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September 15, 2011

Badgers getting back to health

MADISON - The craziest and most impressive thing about Kevin Claxton's lingering hand injury wasn't that it happened during the opening kickoff of the season.

It was the fact that the senior linebacker mustered up the strength and pain tolerance to play a complete game with it during UW's 52-17 romp of UNLV in the season opener.

"I was very shocked," Bielema said. "I asked him when he did it and he said the opening kickoff. He's a tough kid. He came in as a defensive back and he's continued to impress me."

He's also been able to impress his teammates throughout his four seasons in Madison.

"He's very well liked," Bielema said. "When I was counting for captain votes he got a lot of votes. That just shows how much of an effect he has on the whole team."

Unfortunately when the adrenaline from that opening night game wore off, Claxton needed to get a screw inserted into his right hand. That forced him to sit out last week's 35-0 win over Oregon State.

Claxton's backup Ethan Armstrong will start against Northern Illinois at Soldier Field this weekend, but it seems as though Claxton, who has been practicing this week, will likely get back into the mix.

"He's getting used to hitting with that club," Bielema said. "Obviously he's got a club on that one hand so it's a hindrance. Ethan will start and then depending on game flow we'll see where we're at."

More from the infirmary:

-Travis Frederick, who missed the start a week ago while recovering from a sprained knee, will return to the lineup Saturday afternoon. He'll start over Ryan Groy at left guard.

-Freshman running back Melvin Gordon will also return to action after suffering a minor injury during Oregon State prep. There's a chance he may even get some time as a kick returner.

"We might put him and Fred Willis back there on kick returns," Bielema said. "Not to start, but at some point during the game. Melvin is more of a primary returner and we're using Freddy as an off returner."

-Josh Oglesby's battles with six knee surgeries throughout his career has been well documented. Now, through two games, it's becoming apparent that the coaching staff is making it a point to keep him fresh by not utilizing him as much as they had in the past. At least that's the plan through the non-conference portion of the schedule.

"Rob Havenstein has really been doing a nice job so we we wouldn't mind seeing where he's at," Bielema said. "We kind of know where Josh is. He's been playing extremely well and I'm excited about him. Even the NFL people that have been coming through have been making good comments about the way he's playing. But I think Josh is grinding it out."

So far Oglesby has only missed game time because the contest has been so well in hand that the coaching staff would like to see some younger players get meaningful reps. But because Oglesby's knee does get sore from time to time, there has been an emphasis placed on keeping aggravations to a minimum.

"We're trying to get it to a point where it's not an issue," Bielema said. "The doctors are really on top of it during practice if there is any time in practice we can limit it. The bye week would be a great week for him to rest it. Any of our ACL guys, basically during fall camp, if they had any lower leg injuries like Aaron Henry, Antonio Fenelus or Mike Taylor, we don't double rep them."

O'Neill's role expanding?

When Devin Smith suffered a season ending foot injury early against Oregon State it became obvious that Marcus Cromartie would assume a more meaningful role.

The same may be said in regards to Conor O'Neill, and his role as a nickel linebacker.

"I think he'll play a lot this week just because of the tempo of the game," Bielema said. "It's going to be very interesting. NIU tries to snap the ball as fast as they can. The NCAA rules say if they sub we have to have an opportunity to sub as well. He's going to be an important part of our sub package.

"And for us to kind of get the right people in the right positions."

Bielema also noted that O'Neill's capabilities at linebacker could potentially lend the defense more depth, particularly amongst the starters.

"He's just a nickel backer," Bielema said. "We were looking at ways to get Mike Taylor and Chris Borland off the field in certain situations. I think Conor, throughout fall camp, and it's probably because of the safety background, probably has as many picks off Russell Wilson as anybody in camp.

"He's just shown me that he's got a really good understanding of the passing game."

Quotable:

Bielema on the dual threat nature of NIU quarterback Chandler Harnish:

"He's a running quarterback. They've got designed running plays for him to run powers, iso's and draws. Russell, most of the runs you see, are things that he creates on his own."


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