Wisconsin Head Coach Bret Bielema met with the media Monday afternoon to discuss the first two practices of the spring.
Badgers off to a great start
Bielema says he's been very pleased with the first two practices of the spring.
"Our first two days of practice were actually kind of a shock to me, just as clean and as efficient as they were," Bielema said. "I've always kind of taken a lot of pride in how we practice here, and we get a lot of compliments when we have different people come in, different NFL former coaches, etc., but the way these guys have practiced the first two days has been exceptional.
"For as many new coaches as we have out there, different terminology, some different things, this has probably been as good as we've ever had here through the first two days.
"So that really jumped out to me. A number of guys have made some progress off the field, just their body types and physical development, and that's really shown up.
"But excited for tomorrow, because tomorrow will be the first day we're going in half pads with shoulder pads on. It's been helmets only to this point, so been kind of limited."
Costigan, McNamara change sides of the ball
Sophomore's Kyle Costigan and Joe McNamara will move to the offensive line.
"Thought that they from the time we recruited them, Costy was a guy that we brought in fully expecting to play offensive line," said Bielema. "I know back when I made the transition, it wasn't very popular with coach (Paul) Chryst and coach (Bob) Bostad. They wanted to keep Costy there, but I really felt he had a chance to get on the field quicker and was doing a lot of nice things there.
"Probably helped us transition now more than ever, because he did become a little bit more fast-twitch and really began to move a lot better than I ever thought he was going to be able to do.
"So, Costy, I just wanted to give him an opportunity to get on the field. He was kind of getting buried there with, he was the same age as some of those guys that are playing a lot for us.
"And then Joe McNamara, I remember first getting a call from Charlie Partridge, he was on the high school field watching him play offensive line and projected him as a defensive lineman.
"And we just want to give him that opportunity again, was getting buried on the depth chart a little bit and had an opportunity to join the O-line."
Freshman still going strong
Bielema continues to be impressed with all three early enrolees this off-season.
"I can't say enough positive things about Dan Voltz, a guy that from the recruiting process to where we are today, has never been anything but a highlight for us, really does a nice job of whatever you say," Bielema explained. "Whatever coach (Mike) Markuson says to him, he better say it the way he wants it the first time, because that's the way you're going to get it every time after that.
"He's very detail-oriented. Probably one of the more gifted O-linemen since I've been here that I've ever seen come in and handle things so well from the get go. He's going to be a very, very good football player for us, either at the center or guard position.
"Vonte Jackson has gone from, I believe, 181 (pounds) to like 198. He's put on almost close to 20 pounds since coming in and looks great. He's just limited because of the ACL (injury), but he is a very, very good football player that we're excited about.
"And then Hugs Etienne is probably the most underdeveloped of the three of them. Hugs came to us and has put on a lot of weight. It's been a culture shock; his mom and dad are both Haitian. He comes from an environment that Wisconsin is, as good as we've had weather-wise here, it's still a lot different from the environment he came from.
"But he has really kind of opened my eyes, done a nice job during the winter conditioning, has been really good through these first two practices."
Mason opening eyes
Sophomore wide receiver Marquis Mason has been the most improved player this off-season according to Bielema.
"I would say out of -- we're looking at a roster of 98 kids right now -- nobody made a bigger jump, in my opinion, in a certain couple areas from Thursday to Tuesday as Marquis," Bielema stated. "I mean, he made a couple nice catches last Thursday, but he's playing the old high school ball with a ball out here. And he's got such big mitts.
"I remember the first (day), at the beginning of practice, we do this thing called pat-and-go. And I just kind of was standing there. I was watching everybody kind of move around, and all the sudden this big body ran in front of me. And the ball was behind him, and he just reached back with this left hand, caught it in mid-air, did a complete 360 and took off running. Didn't put his other hand on it.
"He's so freaky athletically. He’s, basically, a full year removed from the ACL (surgery), and he's a kid that I think had to battle through a lot upstairs as well as with his knee. Those basketball guys … you've got to take your time with them. And we brought that mentality."
Borland gaining weight, strength
Bielema says Linebacker Chris Borland is in great physical shape.
"He looks thick," Bielema said. "I asked him the same thing. I don't think we'd want him much over 250, but I tell you what, he popped in there on Thursday in between the tackles. I mean, he is as gifted as he's ever been, just the way he can move around, hop around.
"And the thing that it makes up for because of the shoulder history he's had, the more girth he can have around that shoulder, I think, really makes him feel comfortable and as long as he hasn't lost anything speed-wise.
"His power and his explosion, you guys have seen it. I mean you take for instance that Michigan State play in the Big Ten championship game where he hits that kid, and that helmet goes completely (off), I mean, he didn't even hit him in the head. He hit him in the body. But the force that drove that helmet off that kid's head is kind of spooky.
"I think there's an Indiana play where a guard came up in there and tried to fill, and he kind of snapped his hips and hit that kid so hard the ball went flying up in there air. I mean, he's got a unique ability to create a large amount of force in a short amount of time and in a small, restricted area that is unprecedented, for me, as a coach, to see."
Brennan, Stave trying to take the next step
Bielema is still waiting to see a few things from his two healthy quarterbacks this spring.
"I think, with our quarterbacks. I just want to see that composure in the huddle, being able to communicate," said Bielema. "And that's been outstanding. I think both of them, even the players around them, have noticed that right away going into the first practice last Thursday.
"And then the second thing is just post-snap reads and reactions. Obviously if we're running a run play, there's not much to it. They know where it's going. They know how to hand it off and let everything else happen. We'll do some adjustments at the line of scrimmage, whether it's going right or left like we've always done.
"But in the passing game, being able to recognize pre-snap what the coverage is, being able to execute post-snap (with) decision making, and both of them have been outstanding. I believe we're looking at over a 70-percent completion percentage through two practices, which we've never been at that level with those kind of quarterbacks at this point through two practices, so it's been pretty amazing to me."
Good news for Budmayr
Quarterback Jon Budmayr is closer to solving his elbow issues.
"Jon Budmayr got a little bit of good news last week," Bielema explained. "At the end of the week, he got some indication of what they feel might be the problem. He's actually at the Mayo Clinic this week getting some second opinions for him to move forward and, hopefully, be on the right path there for him."
- Chris Borland tweaked his hamstring in winter conditioning, but has been practicing well.
- Ethan Armstrong, will not participate at all this spring, or in the summer.
- Bielema says Devin Smith is 'real close' to returning. Bielema expects Smith to be back sometime after Spring Break.
- Jared Abbrederis has been restricted in his activities thus far. Bielema also expects him to be 100% after Spring Break.
- Dallas Lewallen is still limited because of a knee injury. Bielema expects him to participate fully in summer workouts however.
- Curt Phillips has been involved 'moderately' in throwing during spring practices thus far according to Bielema. Bielema says Phillips continues to make good strides.