Here's one of the best things about having 18 returning starters from a 10-win team: If you're the coach, you can allow several players to take their time recovering from offseason surgery.
Wisconsin enjoyed a productive spring session -- capped by a 25-3 Cardinal "victory" on April 17 in the scrimmage that capped the 15-practice schedule -- and accomplished it while such players as Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year John Clay and Big Ten Freshman of the Year Chris Borland watched from the sidelines.
Clay, who underwent surgery on both ankles after rushing for 1,517 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2009, and Borland, who forced five fumbles despite not earning a starting job until Week 8, are expected to be ready to go in plenty of time to help the Badgers chase their first BCS berth since the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, 2000. Center Peter Konz (blood clots in lungs), guard John Moffitt (hernia) and left tackle Gabe Carimi (knee surgery) are among the other starters who took it relatively easy during the spring in order to give it their all in the fall.
Despite Wisconsin's willingness to allow its standouts to heal, that didn't mean Bret Bielema relaxed his standards of excellence. The Badgers headed into their post-spring offseason with Bielema's blistering words in their ears. In particular, Bielema couldn't understand why his first-team offense managed just 246 total yards in 65 snaps against the second-team defense in the Cardinal-White scrimmage. And, yes, he knew that the Badgers didn't have their best rusher (Clay) and their best receiver (Nick Toon) on the field.
"We need to be better than that come fall," senior quarterback Scott Tolzien told the Capital Times. "It's good for us to have a setback like that as long as we use it to our advantage and just realize there's a sense of urgency here. We've got to have a great offseason."
A great offseason medically as well as physically. If the Badgers accomplish that, then they'll be one of the favorites to win the Big Ten title.NOTES, QUOTES
--If you look at the Football Bowl Subdivision statistics from 2009, there's not much separating Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram from Wisconsin junior tailback John Clay.
Ingram, the Alabama junior-to-be, finished 11th nationally in rushing yards per game (118.4) last fall and delivered 17 touchdowns in 271 carries. Clay finished 12th in rushing yards per game (116.7) while posting 18 touchdowns in 287 carries. Clay enters his redshirt junior year with 2,401 career yards and 27 touchdowns in 442 carries.
--Right tackle Josh Oglesby entered Wisconsin as the No. 1-ranked offensive lineman in the country. Oglesby started most of the 2009 season and still has two years of eligibility to go, but head coach Bret Bielema apparently thinks Oglesby needs to start increasing his rate of improvement. He didn't perform well during the April 17 spring game. "Josh Oglesby isn't close to being where he needs to be as a right tackle to win in this league with consistency," Bielema told Madison.com after the game.
DE Louis Nzegwu -- Wisconsin needs someone to fill first-team all-Big Ten DE O'Brien Schofield's pass-rushing shoes. Enter this 6-foot-4, 247-pound redshirt junior who made his prep reputation as a running back. Nzegwu, who posted 3.5 sacks last year in limited play, rang up 3 sacks in the Cardinal-White spring game alone.
G Bill Nagy -- The fifth-year senior was supposed to step into the starting lineup last year, but a nagging foot injury left him on the sidelines when the Badgers solidified their line and he didn't see much action. During spring ball, though, the scenario reversed itself and Nagy took advantage of some teammates' injuries to prove he can start for a Big Ten contender.
DT Jordan Kohout -- The redshirt freshman from Waupun, Wis., graduated from high school a semester early to get a jump-start on his promising career. Kohout didn't play last fall, but the 6-foot-3, 292-pounder used the spring to gain control of one of the open tackle spots.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We were real strong in the red zone last year, and I think that's one thing that we need to keep consistent going into next year. That was a disappointment, not being able to finish drives." -- Wisconsin tight end Lance Kendricks, one of 10 returning starters on offense, discussing his unit's poor effort inside the 20-yard line during the Cardinal-White game that capped spring ball.STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 OUTLOOK: Wisconsin took a giant mental leap forward when it capped the 2009 season with a convincing victory over Miami (Fla.) in the Champs Sports Bowl. With 10 starters back from the Big Ten's most prolific offense (31.8 ppg; 416.9 ypg), the Badgers have the firepower to give a relatively untested defensive line and secondary some time to adjust. Wisconsin has a few intriguing non-conference matchups (Sept. 4 at UNLV; Sept. 18 vs. Arizona State) that ought to provide good tests leading into the Big Ten opener at Michigan State.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Junior tailback John Clay spent the spring on the sidelines after undergoing surgery on both ankles, but that figures to make the reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year healthier than last season when he managed 1,517 yards and 18 scores. Clay's powerful presence in the backfield allows Wisconsin's play-action attack some room to post big gainers. Senior QB Scott Tolzien's favorite targets are WR Nick Toon (54 catches, 805 yards, 4 TDs) and TE Lance Kendricks (29 catches, 356 yards, 3 TDs). The Badgers also have four potential all-conference linemen with G/C John Moffitt leading the way.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: After breaking down in the Big Ten finale at Northwestern, the Badgers' 4-3 defense stepped forward and surrendered a combined 24 points in wins over Hawaii and Miami. OLB Chris Borland (5 sacks, 5 forced fumbles) and DE J.J. Watt (4.5 sacks) are the leading playmakers in the front seven while third-year safety Jay Valai and CB Devin Smith lead a secondary that wasn't always consistent in 2009. If the Badgers find some gold nuggets among their inexperienced defensive tackles, they can repeat last year's rushing defense crown (88.2 ypg).
SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS: Kicker Philip Welch and punter Brad Nortman are back for their third years as the starters. Welch overcame a bad early patch to convert 9 of his last 10 field goals in 2009 while Nortman owns a solid 41.9-yard career average. Double-duty senior David Gilreath ranked among the upper half of Big Ten returners in both categories and broke loose for a TD punt return against Northwestern.
QB Jon Budmayr -- The redshirt freshman is in the midst of his second spring practice (he graduated early from high school) and has been thrust into the spotlight with Curt Phillips' ACL injury. At the minimum, Budmayr figures to be Scott Tolzien's top backup when the season starts.
DL Tyler Dippel -- The redshirt freshman from Slinger, Wis., has a chance to battle his way into a role at either end or tackle. He doesn't yet have the weight to move inside, but he has the frame and the Badgers have bigger issues at tackle than end.
TE Brian Wozniak -- With stalwarts Garrett Graham and Mickey Turner having been graduated, the Badgers need a few good men to fulfill their usual complement of tight ends. Wozniak was highly regarded coming out of Loveland (Ohio) High School and appears to be a dual-threat type.
--TB John Clay, the Big Ten's Offensive Player of the Year, did not participate in spring drills after undergoing ankle surgery. He's expected to be fine for fall drills, if not all of the "voluntary" summertime work.
--OLBs Chris Borland (offseason shoulder surgery) and Mike Taylor (ACL surgery during last season) also sat out spring ball. They should be good to go for the 2010 season.
--Backup QB Curt Phillips tore the ACL in his right knee March 20 during a scrimmage. His availability for the 2010 season is uncertain, though it seems unlikely he'll be ready for the Sept. 4 opener against UNLV. Phillips spent all of last year as Scott Tolzien's top backup, so his injury gives redshirt freshman Jon Budmayr the chance to be the second-stringer.
--WR Kraig Appleton, who showed promise down the stretch of his true freshman season, is off the team and out of school, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, for "violation of team rules."
LB Nick Hill and DE Shelby Harris, who also were suspended as part of the same incident, missed spring ball but have a chance to return to the team.
Previous Report: 04/28/2010