MADISON - Though 14 former Wisconsin football players were featured prominently in front of a bevy of NFL scouts Wednesday afternoon, an opportunity to chat with head coach Bret Bielema and his returning team was not to be passed up.
Just a couple of short months after dropping a tough Rose Bowl game to TCU, Bielema and his team full of new faces will put set its title defense in motion when spring camp opens less than two weeks from now.
Unfortunately, there are a number of players that won't be joining the team for various reasons.
Linebacker Kevin Rouse will not complete his time as a Badger. The senior to be will no longer take part in football activities, but will stay in school and earn his degree from UW later this spring.
In addition to Rouse, Anthony Mains and Zach Davison will also no longer be with the team. Davison will take a medical redshirt to hopefully help heal an ailing back that has limited his progress through this point of his career at the tight end and fullback positions.
"We kind of worked out a thought process going through the season where we really restricted him," Bielema said. "He played a little bit in bowl practice, but just when he was home it got to a point where it was time to move on. It's an unfortunate part of our business, but unfortunately those things come out a little bit.
"Those are the three that jump out to me."
Though they are still in the program, there will be plenty of big names posting up on the sideline throughout spring camp. Immediately, guys who suffered season ending injuries such as Josh Oglesby, Chris Borland, Jameson Wright and Curt Phillips will not surprisingly miss spring drills.
"Josh will take part in certain things but not anything live," Bielema said. "He isn't at that point right now."
At tight end, Jacob Pedersen might be limited during camp, but Bielema did not elaborate on his injury so it seems as though it might not be that serious.
Zac Matthias, who will be clubbed up, will likely be limited during camp but is expected to participate as the season wears on. Dezmen Southward (emergency appendectomy) is now fully healthy after a bit of a complication, but he will be limited at least at the beginning.
Borland, who missed the majority of last season with a severe shoulder injury, seems to be rehabbing well. Bielema even went so far as to say that the redshirt sophomore could find a new home at the Mike linebacker position.
"Chris is really rehabbing well," Bielema said. "He'll be involved in drills that involve movement and burst, but he can't be around where other people might fall down or be around him. We're really happy with his progression. We're training him right now on film and he's learning the Mike linebacker position. That's something I think he could potentially be very good at.
"He won't be involved in spring drills, but hopefully everything we start during the June starting date and moving forward he'll be 100 percent."
VOICE OF REASON:
When Bielema made it clear that both Charlie Partridge and Chris Ash would take over as co-defensive coordinators one of the obvious questions that needed to be asked was who would be in charge of making the decisions come game day.
Now, though we're still a number of months away from the season opener, Bielema has that predicament solved.
"Chris (Ash) is my defensive coordinator," Bielema said. "He's the defensive coordinator and he's going to be the voice. Him and Charlie (Partridge) are going to work together on decisions. It's the same thing I used when I was at Kansas State. Bobby Elliott was the defensive coordinator and I was the co-defensive coordinator. I was involved in the game plans and decision-making and everything forward. But I really believe on game day you need that one voice.
"Chris will be that voice."
Partridge, though he won't be the one calling plays, was also labeled as the new assistant head coach. With that moniker comes more responsibilities. According to Bielema, it's more than just lip service.
"Charlie has really impressed me since he's been about the abilities to make big decisions recruiting wise and obviously football wise," Bielema said. "I love the development he made with the defensive line and with the kickers and punters. Charlie was really emphatic about that. He was like, 'Coach, I don't want to be that guy.' I've never had an assistant head coach but it's something I think he'd be very qualified to have.
"Whether it would be me bouncing off ideas where there are things that I've conferred with him that I haven't initially brought in front of the staff. Or whether its just philosophy on recruiting. There are a lot of areas he can help us out on."
Though Partridge has a bit more responsibility with his new titles, it seems as though Bielema knew a promotion was coming for Ash when he hired him on just over a year ago.
"I'm not going to compare him to Dave Doeren, but they have a lot of the same traits," Bielema said. "Dave was a very intelligent person. He taught himself how to play guitar and just little things like that say a lot to me because it tells me how the mind thinks. Chris is very, very intelligent. He's very feisty like Dave was when he first got here. Every day in my box there are things from Chris. He's ahead of the game and he's always thinking and always moving. Him and Charlie get along so well.
"I think that demeanor, or that little relationship, is critical."
THE NEW GUYS:
Ash and Partridge aren't getting moved around for no good reason. Because three coaches (Doeren, John Settle and Greg Jackson) left for greener pastures, Bielema had to bring in some quality new assistants.
"I'm excited with the feedback that the players are giving me," Bielema said. "During early morning workouts you can't do anything football specific but you can see them coach the cone drill or the fundamentals of their position and it's all very good. All three coaches that I've hired I've kind of known indirectly. I knew DeMontie the most and it finally worked out where I could get him on board. Thomas, obviously you guys know because he worked here, but the thing that has impressed me is everywhere he's gone he's got promoted or retained in the Minnesota case.
"Then Huxtable, I watched his business from afar and I was a big fan of how they play football. He reached out through some people indirectly and when I had a chance to sit down and visit with him he was probably one of the more intriguing linebacker interviews I've ever had in my career."
Knowing Bielema is so high on all three new hires, especially since he's only had a short amount of time to work with him, it can be assumed that both Jerry Kill and Danny Hope felt the same way.
Then Bielema swooped in and pried them away. One could imagine there were some hard feelings from the coaches on the other side of the table.
"If those two respective coaches were anywhere else in the country I would have made the same call," Bielema said. "It just so happened to be that they were at two Big Ten schools. Going back to my first year as a head coach, Thomas was probably my No. 2 running back selection. He didn't have all the accolades at the time, but I saw him work. I called coach Kill and recommended him. I said if there was ever a chance I would be the guy to try to hire him. I'm sure it wasn't a big surprise there.
"Now, I don't know coach Hope as well and DeMontie was pretty new there. It was just a timing issue. I actually interviewed him for our linebacker job and it came down to him and Huxtable. I just thought 'Hux' was a better fit for our linebackers. That's how it worked out.
"I can imagine if I got the same call on the other end I wouldn't be too happy, either."
So, with three pretty established coaches and a couple of talented recruiters now in the fold, where will there primary recruiting areas be focused?
We'll start with Hammock.
"Thomas Hammock will be on the east coast," Bielema said. "He'll basically take the area that coach Jackson left. Thomas had had ties in Chicago and then obviously Indiana, but for the staff structure it was best for him to go. He will spot recruit in Minnesota and Chicago when we need him. He's already doing a great job on national running backs."
Huxtable, having ties in Florida and the Atlanta region, will focus most of his efforts in that part of the country.
"He's really kind of been all over the place," Bielema said. "He really spent a lot of time in Atlanta when he was in Georgia Tech. He's really strong there so we're going to send him into that area and then into Florida. Kind of that area that Dave had had, Western Florida."
"From being in the St. Louis area, we're probably going to recruit that area as hard as we've ever recruited since I've been here," Bielema said. "I think that's can be a very valuable area for us."
Meanwhile, Ash will likely see a bit of a reduction in his recruiting areas.
"Chris used to have Illinois and Indiana, but we're going to focus him solely in Chicago," Bielema said. "I think when you become a lead coordinator your area kind of has to shrink. Chris has done a really nice job in Chicago for us so we're going to let him move forward with that."
THE OHIO STATE NEWS:
When asked about the current situation over at Ohio State, Bielema, as one would expect, took the high road. But he did make another point to talk about his hopes for a cleaner environment around the landscape of college football in generally.
"I don't know enough about it," Bielema said. "I know how I do my job on a daily basis and I know how my assistants operate. You never know what young men are doing when you're not around them. But you can have good indicators. I can handle my business here and I don't really know what else is going on out there. Jim Tressel is one of the most stand up guys there is and that's a tough situation.
"There are a lot of different things in recruiting that (could be cleaned up). The AFCA is doing a great job with secondary violations and dealing with people that routinely ignore rules and act like they can't be affected. It's very annoying because for those of us who try to hold it to a higher standard it can be very overwhelming."
Bielema on whether he's given up being a consistent Tweeter:
"I gave it up during the season. There was something big that happened, I don't know if it was when I hired my final coach, but I thought I should really start tweeting again. I probably will. There's just been so much going on. This has been one of my busiest out-of-season with the three hires, the transition, trying to help these guys and team building with the guys we've got coming back."