MADISON –Over his tenure at Wisconsin, head coach Bret Bielema has had plenty of success moving players to different positions. He scored big with O’Brien Schofield, J.J. Watt and Ricky Wagner, to name a few, and it appears Bielema has done it again with redshirt freshman Derek Watt.
A believer that he needs to get his best players on the field anyway possible, Bielema moved Watt from linebacker (where he was buried on the depth chart) to the fullback position battle last Monday. In 10 days of practice, Watt has pushed himself to the top of the depth chart.
“Derek Watt, you can mark it down and I know his older brother did a lot of good things here,” said Bielema following Thursday’s practice, “but Derek Watt is going to be a phenomenal football player here at fullback.”
The fullback position was the one area on offense that lacked depth coming into the fall, as the only two players on the roster working at the position were redshirt sophomore Sherard Cadogan (a converted tight end) and redshirt freshman Derek Straus. Cadogan played in nine games last year and didn’t record any stats.
Utilizing Bradie Ewing at the position last season, Wisconsin running backs rushed for 2,927 yards and 41 touchdowns, signifying how important that role is to the Badgers’ offense.
“For him to be a freshman and doing what he’s doing at fullback is unbelievable,” said Bielema.
Wisconsin will release another depth chart Monday in preparation for next Saturday’s season opener against Northern Iowa, but even then the kicking competition might not be over.
Bielema said sophomore Kyle French has been ‘on fire’ during the latter portion of the week after being named the backup field goal/extra point kicker; a decision that evidently has lit a fire underneath him and forced the staff to take a closer look at the battle between French and true freshman Jack Russell.
“It could go down to Thursday who’s got the hot leg and who is performing well,” said Bielema. “The good news is both of them are kicking. I could see split duty.”
Bielema experienced this same uncertainty issue last season before the conference opener. With French holding down the kicking job through the nonconference season in place of the injured Philip Welch, the Badgers didn’t make a decision until pregame.
“French was the starter on Thursday and Friday,” Bielema said. “Just the way Phil was hitting the ball on Saturday, Charlie (Partridge) made the switch. Obviously it paid off for us.”
Next to the right guard position (which appears to be between Kyle Costigan, Zac Matthias and Dan Voltz), the kicking position seems the most fluid.
“It could be the exact opposite of what we released,” Bielema said, in regard to his initial two-deep. “It could be the exact same and it could be guys doing both. I’m going to go with what’s good.”
Garner to be reunited with Chryst
After being listed on Wisconsin’s initial two-deep roster for the season opener, Tuesday’s announcement that Manasseh Garner was transferring from the program came as quite the surprise.
In his first public comments since the announcement, Bielema said Garner, a Pittsburgh native, would transfer to Pittsburgh to play for head coach Paul Chryst, who served as Wisconsin's offensive coordinator from 2005-11 before taking Pitt's head coaching job during the offseason.
"He just has battled through a lot," Bielema said of Garner, who will have to sit out this upcoming season per NCAA rules. "He's got a baby back home, got some life issues that (he) needed to be closer to home, (which) is going to be a good thing for him.
"Manasseh was actually leaning toward maybe some FCS schools. I think I released him to 15 schools. I sat down with him. I talked with Coach Chryst and explained the best option in my opinion would be to go to a BCS school and sit out a year, get himself healthy and then have two years to play, so that's exactly what he's doing."
Bielema indicated that sophomore defensive back Jameson Wright, who also announced his transfer earlier this week, would attend school somewhere in his home state of Florida. Wright did not see any game action for the Badgers.
"The thing I admire about these kids that are moving on is they see themselves in a situation that they want to compete," Bielema said. "It's not like they're just sitting here occupying space and getting an education. They want to get on the field and compete, and I can't blame them for that."
Bielema also said that quarterback Joe Brennan would be transferring to Towson, a FCS school in Maryland.
- Junior Tyler Dippel was held out of practice all week while battling with a lingering plantar fascia injury. Bielema said he expects him to return for Sunday.
“He’s a guy that will have a plan throughout the course of the fall,” Bielema said. “He’ll practice Tuesday’s, maybe won’t go on Wednesday and go Thursday’s. He’s a guy that can really help us from the line of scrimmage.”
- There has been no change to Wisconsin’s depth chart concerning wide receivers, meaning Jared Abbrederis, Jordan Fredrick and Kenzel Doe would be the starters and Jeff Duckworth, Chase Hammond and A.J. Jordan are the reserves.
“We’re trying to find the six guys we can go to work with,” Bielema said. “Those six guys you feel pretty comfortable about. All of them kind of have their strengths. The thing Duckworth brings to the table is he knows all three (positions), along with Abby.”
-True freshman defensive tackle Arthur Goldberg suffered a concussion this week and hasn’t been able to get cleared to practice. Bielema and defensive line coach Charlie Partridge had mentioned Goldberg competing for playing time at the defensive tackle position prior to his injury.
- Sophomore Sam Arneson continues to recover on schedule from a minor knee procedure. According to Bielema, Arneson has a follow up appointment Monday and is anxious to get back on the field early next week.
Extra Points: Bielema said Thursday was mostly dedicated to Northern Iowa preparation while Friday’s practice will be dedicated to the unique situations that pop up during games (onside kicks, kicks after safety, last play of the game, etc.) … Bielema said 21 different players received votes for captain.