. Ash has ties to UW defensive coordinator Dave Doeren, defensive line coach Charlie Partridge and two other coaches with whom Bielema is quite familiar, Dan McCarney and Chuck Long.
"I've known Chris for a number of years. I really like the fit he has brought already to our staff and coaching up our players."
Greg Jackson coached Tulane's safeties, nickel backs and kickoff team in 2009; the linebackers in 2008; and the safeties and nickel backs in 2007. Jackson will fill the same recruiting area as Kerry Cooks (who now coaches linebackers at Notre Dame) by recruiting the East Coast.
It's a natural fit, seeing as Jackson was a third-round draft choice of the New York Giants in 1989 and was a member of the Giants' 1991 Super Bowl championship team. He also played with the Philadelphia Eagles for two seasons.
"He's had a lot of experience both playing wise and coaching with the nickel (formation), as well as linebackers and defensive backs. He'll assist on that side of the ball at all different positions as well as running a phase or two of the kicking game."
In addition to Jackson taking some special teams duties, Partridge, according to Bielema, will be the ‘lead dog' on punt team, while other coaches will take special teams roles throughout the spring. Bielema has coached special teams for the last two seasons with sub-standard results, as kickoff returns ranked ninth in the Big Ten Conference with a 19.6-yard average.
According to Bielema, John Clay (minor ankle surgery) will miss spring ball and should return on June 7th for summer drills. Clay has been doing pool conditioning at 5 a.m. four days a week, dedication and commitment that excites Bielema.
"Our goal for what we need out of John in the fall, we thought the best option for him is to get completely healthy," Bielema said. "Last year he was kind of limited in summer drills and felt that really affected his play early on. He got stronger as the season went on."
Also missing spring practice is Chris Borland (shoulder surgery), Peter Konz (heart, chest) and Mike Taylor (knee) should return by summer conditioning drills, as all are on schedule with their respective rehab.
Players that aren't expected to return until the second half of spring ball is Gabe Carimi (minor shoulder surgery), Zach Davison (tweaked ankle), Brendan Kelly (surgery five weeks ago) and John Moffitt (undisclosed procedure).
"One of the strengths of our team next year on paper is the returning experience of our offensive line," Bielema said. "That's going to be a positive thing in our light, and find out where those other guys are and get reps to the people that are behind them."
The Practice Slate
Wisconsin will have eight practices (from March 13 to March 25) before spring break going and seven after, culminating with the spring ball on April 17. Eleven of those practices, including the first eight, will be opened to the media. Look for practice reports when possible.
UW Pro Day
TE Garrett Graham, DT Jeff Stehle, DT Dan Moore, TE Mickey Turner, DB Chris Maragos and LB Jaevery McFadden worked out for approximately 10 NFL Scouts in the McClain Center Wednesday. DE O'Brien Schofield was also in attendance but did not participate in the workout.
Maragos ran a sub 4.5 40-yard dash and did 15 reps at 225 pounds on the bench. Stehle did 25, Turner did 16, McFadden did 20 and Moore led everybody with 29 reps.