Although the original intent was to have a scrimmage before taking the break but due to dwindling numbers at certain positions, Bielema elected to do 11-on-11 and individual work to fully take advantage of the time.
"For the most part, I thought the guys have really competed well (with) good energy, good excitement," he said. "After break, we'll hopefully have a good week that first week and our next big scrimmage will be Saturday the 10th."
Although the Badgers will be disrupting their flow by the time off, Wisconsin will hopefully be able to get back Niles Brinkley (hamstring), Brendan Kelly, Culmer St. Jean (knee) right away, get John Moffitt (hernia surgery) back the final week of spring camp and possibly Brian Wozniak (strained MCL).
Carimi Back in Action
Ahead of schedule, Carimi participated in his first full practice of the spring with the number one offense.
"I admire him," Bielema said. "I know it's been eating at him not to be out here. Gabe's built himself to what he is because of practice. I think he knew he wanted to get out here. I think he kind of surprised himself. He got out here Tuesday, did drills and really felt good. Today we popped him in there and he got after it."
And by got after it, Bielema ironically referred to a number of spirited altercations involving No.68. Pulling out to seal Marcus Cromarite on a sweep, Carimi (who has 130 pounds and two more years experience on the cornerback) drove Cromarite well into the sidelines, but the extra little push he gave at the end didn't sit well with the beaten cornerback. Cromartie gave Carimi a shove (the left tackle didn't move) and a shoving match ensued before Cromatrie eventually wised up and retreated.
Later in practice, Carimi and J.J. Watt were tangled up in a wrestling match on the turf, a square off that eventually escalated when senior Bill Nagy came in for an added shove on Watt. Watt's helmet eventually came off and into the hands of Carimi, who tossed it five yards down the field.
"I had to go down (to the locker room) and make them kiss and make up," Bielema joked. "I'll never forget my first year, Joe Thomas and Joe Monty went right at it right in the middle of a practice. I just came over and asked Joe Thomas what that was all about. He goes, "It needed to happen." I said, "OK." Sometimes, they are better off doing that stuff."
Battle of a Different Kind
While Watt is a natural selection to reprise the defensive end role he performed so well in a season ago, Bielema and staff are looking at the competition between sophomore David Gilbert and junior Louis Nzegwu opposite Watt, arguably the biggest position battle at camp.
"A great competition we have going right now is those two kids," Bielema said. "Both of them have made dramatic strides physically obviously, but also with just the details of what Coach Partridge is (telling) them."
With O'Brien Schofield out of the program following his senior season, taking with him is 62 tackles (43 solos), 24.5 tackles for loss and his 12 sacks with him. While Nzegwu lost valuable time with his MCL injury last spring and missed three games at the beginning of the season with a shoulder injury. Now over the past six months, it's evident that Nzegwu has bought into the system, a product perhaps of backing up Schofield for a season.
"I think it might be an OB factor," Bielema said. "I think (Louis) was around and he saw the transformation that happened there … I think he's kind of wanted to take that step, wanted to take that step and kept getting knocked down. Louis is a great kid and I'm excited to watch him and David over the next two weeks. They compete in everything."
Senior quarterback Scott Tolzien went 7-of-13 during 7-on-7 drills, 4-of-6 during 11-on-11 drills and couldn't lead his team to a red-zone touchdown. During Tolzien's one red-zone drill with the number one offense, the Badgers went three and out, as a tackle for loss and a sack by Nzegwu eliminated any hope for a touchdown.
Sophomore quarterback Jon Budmayr went 3-of-7 during 7-on-7 drills, 3-on-3 during 11-on-11 drills and was solid in his two red-zone chances. On the first play from scrimmage, Budmayr hit Jeff Duckworth for an 18-yard touchdown pass. On the second series, Budmayr let Kyle Zuelger due the work. With Montee Ball sill limited with a shoulder injury, Zuelger, a walk-on defensive back, rushed for nine yards on second down and on third and one, rushed right yards for the touchdown. Is he, along with wide receiver Jared Abbrederis, Coach Paul Chryst's secret weapon?
"We'll see," he said with a smile.
Although times Warren Herring still looks like a freshman, the early enrollee from Belleville East looks like a Division 1 athlete. On a reverse, Herring didn't get sucked into the line of scrimmage, staying home on the edge and was in the right position to stop the wide receiver for a three-yard loss.
"He's right about where I thought he would be," Defensive Line Coach Charlie Partridge said. "When he shows up on some of those plays, that's when you know he's an athlete. Fundamentally, the thing is at this level at the defensive line position, if you step a couple of inches out of position against these o-linemen, you are done. It's over, and that's the lesson he's learning."
With Chris Borland and Mike Taylor recovering from surgeries and missing spring ball, the defensive coaches knew that young players would have the opportunity to fill the void. One of those young players taking advantage is junior Kevin Rouse. A solid linebacker with deceptive speed, Rouse showed his wheels covering Zach Brown out of the backfield on a flair route. Rouse sealed him toward the sidelined and never let him have a chance to make a break on the ball.
Later in practice, Rouse registered a tackle for loss on Brown in the redzone and split through the offensive line on a blitz to register a sack on Tolzien to put the offense in a tough spot on a potential scoring drive.
"He's fun to watch," Defensive Coordinator Dave Doeren said of Rouse. "I just told him that he has had the best eight practices he's had since he's been a Badger. He's nowhere near what winning football is for us right now. He's got to be better, but he's finally healthy and understanding the scheme."
No interceptions thrown Thursday, but Kevin Claxton took advantaged of Duckworth not putting two hands on the ball. After making a catch on a slant route, Duckworth turned up field but Claxton poked the ball out from behind and right into the hands of Aaron Henry for a fumble recovery for the defense.
The sidelines were packed Thursday as Wisconsin brought in members of the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association (WFCA) for a clinic and to observe practice. Currently, only Florida and Texas have spring football at the high school level, but what Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois have, according to Bielema, is a practice in pads during the summer, giving kids the opportunity to work. UW can't recruit during that time frame of the summer but can recruit during Florida and Texas' spring ball.
Bielema on Ash
First, I think Chris, the reason I was very interested in him is he's a great teacher. He really is specific, detailed, the stuff he puts in my box … he's just that kind of guy. I really like the way the kids have responded to him. Certain guys that are really good listeners are making bigger gains than others. Guys like Antonio Fenelus and Aaron Henry, two guys at different positions, but have really made huge jumps in these first eight practices. Obviously they've got to do it, but somebody has got to tell them."
Bielema on Rudolph
"The recruiting coordinator, first off, needs to have a good big-picture view. I think for us at Wisconsin, there's nobody better on our staff than Joe. He's a guy that I've been impressed with everyday since I have been around him. He's already changed some things that make you take notice. He's very good at the details. A lot of your better recruiters … obviously you need to have a great personality, but being able to follow through and do things … a lot of people talk about what they are going to do and never do it, Joe Rudolph does it everyday. It's just amazing to me how much an effect he's had on us and recruiting and I want that to carry over to all of us.
Can you elaborate on those things?
It sounds simple, but we had a note system about writing personal notes. It's very apparent in the last two recruiting classes that the parents after their kids sign will talk about the personal touch we have here and that's personal notes. It's not email, it's not electronically produced big pictures and flashy stuff. It's just meat and potatoes. We've always done notes but for instance, if we were going to write (you) today, we write four things to hit on, things he knows from talking to the recruiting coaches, families, academics, whatever it is, instead of just writing a general note. To me, that makes sense. We straw polled our signees and our parents to find out what was good about the recruiting process not only at Wisconsin, but something they saw good at another place. And he really just knows the history here, which makes it a benefit for us.
Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema -