Wisconsin Football: Bielema Meets Media
BIELEMA: Obviously excited to be here. We’ve got a week in of practice with our first double day yesterday. Things went extremely well. Just a couple of updates on the roster.
Ben Ruechel is a linebacker for us. He actually hurt his knee during Friday’s practice. So yesterday we were able to bring in Cody Byers. So he’s in the fall camp for us right now.
Tomorrow, when we do start practice, you’ll see there’s been a couple of guys that are being held out. Nothing real serious. Just going to hold some guys out for a couple of days, and I’ll update that tomorrow am I talking tomorrow after the media? I’ll let you know afterwards there why they’re being held out and certain guys.
It has been a good week for us staying healthy. Really, Ben’s the only person of significant injury that we’ve lost to this point.
One other update. Couple of people have inquired, Joey Brennan and I have had some conversations over the last couple of days involving his old high school coach as well, and he’s looking into some options outside of the University of Wisconsin to possibly transfer to.
So trying to facilitate that as best I can for Joey. And not for sure that’s going to happen. I allowed him to take some time away from the program here, explore his options, and get a feel for where he’s at, and would welcome him back if that’s kind of the direction that he wants to go. Just something we’re working through on a daily basis.
So with that, I think both sides of the ball have been very, very just to get the quarterback question out of the way before somebody has to ask it.
Both Daniel O’Brien and Curt Phillips and Joel Stave, all those guys have worked with the ones this past week, kind of all equal numbers. All three have had days to shine. They’ve done very well and all the situations we’ve put them into.
But from this point forward we’re really going to have to put them in some tough spots, game like situations, some different scenarios that will come up during the course of the week as far as some scrimmage type situations and see how they respond.
I’ve kind of set that goal of ten days out from our opener. The week before game week, Wednesday, I’d like to be able to name a starter for sure. If it happens before that, it’s just because we feel comfortable. Not in a big hurry to make that decision.
Montee has been doing some modified conditioning with us. By NCAA rules, we have to acclimate him just the same like we did the entire team. So tomorrow he’ll be out there in full pads. He’ll have a green jersey on. We won’t contact him for that first week. That’s really my decision until he feels totally comfortable where he’s at and move forward from there.
Other than that, open it up for some easy questions.
QUESTION: I’ll go on the record saying I’ve never had a concussion before. The old saying is that once you have your first concussion, that the second or third, they come easier. Are there concerns with that with Montee?
BIELEMA: I think anytime, not just Montee and obviously our starting running back and Heisman trophy candidate, but if it was our fourth string defensive tackle, we’d treat him exactly the same. We’re very cautious. Err on the side of caution. It’s very important. And just the time we have here, there’s really no urge to get him back out there anytime soon. I think we’ll just kind of progress and feel as he feels comfortable and as the doctors say okay.
QUESTION: The whole situation with Montee and the police investigation, has it been or could it be a distraction for this team?
BIELEMA: I don’t think so. Obviously not having your starting running back out there is an issue. But it would be the same if he had an ankle issue or a groin issue or knee issue. He hasn’t been there. And it’s really allowed for James White, Melvin Gordon, Jeff Lewis and Vonte Jackson have had an outstanding week of practice. And our kids are taking it in stride.
I think Montee addressed the group I believe it was the second night. I have an open mic where guys can get up and speak as they feel.
And I didn’t ask him to do it. I don’t think Coach (Thomas) Hammock asked him to do it. I think he just felt he wanted to get up, express a few things, and move himself forward.
QUESTION: What to your knowledge where is the police what’s the police investigation?
BIELEMA: You know, again, I myself have not engaged in those conversations. I know that they talked to Montee obviously and they’ve also talked to some of our guys that maybe are not correlated that night, but a couple nights prior. And I’m kind of staying out of that one just because anything that we gather we try to give over to the authorities.
QUESTION: What do you hope that Montee, his teammates, whatever, take as a lesson from all this, make him a better football player or better person moving forward?
BIELEMA: Montee, in particular, obviously, going back to his decision to come back, I just told him he’s going to be in a fishbowl. And everything he does is going to be monitored and move himself forward.
Kind of had some conversations with him and his parents just to make them totally aware. And I think he is at this point. But nothing’s going to be the proof is in the pudding on what happens from this day forward.
But there’s no doubt in my mind that he’s got an awareness to him, probably a heightened awareness that he’s never had to this point. And realized anytime you’re in a situation where something of that nature comes up and you’ve got multiple people attacking you at one time, it could have been a lot worse.
I do appreciate his comments that he’s just happy and lucky to be where he is right now, that he’s going to be able to compete on a senior year that could be really, really special.
QUESTION: Of the three guys who you say are vying for the starting quarterback job, they’re all sort of coming from an untraditional route; you’ve got an injury, transfer and a walk on. How does that speak to their motivation? How does that speak to you sort of the state of mind they have coming into campus here?
BIELEMA: Kind of sounds like a quarterback joke. Walk on, transfer and an injury. But somebody else walked in. No, I couldn’t be happier. I don’t know. And I think I said this to a group the other day when we met. My time here, seven years as a head coach, I don’t know if I’ve ever had as quality a group as I’ve got in that room right now.
Joey was in the middle of that as well. So to have it now be where there’s three guys that really truly could be the starting quarterbacks here at the University of Wisconsin is a blessing.
I think it brings out the best in everybody. Obviously we’ve got to sort through it as coaches. But what I’ve kind of been impressed with, and I’m not naive to the fact we met with our players earlier today about media day and they’re going to get this question. The fact of the matter is you guys are going to see it tomorrow: Every one of those guys is playing equal number of reps with the ones and twos and looked good at times and other times you could definitely see the improvement.
It’s a unique situation, but it it’s one we haven’t been in before.
QUESTION: With basically brand new staff, have there been any surprises, anything that’s been easier than you thought it would be, or more difficult?
BIELEMA: I appreciate and I said this to the staff and to the team yesterday. One of the our players made a statement I can’t remember who it was he got up and said everybody wants to ask a question about new coaches, new players.
The transition is over. The spring, we had that little speech and that little scenario pop up. But I’ve been amazed at the ease of fall camp to this point.
We kind of have a set regimen and feel pretty good about it. I’ve locked our staff into it. I think offensively, because obviously there’s four out of five on offense, I’ve been very, very pleased at the fact of how, A, efficient we’ve been in practice, and, B, the production we’ve had as far as moving the football, being good in the things that we traditionally have done in the past. So I’m very excited.
QUESTION: With the situation with Montee, going back to that, he was vocal about being a leader. Have guys rallied around him? Has it affected his leadership in any way?
BIELEMA: It’s been difficult because he hasn’t been on the field. I think there’s no doubt in my mind that Montee is a leader of the football team. He’s a guy because of what he’s done.
But all of his leadership and I’m kind of anxious to see once he returns full go to practices, but he’s been more of a leader by what he does and how he works. He said the other day when he got up, I’ve been amazed really in the last year and a half, two years, of being around him. Nobody works harder on this football field than him.
Every practice, every rep he makes it count, and I think people generally notice that, and he leads by that example.
QUESTION: Getting away from the Montee issue and quarterback issue, some of the freshmen you had redshirt last year you had to see them for a week, which of that group has made some of the bigger jumps that you think have impact for you in some aspect here?
BIELEMA: To process it through my mind, not in any particular order, I’ve learned to do this, wide receiver right now Jordan Fredrick and A.J. Jordan have both, I think, made a big impression on not only me but our coaches and our players about the ability for them to maybe step forward and take a role a little bit sooner than later at that position.
At the tight end, he played last year Sam Arenson is good. But Austin Maly is going to be a good football player. But Austin Traylor is a little bit ahead of the curve. I think Austin Traylor could be a guy as our fifth tight end that helps us in certain ways at the offensive line.
Nobody out of that redshirt freshman group, but other than Dan Voltz, who was here halfway through the semester, been very, very pleased with the progress of Robby Havenstein, a guy that was not with us in spring ball and jump forward. And running back, you know, obviously Melvin is going to help us. He’ll probably be our two, third running back and he’s going to be there in a big way.
And then on defense, you know, Darius Hillary, a guy that we’re going to actually move to safety today and kind of get reps with him at safety this week and see he’s very impressive with the coaches.
Devin Gaulden as well. So those two guys in the back end. And then up front, I can’t say my other redshirt freshman class, James Adeyanju and Jesse Hayes are both coming along. They’ll probably be our fifth and sixth defensive end respectively, but not disappointed in them in any way.
QUESTION: You’ve got a number of players that are on Twitter. And I know you’re on Twitter. I was wondering, do you have any kind of social media policy with the guys at the start of the season, or do they take a class, or just common sense?
BIELEMA: They’re pretty good. It’s Brian and I had a little conversation when we come into this fall meeting, we usually can pull up a half dozen examples of our guys being knuckleheads saying things they shouldn’t say or doing things they shouldn’t do. Just kids being kids.
But also it’s a social media. It’s out there. It’s definitely topics or words that you don’t want to use. And Brian’s like I can’t find anything. But we didn’t disappoint. We had one yesterday pop up that we’ll leave that one in the dark. But I saw I got asked this a lot at Chicago media day.
I tell the kids do what’s right, don’t do anything that will cause or draw attention to yourself other than the reason you want to normally do it. Rule of thumb is don’t put anything on Facebook or tweet anything that you don’t want your mother to read. It’s pretty good. Me included. So I think it is tough for a 19 , 20 year old kid, I read some of the stuff people reply back to me obscene, stupid, immature people.
And obviously you gotta not respond. And I fortunately don’t have time to read them. Once in a while my wife gets on there and gets agitated. But we always just tell our kids to take the high rode. Don’t respond back to anything or don’t get into these Twitter fights.
You see so many kids across the country that engage in these back and forth between fans and other people. You end up looking like a moron. So just kind of keep it simple.
QUESTION: Safe to say a lot of your backup running backs could probably be successful starters at other schools; does that force you and probably Coach (Matt) Canada to get creative. I think we’ve heard James White maybe as a wide receiver; does that force you to be creative?
BIELEMA: At Wisconsin we’re always trying to maximize our best players. And obviously we have probably three or four guys at that position that are very, very talented players.
So, yeah, we are going to find ways to get them on the field. And also I think it’s important to recruit a certain type of kid. I know this, and I’m not taking anything away from any other running backs, but other places I’ve been, other experiences I’ve been part of, other coaching staffs I’ve been with, your running backs are typically your primadonnas, your little if I don’t get to play with the toys I want, I’ll go home, one of those guys.
And we got five running backs on scholarship. All great kids. Come from two parent homes that just I think are unselfish. Don’t get me wrong now.
They all felt for Montee and his situation, but come that first practice, they didn’t mind having an opportunity to showcase what they could do. And I think that’s the part that might get Montee back there a little quicker than usual, too, because he realizes there’s good players there.
QUESTION: Regarding Darius Hillary, what factors led him to the move to safety? And is there any chance you expect him to contribute this year on defense, or are we looking at like a year away?
BIELEMA: I think the reason we moved him, Jeff, is to help us on defense now. Nothing against Darius, and just had we had a personnel meeting this morning. We’re doing some things. Also Derek Watt will move to fullback for us as well. And that’s not to sit on the bench, that’s to hopefully help us this year at fullback.
We’ve got Sherard Cadogan and Derek Straus is from down the road at Waunakee. And we have a MacCudden kid that’s a walk on from Waukesha West. And they’re going to be good players. But we felt Derek could maybe give us something there that we don’t have right now. So we’re moving him to fullback.
And Darius has been impressive. We traveled him to every game last year. He was with us at every stadium and felt that we wanted to do that because he was right on the verge of playing. So Darius Hillary is going to be a very, very good football player and we’re just trying to find him a home.
QUESTION: Now that you’ve seen more of Melvin Gordon in the spring game and this camp, do you know what you have in him, realize what you have in him?
BIELEMA: I think we do. He’s one of our bigger backs, bigger than James and Montee. Kind of deceptive runner. I’d be watching him on the practice field and a lot of times I’ll stand behind the defense or behind the offense. And from behind looks like maybe he’s going 70, 80, then you put on the film he’s blowing by people.
Melvin’s big athletic, strong, strong mind. Mom and dad raised a great kid that I think is very coachable. And he’s hungry. He’s the one guy that he’s got that edge to him that he would be perfectly fine with being on the field every snap. He doesn’t like to be off the field.
QUESTION: Wisconsin had a chance for a three peat shortly before you got here, in 2000, what would it mean to you and this program if you could make that kind of history?
BIELEMA: I think it’s a sign of respect. We’re the only team in the league that can say it, so that’s a great thing. So I mean it all sounds great. I really hadn’t thought about it.
I heard the three peat and all that jazz, but I didn’t really put it in perspective until somebody in media day shared with me that there had only been three other teams that have done that.
Obviously with Ohio State and Michigan and Minnesota. And I did tell our group I have to make things aware to them. I wanted them they’re going to get that question today. And I said how many guys in this room were here to witness 1978 when the last team to do a three peat was here and of course nobody raised their hand. I was eight years old. So I don’t even really remember it.
And the thing that I said immediately after that is if anybody wants to jump to that date, you’re more than welcome to think about it but we’ll never get there. It’s taking it one day at a time. It’s taking a practice that we have tomorrow in the morning and another one in the evening and figuring out where you’re at the end of the day to get to where we want to be. So it’s great. It’s fun to get at. It’s great rhetoric for people to write about and great thing for fans to think about.
But this group is probably going to be focused on winning and tomorrow’s practice.
QUESTION: You’ve got at least a couple of other players, Abbrederis and Wagner, who are coming off of being walk ons now scholarships. Seems like they have maybe one less thing they feel they need to prove. Is that something that you have to manage or are you concerned about losing a little bit of the edge and a little bit of that motivation?
BIELEMA: No. I think it’s been a staple in this program, Coach (Barry) Alvarez, when he first came here with his history being at Nebraska and the history they had walking on, both he and I shared our history together at Iowa about the ability to be a walk on there, and he carried it forward here. I was a former walk on.
So I think just from my personal experience, when I finally got my scholarship, it was now you kind of wanted to show it even more why you did deserve it. There might be even a little more of a motivation.
But those two guys in particular know I do plan on hopefully, as we get closer to the NFL camp here, hopefully reward a couple of other walk ons in similar fashion.
But I believe last year when we took the field against Michigan State and into the Rose Bowl, there were six starters that had been former walk ons in that game. The two that you mentioned obviously with Abby and Ricky and last year’s team obviously you had Brady Ewing and on defensive you had Ethan Armstrong and Ethan Hemer. Sorry, Army doesn’t have one to this point. But there’s a lot of guys that have gone and done a lot of really good things here.
QUESTION: How has Manasseh Garner been progressing for you and where do you see him fitting in this year if he stays healthy?
BIELEMA: Manasseh has been a total surprise. Never redshirted. He’s kind of been one of those guys, played him on defense his first year and played him at wide receiver last year and with the coaching transition, he didn’t really get a chance to participate in the spring. And all of our coaches, Manasseh as we know looks like a Greek god. Got all the bumps in the right places, very gifted genetically and is a great kid to visit with, talk with.
And so it’s kind of been fun for our coaches to see him come to camp this fall, performing at a very high level. I’d say right now he’s battling out for that receiver position opposite Abby. Him and Jordan Fredrick, probably the two leading guys, and a little bit of Kenzel Doe there as well as Duckworth. Nice little competition going on there.
QUESTION: Going back to the walk ons, what’s the biggest thing guys like Alex Erickson and Trent Denlinger can do to prove they have a shot at it?
BIELEMA: We have a host of freshmen, walk ons, the two you mentioned. A guy that’s really looked nice so far is Joe Schobert, a kid from Waukesha West that has been very impressive.
We started him at wide receiver just because we needed some numbers, but it’s easy for me to see he’s going to play, he’s either going to play at safety or for us at linebacker at some point.
Those guys come in, they do everything the NCAA, obviously you can ask their parents, a big difference between getting a tuition bill versus not. Other than that there’s no difference they’re treated, all the same gear the same NCAA changed the rule I believe four years ago that allowed them to buy into training table which used to be a big difference.
Again, referencing back, when I was a walk on player, scholarship players went one direction, had this meal. Was probably a lot better than it really seemed. But certain dining area. And I had to go a different area and eat with the regular students. You people. And nothing against that, it just wasn’t as good. A lot better ratio over there.
But it was something that the NCAA kind of wised up and did four years ago that really creates no difference in the way kids are treated.
QUESTION: The move of Watt to fullback, I think when you wanted to look at him at Mike you thought he might give you a No. 2 there. With him at fullback, what’s the depth look like behind Chris?
BIELEMA: That’s exactly right. I go back to last spring, and I didn’t mention this to anybody, just kind of mental note, hey, Coach, you put it away. And between him and Trot if you ask Marcus Trotter, when I gave him a scholarship I asked him to playful back. He wanted to play linebacker. He was kind of stubborn but in a good way. He’s had a really nice camp. Rather than having two guys there that are very similar in Derek and Marcus, I just think
And I go back. I used to hear all the time when I was a young coach that every fullback should play linebacker and every linebacker should be able to play fullback. That’s just an old school way of thinking. It’s not necessarily true.
I think Derek, just from watching him and seeing him, I think he really might be a better offensive player. Offense, when you break the huddle you know the play, you know who you’re blocking, you know where you’re going. On defense you don’t know anything until you line up.
And I think Derek’s just wired in a way that hopefully his offensive move he reminds me a lot mentality wise and I’m not drawing any comparisons, but when I was a linebacker coach, Dallas Clark, Dallas was a linebacker for me for two years and I couldn’t get him on the field. He moves to tight end, highest paid tight end in the field. He fit better offensively. Hopefully that same thing holds true for Derek.
QUESTION: Obviously you’ve got to pop in a couple of new starters on the right side of the offensive line. I was curious how big a challenge is it to make sure there’s no drop off at a position that people would say that’s three at Wisconsin?
BIELEMA: I tell you, I couldn’t don’t give him too much sugar, I don’t want him getting a big head. He already has a big head is Robby Havenstein. Figuratively and literally, he has a big head. Weighs 340 pounds, big.
For a kid to miss spring, and I think with what Mike (Markuson) does and how we go about practice, I really see a big jump in our tackles, in particular pass pro.
Ricky has really excelled over the last six months. You can see the same thing in Robby. At right guard we’ve got a nice little battle going on.
It’s Robby Burge, Kyle Costigan, and also Zach Matthias who would listen on the left side, but he’ll get his chance over there on the right side.
And Dallas Lewallen is probably maybe a week or two away from being 100 percent cleared. But he would be right in that mix. Kind of a fun thing. They’re all jockeying for it. Might even pop Dan Voltz out there. He’s our second string center. Give him an adequate shot at right guard as well. Whoever it is, they’ll probably be good. Just can’t tell you who it is going to be at this point.
QUESTION: You mentioned that Montee spoke in front of the team recently. What do you think that accomplished and what pushed him to do that?
BIELEMA: You know, probably a good question for the other guys. I know what it did for me as a coach. It took a certain type of person to get up and pledge what he was going to do from this point forward.
He basically, in a nutshell, said, hey, I apologize if I have been a distraction. I didn’t mean it to be anything moving forward, which I don’t think it was. But for him to say it obviously means it was on his mind or another player’s mind.
And then he just vowed to give great leadership through how he was going to work and accomplish his goals. And he kind of made reference to that losing is not an option for him. Really felt as a senior that he wanted to provide the leadership to make people attack the schedule every day for what it was. And it would be a good question for other guys.
QUESTION: How do you embrace the Montee Heisman campaign?
BIELEMA: How do I embrace it? I really think and I appreciate Brian and his staff and all the people that have put their heads together and I think there’s probably a certain media element to it.
But on the field, from what I’ve been able to gather since I’ve been a head coach, in particular even last year, maybe having two Heisman candidates on your team that you didn’t know at the beginning of your year were at that caliber, is it really is won on the field.
I mean I understand it can be lost off the field. I think obviously there’s a great example of someone that was there last year at the award ceremony not going to be at that level you would think right now. So I think you gotta be cautious of that.
And Montee, when the situation popped up, there’s going to be a certain number of people that at least question that situation. But it’s really done on the field. And I think Montee really realized that.
I’ll tell you what, take the field with him, is you’re going to have an offensive line that’s going to take a lot of pride in blocking for a Heisman trophy candidate.
You’ve got a group of wide receivers blocking down the field, training, competing that I’ve never seen before, trying to get him to realize that Montee, James or Melvin, if any one of those guys breaks the line of scrimmage, if we block up those DBs, has a chance to go to the house. I think overall it’s going to be great for us all.
QUESTION: Not to look over special teams guys, where are you right now?
BIELEMA: That’s a great question. We were putting a huge emphasis and, again, an emphasis doesn’t get results. But it is a starting point.
I’ve been very happy with two specialists to this date. The first is Drew Meyer, our punter. Has really, really worked last fall. I thought I saw him getting better in Bowl prep in spring. I really saw it through the first five days of camp, first six days of camp he’s been lights out, really getting the ball to turn over. Again in punting that’s a good term, getting the ball to turn over at the top.
And he’s really hitting ball and executing at a high rate. And then at the kicking position, Kyle French has been very, very good in all the drills we’ve put them in at this point. Those two guys take the heat. I think Jack Russell, man from Waunakee, has been good as well.
Probably not as good statistically as Kyle but might be involved in that kickoff position. I don’t know, but Kyle is pretty locked in. But in the true kickoff competition I think Kyle’s Jack’s got a real chance.
QUESTION: Devin Smith and Gilbert both seemed poised to have big years last year defensively for you guys until they got injured. What have you seen from them through camp mentally and physically, how hungry they are to get back?
BIELEMA: For whatever reason, two days ago Devin Smith just started really, I think, getting comfortable, feeling good. And he’s breaking up as many passes as you can imagine. I mean, he’s just all over the place.
And then I love David Gilbert. He’s kind of taking a step in maturity. I think being taken out of the game all last year, being taken out of the BCS game, being taken out of spring ball, he’s got a hunger and a desire. You guys know that he looks like such a beast.
He’s a big, good looking, strapped up but he’s so kind and gentle and a smile in the way he talks. Kind of a misnomer. But he’s been really good during fall camp. And him and Brendan Kelly, I think that guy, and Pat Muldoon, those three guys might give us as much depth of quality D-end play as we’ve had.