By TOM LEA
MADISON – If it takes Wisconsin senior running back Montee Ball three weeks to shake a concussion and other facial injuries following a shocking attack in the early morning hours of Aug. 1, his head coach Bret Bielema probably wouldn’t mind.
In fact, it likely makes his job a bit easier.
“I’m not in a hurry to get Montee back,” Bielema told reporters moments after his team completed its first practice of fall camp Monday afternoon. “I said it the other day and I meant it full circle. The blessing in disguise with all this is we don’t have to worry about whether we scrimmage him or not while getting ourselves ready.”
The plan for Ball is simple: Work him back slowly and at his pace. Bielema said the training staff is treating his concussion with extreme caution and that he doesn’t expect to get him back in practice until midway through fall camp.
The ultimate plan is to get him back in time for game week, meaning the coaching and training staff is working to get him back at full strength in time for the week of practice leading up to the Sept. 1 season opener against Northern Iowa.
“Which is where I think I would have to be,” Bielema said. “To play him in that opener. It sounds like everything is going to happen full speed ahead.”
For now, Ball has been cleared for non-football conditioning drills. He can ride an exercise bike and other cardio related exercises to keep in shape while he misses practices.
“It’s really standard stuff for a concussion,” Bielema said. “(Next) Monday, like I said, (when) we start practice, I expect him to be involved in some non-contact stuff.
“But if he’s not progressing the way we want they’ll slow it down.”
In a perfect world Ball would be healthy, his name wouldn’t be involved in acts of violent crime and he would be starting his campaign toward the 2012 Heisman trophy. In a perfect world, Ball would attempt to have a better year than his record-setting season as a junior.
But Ball’s offseason has been far from a perfect world, and Ball’s name is involved with an ongoing police investigation that has the potential to taint his name for the second time since he announced he was returning for his senior year, the first being a ticket for trespassing during the annual Mifflin Street block party and the second this most recent incident.
“I sat down with Montee after I became aware of it,” Bielema said. “And I became aware of (the alleged earlier fight) soon after his incident and I just assured him he needs to sit here and tell me exactly what happened. And if I found out there was any indication that he was involved in it he would be handled just like everybody else.”
But for now, Ball hasn’t been officially mentioned as a perpetrator in a fight that precipitated his attack. Bielema even went as far as to say the same thing. He said he’s known Ball for seven years, and though he isn’t a social friend, he still knows what he stands for.
“He’s a senior at the University of Wisconsin,” Bielema said. “My guess is, of all the seniors this year at the University of Wisconsin there have been a few that have been in a bar after 2:00 a.m., but nobody draws the attention that Montee does. That’s part of what he, I think, probably realizes now. As much as he tried to realize it before, now it’s on a grander…and how much potential hate can be driven toward him in a short amount of time by so many people.
“That’s a big part.”