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MADISON - In front of a big group of kids from the Boys and Girls Club, Wisconsin football ended its second week of fall camp by going through a 44-play scrimmage that gave Badgers coach Bret Bielema plenty to discuss heading into a big personnel meeting on Sunday.
“Any time you go good against good, you know you're going to have success and you're going to have failure," said Bielema. "The key is how they respond and I thought throughout the course of the day, guys that maybe had plays they wish they could have back came back and did some good things, especially at the quarterback position.
“I think all three of those guys ended up on positive notes, going to have some plays they wish they had back but you guys probably saw what we had seen all camp, both of them at times played very, very well.
“I think overall, at running back, obviously when Montee (Ball) gets back it's going to be a different story, but very excited about what Melvin (Gordon) did today and James (White) and even Vonte (Jackson) got in the mix there a little bit.
“I thought overall, at wide receiver and tight end position, the main two deep guys caught the ball very well today, especially some deep balls, which was encouraging because that hasn't always been the case to this point.
“Defensively, when you get Chris Borland and Mike Taylor taken out of there - Chris played the beginning part of the scrimmage - as you start taking out some key guys like that, things start to go a little bit south, but I was really happy with what they did.”
Traditionally opening the scrimmage to the media, Bielema said he wanted the players to hear the coaches’ feedback on how they performed rather than read about it from the media’s perspective.
“I think the interruption of what you guys see and the reality of what we really believe as coaches, it gets lost in between there,” said Bielema. “That’s really what it is. Our job as coaches is to evaluate talent and put them in the position they need to be. Sometimes, I don’t want outside (influence) coming into it.”
There were no significant injuries Bielema reported from the scrimmage, other than junior defensive end David Gilbert strained his oblique and junior linebacker A.J. Fenton has been sidelined with some back irritation.
While he still might wait until Wednesday to announce his starting quarterback, Bielema admitted that he already has an idea of who he is going to pick as the team’s starting signal caller.
“During the course of the week and going through today, I know where it’s going,” said Bielema. “The numbers are very similar, but there are things that jump out that are big. For us to have success at Wisconsin, our running back is going to be more than adequate. I think we’ll piece together our throwing game … I think we just have to have somebody to manage that whole situation as best as possible.
“You get the right guy the whole thing goes in the right director. That right person could make that whole group special.”
Bielema said two of the factors in the decision would be ball security and maturity. That makes junior quarterback Danny O’Brien the overwhelming favorite, as he’s thrown just one interception through Friday in camp drills and started 17 games. The rest of the quarterbacks on the roster have yet to make a start.
“I think the part that Danny brings to the table is he learns very quickly,” said Bielema. “He’s in a new system, kind of, but he hasn’t been it any longer than the two other guys. The thing with Danny probably is that he’s started a number of games. That preparation factor, you can kind of see it.”
One quarterback that won’t figure into any future quarterback competition at Wisconsin is redshirt sophomore Joe Brennan. After struggling in the spring with his play and telling the coaching staff he wanted to look at his options, Brennan has informed Bielema what school he is planning on transferring to. Bielema didn’t know if he could comment on that decision.
Bielema also announced that redshirt freshman Joel Stave is now on scholarship, something that was scheduled before Brennan made his decision to seek a change of scenery.
Strong tight end depth
Next to the running backs, Wisconsin’s tight end corps might be the strongest and deepest on the offense.
"I think I probably have three tight ends, right now, better than I've ever had here,” said Bielema. “I am not saying one is better than the other and I am not saying one is better than all the guys that have come (before), but the group of those three (is) very special between Brian Wozniak, Jacob Pedersen and Sam Arneson.
“Austin Traylor and Brock DeCicco are right there. Brock Decicco has brought a lot to the table the last two weeks that I didn’t really see coming until now."
That’s one of the main reasons why Bielema isn’t too worried about Arneson being out ‘up to five days’ after undergoing a minor knee procedure in the next couple days.
No linebacker worries
With the Badgers going through nine practices over the last six days, Wisconsin has limited the pitch count of linebackers Ethan Armstrong, Borland and Taylor due to the fact the trio have all undergone serious surgeries over the last two years. Taylor also has been limited this past week with mild tightness in his hamstring and didn’t scrimmage, which has caused the starting three linebackers to rarely be on the field at the same time together. According to Bielema, that’s the least of his concerns.
“I saw in the first week, and that’s why it’s not a concern,” said Bielema. “It’s very tough on an offense when those guys are playing well and at 100 percent.”
Bielema mentioned that Borland is getting better with every repetition with his ability to read and react and that sophomore Derek Landisch is the early favorite to replace Taylor at the weakside linebacker next season. Landisch also is the team’s next best middle and strongside linebacker, according to Bielema.
On which true freshman might play this season
"I think we came in today with the thought, Reggie Love, Dan Voltz, Vonte Jackson … I think that's it on offense. On defense, Reggie Mitchell is a guy we thought of a little bit. Vince Biegel we had but we don't know where he's going to be coming back going forward. That’s about it other than Jack Russell on special teams.
“There are a couple kids we feel might be valuable enough to play them on all four phases of the kicking game. They might be in a reserve role on offense or defense that you might be able to add to that mix.
“I do like Vonte on special teams. I think he's a good athlete. I think he's got the ability to do a lot of different things. He’s going to be really happy once we tell him he can take that knee brace off."
Extra Points: Bielema canceled the team’s last double-day practice, which was scheduled for Monday … Bielema said Taylor Mehlhaff was one of the first people in his ear telling him about Russell’s abilities, who is still in the mix for the starting field goal/extra point job … Bielema said the Badgers’ evening practices this week, which were closed to the media, allowed them to put some ‘wrinkles’ into the playbook.