MADISON - While Friday was the first day in full pads, Wisconsin Head Coach Bret Bielema will no more about his team in the next 24 hours.
Stuck inside because of thunderstorms rolling through the area, Wisconsin eased off in preparation for its first double day, which also will included the team's first full scale scrimmage of the fall.
"It's a great indicator of where we are at," Bielema said Friday about tomorrow's scrimmage. "The guys have been grinding this week. It's been very, very hot. Yesterday was a very hot practice and guys just pushed through it. Nobody bailed out or slouched on any work. We haven't had any cramping or heat things that have come up. That shows me that guys are taking care of their business here and away from here."
Tomorrow's scrimmage will be involve game-like situations, including first-and-10, moving from first down to second down, third down sets, red zone sets and a move-the-ball segment.
"It's going to be all kinds of football," Bielema said. "It'll going to be great learning and hopefully a lot to learn."
The scrimmage will also be a good gauge for Bielema to see if his offense is ahead of the pace, a group that returns 10 starters and has depth at offensive line, running back and wide receiver.
"We won't really know until the bullets are flying," Bielema said. "I would say yesterday that our defense had a little bit of an edge on them in some of the team work. It kind of flipped today in the middle of practice. Hopefully we'll be pretty good on both sides."
When asked how physical he expects tomorrow's first double day to be, Bielema didn't sugarcoat.
"It'll be physical," Bielema said. "It's what we do."
Bielema and his staff know full well how concussion can impact a player and his performance. Senior Kyle Jefferson has received multiple concussions throughout his tenure at Wisconsin, including one so violent that he had to be carted off the field on an ambulance, and has seen his numbers slip since his freshman year.
A new policy instituted by the NCAA requires student athletes to sign a waiver after receiving education about concussions. The waiver explains to athletes they are expected to be open and honest about their symptoms regarding head injuries to aid diagnosis and treatment of concussions.
"We have to educate our kids, which is the biggest change I have seen in the last three years," Bielema said. "There used to be the old-school thinking that if you get your head rattled, you try to tough it out or not tell anybody. We really stress to our kids that the only thing you can do is hurt yourself if you hold back information."
The NCAA has made sure coaches take care of their kids, as well, instituting a rule that if a player is hurt and tries to go to the sideline, forcing the team to call a timeout or receive a stoppage in play, that player can't go back immediately.
"I think they (NCAA) are doing a lot more to protect our players than the regular way of doing things," Bielema said.
Confidence on the Line
With O'Brien Schofield headed to the NFL, junior defensive end J.J. Watt was the natural player to fit the leadership role on the defensive line. Not only did Watt finished second on team in TFLs (15.5-53), pass breakups (5) and fumble recoveries (2) and third in sacks (4.5-19), he brings back the most starts (13) than all the other linemen combined.
From the coach's standpoint, Watt has embraced that role, along with the fact that he's worked constantly to get bigger, faster and stronger than he was a year ago.
"He's more comfortable in his surroundings," Bielema said. "He knows it's on him now. He had OB last year to lead the way, but a lot of those things are around him now. I think him and Jay Valai on the back end have been exceptional."
To get the system of having three defensive tackles and three defensive ends working in the rotation, Bielema acknowledged that the next three weeks are vital, including with junior end Louis Nzegwu and sophomore David Gilbert.
"Louis has continued to grow, David has continued to grow and not to defer the question, tomorrow will be a big day," Bielema said. "The bullets are going to be flying and both want to have that spot. The thing I like is both have improved their weaknesses the best. They really have come full circle from where they were a year ago at this point."
From the Infirmary
Unlike it past camps, Bielema has spent very little time worrying about injuries for the simple point that nobody on the Badgers' roster has incurred any significant or battled any lingering injuries.
"We've been very fortunate to not have any significant issues," Bielema said.
The only problem that has come up is that sophomore linebacker Mike Taylor has had a setback with his surgically repaired knee, which occurred during the Iowa game in week seven last season.
Bielema wouldn't go into the specifics of the injury other to say that the doctor's appointment wasn't routine and Taylor wouldn't scrimmage tomorrow.
"It's still a work in progress," Taylor said. "Whether he plays next week is kind of up in the air right now. I don't have all the information yet."
As expected, X-rays on the defensive tackle Jordan Kohout's left knee was negative, meaning the redshirt freshman will be back by the middle of next week at the latest. In Kohout's absence, freshmen Beau Allen, Kyle Costigan and Ethan Hemer along with sophomore Eriks Briedis will see reps.
"Tomorrow, you really hope some of those guys separate themselves and merit getting a lot of the reps," Bielema said.
Extra Points: Without a true fullback on its roster and senior Mickey Turner having graduated, UW has been looking at junior Bradie Ewing, sophomore Zac Davison or incoming freshman Sherard Cadogan to fit in …Bielema acknowledged that he believes incoming freshmen running backs Jeff Lewis and James White can definitely help the team.