MADISON - The Wisconsin Badgers opened their fall practices Monday, but head coach Bret Bielema didn't spend much time talking about his team's first practice during a meeting with the media.
The seventh-year head coach spent most of the session updating the status of star running back Montee Ball, who was assaulted nearly a week ago. Ball sustained a concussion and facial injuries during the attack, and the Badgers are being extra cautious with his comeback.
Bielema said that Ball wouldn't participate at all this week, and he might be able to move into some non-contact drills during the second week of camp. After that, if Ball is still medically cleared to participate, the Badgers will get last year's Heisman finalist back onto the field so he can be ready for the team's first game on Sept. 1.
"Hopefully the two weeks into it we'll get him involved in practices of good-on-good, and then be full-go by game week," Bielema said Monday. "So we should have him there for game day and all of game week preparation, which is where I think I'd have to be to play him in that opener."
As for the ongoing investigation into Ball's assault, Bielema said he and his program have been passing whatever they hear along to the Madison police department.
"It's a police investigation … any information we get we've passed it along," Bielema said. "I just hope that obviously the people who are responsible for that get apprehended, and we can move forward as fast as possible."
Luckily for the Badgers, they aren't at a loss for candidates to take over for Ball during fall camp. James White, Melvin Gordon, Jeffrey Lewis, and Vonte Jackson are all available for reps with the team, so Bielema said he sees no need to rush Ball back if he isn't ready to participate.
Bielema addresses roster moves, other investigation
Ball's status wasn't the only topic of discussion Monday. The Badgers released an updated roster for fall camp before their first practice, and the team made several changes between the Big Ten Media Days in late July and the start of fall camp.
Wide receiver Connor Cummins joined the likes of Jon Budmayr, Bart Houston, and Hugs Etienne, all of whom are sitting out this season with various injuries.
"Those guys are all currently in a medical situation where they're probably not going to be with us, unless a miracle happened, any time early in the football season," Bielema said. "What we're able to do is kind of put them on a waiver … they're part of the 105, as far as coming here (and rehabbing), they just can't take part in any of the practices or meetings."
And while wide receiver Fred Willis has also departed the team for personal reasons, the Wisconsin roster was missing two other scholarship players as well. Wide receiver Isaiah Williams and linebacker Cody Byers were both left off the fall camp roster, but Bielema said both players have a chance to rejoin the team in the next few days.
"(They) are in Madison, both have an opportunity to join us here in the next couple days just kind of depending on what happens for us," Bielema said.
When asked if their absences had anything to do with the fight on campus that took place two weeks ago involving Wisconsin football players and students, Bielema said he wasn't allowed to comment because of the ongoing nature of the investigation.
"I really can't comment on anything (like that)," Bielema said. "People are going to have to assume what they want. For me as a head coach, when you're dealing with a situation like that, I have to make decisions based on what I know and what I believe is real. The accusation of a fight before (Montee Ball's assault) is a police matter that I'm letting them handle."
"Unfortunately, our timetable doesn't always fit the timetable of the police investigation."
It seems likely that the Badgers won't take any definitive action until after the investigation is complete, but Bielema said he stressed to his players that he hasn't been afraid to discipline players who stepped out of line in the past.
"I told the team last night, if there's any indication about what I will or will not do, go back on to my personal record when I threw two starting safeties off the program for things that I felt very strongly about," Bielema said.
"I don't expect to go through my entire coaching career without some of these things popping up. I know that I recruit kids of high quality and high character. If there's a situation where a couple guys are involved in it, I told every one of them 'Hey, if you did something to ring the bell, you're going to pay the price.' I'll let the police work this out, give us the direction we need to go in, and move forward."
News and notes:
-- Ball's injury and the other off-the-field matters took up most of Bielema's time, but the head coach stressed that he was impressed with how his quarterbacks looked during their first practice of the fall.
"All those guys looked pretty strong and I'm happy with where were at," Bielema said.
Bielema also said that compared to last year's quarterback competition, new Badgers quarterback Danny O'Brien will be locked in a battle for the starting spot with the rest of his position group.
"He's in a legitimate battle with him and Curt Phillips and Joel Stave and … Joe Brennan," Bielema said.
-- As mentioned above, Bielema announced wide receiver Fred Willis Jr. decided to leave the football team just before they were getting ready to start fall camp. Willis would have been a sophomore this season, but Bielema said the speedy receiver lost his passion for the game after playing as a true freshman in 2011.
"I kind of had some indication this might be coming forward, but he actually quit the team right before we started up," Bielema said. "Nothing more than he just kind of lost the love for the game … I would say that for the season moving forward, there were times where I was kind of like 'I don't know how much he wants to be here.'
"You could tell it was something that was just gone."
-- The Badgers will return to the practice field on Tuesday for their second practice of fall camp. Tuesday's practice is closed to the media in its entirety.
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