As the season changes from winter to spring the unseasonal sounds of football pads are beginning to fill the air.
The unique month-long period of football practices starting in late March and ending in late April granted by the NCAA gives college programs a chance to develop their team’s talent and cohesion. For Wisconsin football head coach Bret Bielema and the rest of the Badgers spring has been long awaited since a crushing 45-42 loss to Oregon in the Rose Bowl to end the 2010-’11 season. But despite the loss there has been no hangover for the Badgers as they begin spring practices.
“The way the guys have practiced the first two days has been exceptional,” Bielema said. “For as many new coaches as we have here, different terminology, other things being different, this is the best two days we’ve had here since I’ve been coach.”
Spring practice allows teams to develop players that will fill the roles that last year’s starters fulfilled. For Wisconsin it will be critical to find a replacement for departed quarterback Russell Wilson.
Expected to compete for the quarterback job in spring practice are redshirt freshmen Joel Stave, redshirt junior Jon Budmayr and redshirt senior Curt Philips. All have had questions trailing including Stave’s lack of leadership experience as a freshmen and Budmayr’s plague of injuries throughout his career. Despite the doubts, Bielema is confident that his quarterbacks can develop.
“I believe we are looking at a 70-percent completion percentage through two practices, which we’ve never been at that level before with those kind of quarterbacks,” Bielema said.
Also expected to compete once fall practice starts is incoming freshmen and highly touted four-star prospect Bart Houston from Concord, Calif.
Houston played his high school ball at nationally renowned De La Salle High School and won multiple section and state championships in the golden state. Houston is just one of an incoming recruiting class—a class that has continued a tradition of strong recruiting efforts during the Bielema era.
“One of the hardest things for me right now is we’ve come off two Big Ten championship seasons, and we can really do some nice things in recruiting,” Bielema said. “But I only have nine scholarships this year, so you really have to be detailed about who you’re offering, how you prioritize and where you prioritize guys.”
In the upcoming season, the high school football talent of Wisconsin that has led to the rise of the Badgers’ program will be tested by out of state programs this year. The limited number of scholarships that the Badgers have available to offer recruits will force Wisconsin to be more aggressive in targeting and getting the prospects they want.
“Here at Wisconsin, in-state recruiting is the heart and soul of what we do in our program,” Bielema said.
On the injury front, Badger fans have nothing to worry about at the all important running back position, as Heisman trophy finalist Montee Ball is as healthy as ever heading into this spring. Staying on the offensive side of the ball, redshirt junior Jared Abbrederis was described by Bielema as being “restricted” due to injury. On defense, the defensive front goes into spring healthy with the exception of redshirt junior Chris Borland, who tweaked a hamstring during winter workout.