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April 18, 2011MADISON - When Saturday's annual spring game rolls around inside Camp Randall Stadium, there will be a couple of notable differences in relation to years past.
First, the UW athletic department will charge a $5 fee for entrance into the stadium. All proceeds will then be forwarded to the UW School of Nursing with hopes of helping funding of a new building on the west side of campus.
Secondly, as it relates to on-field action, UW head coach Bret Bielema made it clear Monday afternoon that there will be a different setup to the game itself.
"I'm going to actually play one's against one's," Bielema said. "We'll put our No. 1 offense out there against our No. 1 defense and let guys compete. I think it will be a cleaner game and really give us some better understanding about where we're at.
"That will give us a different twist that will really give us a better quality game and really give the fans an outlook into hopefully one of the better teams in the league, one of the best offenses and one of the best defenses in our conference going head-to-head."
The new format marks a drastic change from the formats of yesteryear. Instead of having the No. 1 offense match up with the No. 2 defense and the No. 2 offense competing against the No. 1 defense, the best players will have an opportunity to butt heads with projected starters on the other side of the ball.
The major concern with the new set up is the likelihood of injuries. According to Bielema, however, that wasn't really an issue during the decision making process.
"Ever since I've been here we've gone ones-ones the entire spring," Bielema said. "I really think it might actually help us. If I'm a one, if I'm an established player like Louis Nzegwu or Patrick Butrym, I'm laying in bed Friday night and getting ready the next morning knowing I'm going against two's it's not as competitive as we'd want it to be.
"Especially communications wise I'd like ones working with ones against ones to get a realistic picture of what can happen."
Bielema said approximately 4,000 tickets have been sold prior to Saturday's spring game and that he expects a crowd of anywhere between 12,000-20,000 people.
"I'm expecting the crowd to be hopefully as good as it has in the past," Bielema said. "The reason we did it was to help different causes out, but bottom line I'd like to see our guys have some type of crowd there to get an exposure for guys who haven't played for a communication [standpoint] and getting a feel for a game day environment.
"Obviously it's not going to be sold out so it won't be as real as next year."
UNDER THE LIGHTS?
Wisconsin's season opener against UNLV has already been given a primetime slot on a Thursday evening to open the season, but it looks as though there might be another game that could be played in the national spotlight.
When Nebraska rolls into Madison the first day of October for it's inaugural Big Ten game, the bright lights of Camp Randall Stadium may set the scene.
"I know there has been talk about it," Bielema said. "Nothing has been confirmed, but if I'm a person that watches Big Ten football I know that's a pretty big game with [a chance] for pretty big exposure. I think if we're doing things right and Nebraska continues it will be a very high showcase game."
NEW RULES, NEW PHILOSOPHIES?
The NCAA recently instituted a couple of rules changes that could drastically alter the way games are played during the 2011 season and into the future. The most notable change is the ability to run 10 seconds off the clock at the end of each half should a team commit a penalty that would have previously stopped the clock.
"Obviously that could be a very big thing," Bielema said. "Teams got a motion penalty that stopped the clock with about three seconds left (referring to last year's Music City Bowl between Tennessee and North Carolina) whereas now the game would be over and done with. During the summer I'm going to try to set up some game sequences to see how you would handle that exact situation on the clock."
The NCAA also instituted a rule that would alter the way teams can block, both offensively and defensively, below the waist. For a team that runs the ball, and competes against teams that like to run the ball, that is also an important switch from years past.
"We're still actually putting together tapes and clips to get rulings on the cutting," Bielema said. "If you really watch our film you'll notice that a lot of teams like to submerge on our offensive linemen, our bigger guys, and cut their legs out. That's always a little bit scary, but now it's going to be illegal in a lot of ways on the field both offensively and defensively.
"It could really change the game."
PROJECTING THE KICK RETURNERS:
As Kenzel Doe continues to gain comfort and confidence as a collegiate football player he will likely break into a permanent role as kick and punt returner. In the meantime, though, several other guys are making progress in the department.
"If I was going to play a game tomorrow my number one punt returner would probably be Jared Abbrederis," Bielema said. "Aaron Henry has looked very capable and he's going to be on me every day to do it so I'm sure he'll get his chances. Kenzel has really gained confidence as a punt returner just during the short two or three weeks we've been emphasizing it.
"He's a natural type of guy."
Guys like Nick Toon, when fully healthy next fall, could also make an impact in the kick return phase of the special teams.
"We've got a host of guys I'd like to see back there," Bielema said. "Including Nick and Jeff Lewis because those guys have some speed and some size."
UPDATE ON RUSSO:
When reporters found out about Greg Russo's desire to land a spot on the fall camp roster earlier this spring after having spent two tours of duty in Iraq, he instantly became a media darling. Every beat reporter did a story on him and most TV stations followed suit.
Unfortunately as spring camp wore on, Russo suffered an injury to his shoulder that has prevented him from participating in the past handful of practices. According to Bielema, however, there still seems to be a solid chance that the 25-year-old will be able to land a roster spot next season.
"I really think the defensive line in particular likes him in the room," Bielema said. "I think he's competitive and he's really only got one year of eligibility. We'll have a conversation next week after we complete everything and we'll talk about guys that we're going to bring back in.
"I know I like having him around and he's a good energy."
-Though it looked much worse immediately following the play, sophomore tight end Jacob Pedersen only suffered a sprained ankle when James White awkwardly landed on the back of his leg during Saturday's scrimmage. He will likely miss UW's upcoming spring game.
-Junior safety Shelton Johnson suffered a broken finger during Saturday's scrimmage. He'll wear a club for the remainder of spring drills.
Bielema on Borland's presence in the middle linebacker spot:
"The reason I wanted to move him inside is because with normal down and distance he can cover so much more ground. On third down, there were very few people that could block him. This is nothing against all the guys that have played here, but we haven't had a 'mike' linebacker with the ability that he's had. For some of those pressures that we were talking about, if you can have a mike linebacker that's a good blitzer that's a really good thing."