Spring will be in the air at Camp Randall Stadium Saturday as the Wisconsin football team officially takes the field for the first time in 2010 for the annual Cardinal and White scrimmage. Nearly five weeks have passed since the Badgers opened their spring practice sessions, and suffice it to say, the players have been chomping at the bit to give fans a sneak preview of a team expected to contend for a Big Ten title and Rose Bowl berth in the 2010 season.
""We had a great season last year and being off for so long, you're eager to play in front of a crowd,"" senior linebacker Culmer St. Jean said. ""We're playing against the same team and the same people, but it's always fun to play in front of a crowd and show what you got.""
The first-string offense and defense make up the Cardinal team and will play against the second stringers on the White squad. The play of the revamped Wisconsin defense, while it will be without sophomore linebackers Chris Borland and Mike Taylor, will be the main source of intrigue given the loss of five starters, including defensive end O'Brien Schofield and safety Chris Maragos.
Replacing Maragos is senior Aaron Henry, who converted from cornerback in the middle of last season and struggled to adapt to the intricacies of the new position. Henry credited fellow senior safety Jay Valai for helping him better understand his calls and technique and said his comfort at the position has risen drastically since last season.
""I think spring is a time to come out here and work on your technique, but this is where you're going to see the majority of your improvement,"" Henry said. ""[Saturday] is definitely a chance for everybody to show what they've been doing all spring.""
There are plenty of questions about a secondary that surrendered 217 passing yards per game last season and was badly exposed in losses to Iowa and Northwestern. On top of that, defensive backs coach Kerry Cooks left this offseason to join Brian Kelly's staff at Notre Dame. But his replacement, Chris Ash, brings impressive credentials from Iowa State and has young talent to work with considering starting cornerbacks Devin Smith and Antonio Fenelus will only be juniors this fall. Another cornerback to keep an eye on is redshirt freshman Marcus Cromartie, who had two interceptions in last weekend's practice and may earn some meaningful reps this fall.
One certainty is that the young secondary will be looking to the big-hitting Valai for leadership all year, something he's looking to show on Saturday.
""Being the old guy now, it's a little different teaching the young bucks,"" Valai said. ""It's just going to be great getting us out here on the field again, but first and foremost it's going to be fun having the fans here and giving them a show.""
Fans shouldn't expect to see Valai lay any serious wood in Saturday's game considering the team wants to avoid injuries at all cost. Also, running back Montee Ball is nursing a bruised shoulder and quarterbacks Scott Tolzien and Jon Budmayr will be wearing the green no-hit jerseys to avoid any further injuries to the position after redshirt sophomore Curt Phillips went down for the year with a torn ACL injury to his knee. Still, Valai said he won't back down from any player foolish enough to enter his domain.
""It's going to be fun,"" Valai said. ""You don't want to hurt anybody, but if it's you or me, you've got to be selfish on the football field.""