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July 28, 2011CHICAGO - If there is one thing that plays a part in any team's quest for a conference championship that you can count on, but can't expect or prepare for, it's the injury bug.
And considering the sport we're focusing on - football - they're about as inevitable as the sun coming up in the east before setting in the west. Simply put, they're going to happen.
But if you're a Badger fan, it seems as though the summer months provided some refreshing opportunity for several key players to get healthy. At the 40th annual Big Ten Meetings at Chicago's Hyatt Regency McCormick Place, Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema made it clear that only three players have not been cleared for fall camp.
Everyone else, even if it's only a limited role, will be able to participate at some level.
"Curt Phillips (knee), Devin Gaulden (stress fracture) and Marquis Mason (knee) won't be involved in practice," Bielema said.
That means guys such as Josh Oglesby (knee), Chris Borland (shoulder), Nick Toon and Ethan Armstrong will be good to go when fall camp opens up Aug. 4th.
If you're concerned about Borland being hesitant when he returns, you might as well put those thoughts to bed immediately.
"I don't think the word tentative would ever describe Borland," Bielema said. "But I do and have had conversations with him about some of the things I do think put him at risk at some points. I talked to him and discussed things with him and I've actually had conversations with his (father) about it too, the way he plays.
"I know there is nobody in our program that is more excited to get back and play. We're going to put him in the middle. He came in with a play drawn up the other day. I was just in my office and he wanted to know what the process was there because he hasn't played it yet.
"The other thing at Mike linebacker is traditionally you're voice. He's the exact opposite of the quarterback on offense. The middle linebacker is a guy that you hope has all the right calls and all the right communication skills."
Phillips, who suffered his third knee injury in about 13 months last spring, has been rehabbing his knee back in Tennessee under the tutelage of his father, a doctor.
"He wanted to go through some rehab there," Bielema said. "He hasn't had the surgery yet. They do a bunch of stuff, and I'm not going to comment on something I don't know, to get the right course of action."
Though it's proven to have been a difficult time for the redshirt junior, he is continuing to stay lighthearted about the entire situation.
"We communicate via text," Bielema said. "You know Curt has a good little sense of humor. When we got Russell Wilson he assured me if Russell did it this year he can do it next year. I know he doesn't lack any confidence in his ability to come back."
If you look at Wisconsin's updated roster it won't take long to notice how several players have reshaped their bodies throughout the summer months. Defensive ends David Gilbert and Louis Nzegwu each added weight and are now a very advantageous 255 pounds each.
Fullback Bradie Ewing, one of the better traditional fullbacks in the Big Ten, clocked in at 245 pounds. Ethan Armstrong is at 240 pounds as is Kevin Claxton at the linebacker position. Warren Herring is at 260 pounds and expected to push for playing time at defensive end.
And of course, the behemoths up front all check in topping three bills. Casey Dehn weighs in at 335 pounds, Josh Oglesby and Travis Frederick are each at 330 pounds, Ricky Wagner's at 320 pounds, Kevin Zeitler's at 315 pounds and Peter Konz comes in at a svelte 315 pounds.
There are some big players on the Badger roster set to get after each other when camp opens next week.
One prominent player, though, has lost some weight. Montee Ball, UW's projected starter at the running back position, weighs 210 pounds. While that weight loss was in progress back in the spring, it seems as though Ball kept that momentum going throughout the summer.
Though he'll undoubtedly have more quickness to his skill set, will his lighter frame pack as much punch as it once did?
"I would worry about his power and just the wear and tear," Bielema said. "But he didn't back down during the spring. I don't know the numbers, because I just look at the person. You can look at me and say, 'Oh, he's heavy.' You can look at Montee and say he looks pretty good.
"I don't really know any numbers."
It's a given that Kenzel Doe, a quick and feisty kick return specialist, will have an opportunity to contribute as a freshman on some level. Whether he's the top return specialist or not remains to be seen, but it's evident that he'll have an opportunity to break into the rotation in some capacity. Other than Doe, who enrolled early in order to participate in spring camp, there seem to be a handful of other players that will be given a chance to compete for a spot in the two-deep.
"Unfortunately Devin Gaulden had a stress fracture and had to have a rod put into his leg," Bielema said. "So he'll be out for the beginning part of fall camp. Everybody has been telling me about the way this freshman class works. You know me. I'm not going to really put any parameters out there, but I do think that we'll have anywhere from four-to-eight kids that might help us.
"We think there's a very good chance for an offensive linemen and maybe at running back. Melvin Gordon, he tweaked his ankle but he's cleared this week and should be good to go. Some of the wide receivers have been impressive to some of the upper classmen.
"On defense, I don't really see anybody except for maybe a linebacker or defensive back."
Notice how most of the positions that Bielema mentioned in regards to the freshmen are the same positions that will inevitably have positional battles that last deep into camp.
"I think at running back, tight end, right tackle, quarterback, one linebacker positions, probably the starting defensive line positions and obviously strong safety," Bielema said. "It should be pretty good."
Bret Bielema on the message he took from the meeting with commissioner Jim Delaney in regards to violations that all the Big Ten coaches sat in on:
"Jim has done a great job. I go back to my first couple of years as a head coach. I was very impressed with what he said and how it became reality. I know he takes a lot of pride in his job. As a coach, we're always talking about our conference because it's a selling point for us. To have two storied programs (Ohio State and Michigan), and obviously Penn State has done some good things as well, but to have those two teams in violations doesn't help our league or college football.
"I understand things happen, but Jim was just very emphatic on the need to do things right. Otherwise things are going to end badly."