As spring football approaches, excitement abounds

first_imgMegan McCormick/The Badger HeraldBret Bielema and the Wisconsin Badgers are set for the start of spring football, but UW’s head coach revealed Monday that Nick Toon won’t be able to participate.The soon-to-be senior wide receiver has a fractured foot and will miss spring practices after undergoing surgery. Toon is expected to be at full strength for fall camp.The unfortunate injury to Toon – UW’s most experienced wideout – hurts the Badgers’ already limited depth at the wide receiver position, but younger players like Jeff Duckworth and Marquis Mason will see valuable reps in Toon’s absence.In addition, Manasseh Garner, who played some wide receiver as a freshman last season, has been moved to tight end.True freshmen impressing earlyWide receiver Kenzel Doe and preferred walk-on quarterback Joel Stave were the only two incoming recruits to enroll a semester early, and that decision appears to be paying early dividends.Doe – a 5-foot-8 wideout from Reidsville. N.C., ?- was barely recruited by major college programs, but Bielema and the coaching staff have been impressed with the tremendous athleticism they’ve seen out of Doe so far.“He was under-recruited and did not have a Division I offer coming out of high school. He came to our camp and we fell in love with him,” Bielema said of Doe, who could start as the kick and punt return specialist for UW. “He’s pretty firmed up. Physically, some of the stuff he has been able to do in winter conditioning has been off the charts. We’re really excited to see him once we put the pads on.”Stave, on the other hand, has turned heads as the lone newcomer at quarterback in this class. Standing at 6-foot-5 and more than 200 pounds, Stave seems to have made the UW coaching staff feel better about its quarterback situation after losing out on blue-chip signal caller Jacoby Brissett late in the recruiting cycle.“He’s kind of just dazzled us,” Bielema said. “Just skyrocketed on our charts from a quarterback perspective.”Defense could be betterWith a number of losses on the defensive side of the ball, many have wondered if the new-look UW defense will take a step backward.But Bielema insisted this unit has the potential to be even stronger in 2011.“We have a chance to improve,” Bielema said. “We lost a phenomenal player in J.J. Watt and a couple great role players … but I think, overall, if we play our cards right and guys continue to make improvements, defensively we might have a chance to be better.”David Gilbert and Pat Muldoon are expected to see significant playing time at defensive end in Watt’s absence.With Chris Borland eventually moving to middle linebacker when he is healthy, Kevin Claxton is currently in position to start at outside linebacker along with Mike Taylor.Bielema also noted Shelton Johnson is the early leader to replace Jay Valai at strong safety due to his game experience.Several veterans primed for big seasonsMontee Ball ran wild for the Badgers down the stretch last year and according to Bielema, the running back has been hard at work in the offseason to build on that success.“Montee is down probably 10 or 12 pounds. He looks very quick and agile in everything that he’s doing,” Bielema said. “He’s taken a huge step physically.”The man blocking for Ball – fullback Bradie Ewing ?- also caught the eye of Bielema based on his tenacity and consistency last season. In his final spring camp, Bielema believes Ewing could wind up being a truly elite fullback.“Bradie Ewing was playing about as good of football as I’ve witnessed at the fullback position and I think he’s continued to make steps forward,” Bielema said.But the man the UW staff is most anxious to see in pads is offensive lineman Travis Frederick.The 6-foot-4, 326-pound lineman showed great potential with some early playing time as a true freshman two years ago, but redshirted last season due to UW’s great depth along the offensive line. Now, Frederick is primed to take over for John Moffitt at left guard and make an impact as a redshirt sophomore.“I don’t think there is a guy in our program that our coaches are more excited to watch than Travis,” Bielema said. “He is our strongest pound-for-pound player.”Bielema loving the BruiserRight before he wrapped up his press conference, Bielema spoke about his admiration for Bo Ryan and the UW basketball team after their advancement to the Sweet 16.Sophomore Mike Bruesewitz has been playing extremely well for Ryan on the hardwood, but Bielema sure wouldn’t mind seeing the scrappy forward suit up for the football team.“I want to slap the redhead [Bruesewitz] in a tight end jersey so bad,” Bielema said with a smile.last_img

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