MADISON - After all the talk, after all the hype, after all the heightened expectations and after all the build up, the Russell Wilson era has begun in Madison.
"It's kind of what I thought I'd see," UW head coach Bret Bielema said in regards to Wilson following his first practice as a Badger. "He's got great composure. He takes to learning very, very easy. He gets along with the guys. He's an accurate player. The truth will be on Monday when we start to get to half-pack because any quarterback can throw without pads on.
"I thought he showed some really nice things."
Wearing the same number (16) as he did at NC State, and as former Badger Scott Tolzien did each of the past two seasons, Wilson looked as advertised. Well, as well as someone can look without pads on and in no pressure situations.
He moved well during drills, he threw the ball with some zip and he didn't seem nervous considering it was his first full practice in a brand new environment. He seemed to fit right in.
While Bielema was clearly excited to see Wilson in action following a long summer and unique recruiting process, he was also quick to point out his excitement for getting back with the rest of his team, too.
"I know there is a huge emphasis (with Russell) and I get it," Bielema said. "But as coaches, to leave spring practice and to have to sit and wait, especially when some of these guys have changed their bodies as they have, it's really fun.
"Especially when Monday comes and we go half-pack."
There were a number of players that underwent vast physical changes since the end of spring camp. Guys such as James White, Montee Ball, Chris Borland, Manasseh Garner, Jake Byrne and David Gilbert are just a handful of guys that looked totally different than they did a few short months ago.
And that's a compliment.
"I think you look at the defensive side of the ball," Bielema said. "You look at Borland, from when he had his double shoulder surgery to where he is now, Coach Ben Herbert does this thing where he takes before and after shots. Some of the guys are just amazing with the way they developed and moved forward. Beau Allen has trimmed himself down from 335 pounds to 315, so he's kind of the opposite of that. Nick Toon was a guy that weighed about 205 and is now at 220. He looks pretty good.
"David Gilbert and Louis Nzegwu both, those are guys that are 255 or 260 pounds now and are very athletic. I thought they took a step forward today, too."
Borland's first day back:
When Borland, making his first appearance in a Badger practice with full clearance in nearly a calendar year, decided to dive for an errant pass and landed directly on his surgically repaired right shoulder, one can only imagine what went through Bielema's mind.
It had to have been a moment where his heart skipped a beat.
"We wanted everyone to stay up because I didn't really want breaks on the ball," Bielema said in regards to a skele drill the team was working. "That's like telling him that he can't do something. He dove and landed on his right shoulder but popped right back up. At least the right shoulder was okay.
"I'm not sure about the left yet."
While that was kind of a backhanded attempt at joking around, there is a bit of truth to the topic. Until he proves that both shoulders are completely healthy and that they can maintain the rigors of a fall camp and Big Ten season, it's going to be hard to fully understand whether his shoulders are fully healthy.
When asked if there was any concern with the way Borland relentlessly attacks each and every play during last week's Big Ten Meetings Bielema made it clear that there definitely is some. But at the same time, one really can't change the way a given player approaches the game, especially when it's something he has been doing his entire football-playing life.
"I think you just naturally have those concerns," Bielema said. "Anything that you've seen him do in the past, and with some of the things he does recklessly with his body, we've kind of hand conversations that at this level, and with the size he is now and with the structure he has, he needs to play on top of his feet a little more.
"I think that will sink in."
Borland, in case anybody was wondering, was working the mike linebacker spot with the No. 1 defense during Friday's first practice of fall camp.
Bielema made it clear last week in Chicago that there were going to be upwards of seven or eight positional battles throughout the onset of fall camp. How is one supposed to interpret that?
"We were sitting down in our offensive meeting on Tuesday," Bielema said. "Coach Paul Chryst was laying out one of the things he was going to talk about during the first meeting and he said that there are eight players that aren't with us now. Not only are they gone, but they're in the NFL. And that's just on offense. Three players defensively also signed NFL contracts. That's a lot of guys that departed, not just departed, but were very good football players.
"I think the competition when I say that, like on defense between Shelton Johnson and Dezmen Southward, that's a great one. At the sam linebacker position and defensive tackle positions are open. I should say Patrick Butrym has the lean on one, but guys like Brendan Kelly want to get into the mix.
"I think those things are all good things."
-Bielema went through a number of players that could potentially factor into the kickoff and punt return game. Look for guys like Aaron Henry, Kenzel Doe and a little bit of James White to get reps during punt return situations. Bielema has a few more guys in mind in regards to kickoff return.
"We've got a host of guys," Bielema said. "Some of these freshmen guys that are back there and then some of the same guys. James White and Montee Ball have looked good back there. You'd like to see what maybe a Manasseh Garner and everybody's favorite Chris Borland can do back there. It's kind of by committee right now."
-Redshirt freshman Jake Irwin is not currently listed on the 105-man roster released at the start of camp. It is not due to anything injury related. Bielema did say he will return at a later date, but that's all the further he'd elaborate on the subject.
-The Big Ten announced Thursday that the league will go to a nine-game conference schedule format starting with the 2017 season. Bielema, while he saw it coming, is apprehensive about the idea, just like many coaches throughout the league.
"I thought it was going to come," Bielema said. "I get it and I understand why and how it will be better for the fans and everybody involved. My biggest thing, and the only thing I am concerned about, is that the SEC stays with an eight-game conference schedule. To me, that's the conference you're trying to knock out and get above.
"It's going to be very hard to do that now."
-Sophomore defensive tackle Jordan Kohout did not practice Friday. He suffered a slight strain of the hamstring earlier this week. If he's unable to participate in Saturday's practice, he'll likely be back full go by Monday's practice. Everybody other than Kohout and the three players with severe injuries (Curt Phillips, Devin Gaulden and Marquis Mason) participated in practice.
The following is the audio file from Friday evening.