By TOM LEA
MADISON – Whoever is driving the continuing right guard positional battle train continues stopping to add new passengers.
At first, the competition featured a competition between senior Rob Burge and sophomore Kyle Costigan. Late in the second week of camp, though, it was apparent Costigan emerged as the man to beat at that position.
But when the initial two-deep came out earlier this week, true freshman Dan Voltz, not Burge, was backing Costigan up.
Head coach Bret Bielema, at that time, said it would be an open competition between Costigan and Voltz. Now it’s clear a third person has emerged.
“Zac Matthias has really come along,” he said following Thursday’s practice. “He’s obviously a guy that has been waiting his opportunity. Costigan has been a little beat up and he’s getting back to being healthy. I think there are a number of guys we’re excited to get through tomorrow, give them Saturday and Sunday to get their legs back and see where we’re at Monday.
“Those three guys, obviously one of them is going to be the starter.”
Matthias had been grappling with a lingering back injury throughout the course of spring camp, which really stunted his ability to compete for playing time to start fall camp. Bielema acknowledged the fact Matthias underwent a procedure to fix his ailing back and that it’s worked wonders for the junior so far in camp.
“To his credit he rehabbed himself all summer and got himself back,” Bielema said. “We’ve always felt he’s a read strong, physical and big kid. He’s probably got to get his weight in balance a little bit better and approach things with a little more urgency.
“I know our guys have been excited about him and he’s looked good there this week.”
KICKING COMPETITION HEATS UP:
Sophomore Kyle French has apparently been ‘on fire’ during the latter portion of the week, which is probably forcing Bielema and his staff to strongly consider altering his original two-deep at the place kicker position.
Remember, true freshman Jack Russell was slotted as the No. 1 place kicker on Monday’s two-deep. According to Bielema, this competition will linger on through the remainder of the next week before UW opens the 2012 slate with a game against Northern Iowa.
“It could go down to Thursday,” Bielema said. “Who’s got the hot leg and who is performing well. The good news is both of them are kicking. I could see split duty.”
Bielema brought up UW’s much-anticipated contest against Nebraska from a season ago when describing the uncertainty at the kicking position. Before that game — UW’s fifth of the season — Bielema and his staff was uncertain if senior Philip Welch would be healthy enough to play.
So they entered that week of preparation with the thought French would start and kick in that game. That didn’t turn out to be the case.
“French was the starter on Thursday and Friday,” Bielema said. “Just the way Phil was hitting the ball on Saturday, Charlie (Partridge) made the switch. Obviously it paid off for us.”
The obvious connection to that story and the current situation is that Bielema is comfortable waiting up to kickoff before deciding who will kick.
“It could be the exact opposite of what we released,” Bielema said, in regard to his initial two-deep. “It could be the exact same and it could be guys doing both.
“I’m going to go with what’s good.”
NO MOVEMENT AT WIDE RECEIVER:
It looks as though the only jockeying currently ongoing at wide receiver is for the seventh spot in the rotation. Sophomore Isaiah Williams and true freshman Reggie Love are currently in a battle for that role, one that will likely travel with the team when it hits the road this fall.
The other six spots seem to be set.
Jared Abbrederis, Jordan Fredrick and Kenzel Doe continue manning the No. 1 line. Jeff Duckworth, Chase Hammond and A.J. Jordan, in no particular order, are the reserves.
“We’re trying to find the six guys we can go to work with,” Bielema said. “Thos six guys you feel pretty comfortable about. All of them kind of have their strengths. The thing Duckworth brings to the table is he knows all three (positions), along with Abby.”
Bielema also pointed out some shortfalls.
“Jordan Fredrick has got to get used to game speed,” Bielema said. “He hasn’t played to contact in two years being a redshirt guy last year. Same way with A.J. Jordan. Kenzel Doe definitely fills a role and Chase Hammond has kind of shown some flashes.”
FEELING IT OUT:
So much is made about the progression of the players on the field during the course of fall camp, and rightfully so. But when a team welcomes six new assistant coaches it’s only natural to inquire about their assimilation into the program.
Head coach Bret Bielema would agree with that assertion.
“I just want to get our players and coaches at game speed,” Bielema said. “So we broke with the last 25 or 30 minutes of practice and sent coaches to the booth and sidelines. We’re going to do it again Friday. That will be three times, four times including the spring game.
“I just want to make guys game ready.”
One of the reasons Bielema is determined to simulate an actual game day at a level as close to the real thing as possible is to make sure his coaches and players are all on the same page. In order to do so, Bielema wants his coaches in the same seats they’ll be in during an actual game day.
So far it seems to be going well.
“It really seems to flow well from the booth to the sidelines,” Bielema said. “The sidelines to the field and vice versa. We haven’t had any issues with the blocks. We’ll have the officials in there Friday and that will be a major point of emphasis.”
Bielema continued the discussion by addressing the high volume of turnover his program has undergone since losing a heartbreaking game to Oregon in the Rose Bowl. He said he’s encouraged by the amount of energy the new assistants bring to the table and that there isn’t much chance of any setbacks come game day.
“The only way it becomes a setback is if we don’t have success,” Bielema said. “From the outside world a lot of people have their own ideas and perceptions from what we do here. Reality comes when you see it. I’ve had transition the year before. It’s just nothing new to me. I might be wired differently than most coaches. Most coaches bang their fist on their chest and talk about how they don’t have transition.
“I kind of embrace it. I think it brings a lot of new thoughts and new ideas. It helps me as a young coach grow.”
Sophomore Sam Arneson figures to play a vital role in Wisconsin’s tight end position once he gets healthy. According to Bielema, the knee procedure Arneson had in recent days seems to be recovering right on schedule.
“He’s got a follow up appointment on Monday,” Bielema said. “If he had his option he’d be out there playing today. I know the doctors are being very tempered.”
Arneson had a minor procedure to fix a problem that had been plaguing his knee for quite some time. Bielema said last week the recovery would take approximately five days after the procedure was complete.
That still seems to be the plan.
“He had his procedure and he looks great,” Bielema said. “He’s chomping at the bit and he looked like he was ready to run out there. Hopefully we’ll get him for Monday afternoon’s practice. We’re going to take it easy with him.
“If there’s anything in doubt we’ll probably hold him out another week until we can make a final decision.”
-True freshman defensive tackle Arthur Goldberg suffered a concussion at some point this past week. He hasn’t been able to practice and Bielema wasn’t sure when he would be cleared to return.
Bielema had mentioned Goldberg as a freshman competing for playing time at the defensive tackle position prior to his injury.
-Junior Tyler Dippel was held out of practice all week while battling with a lingering plantar fascia injury. Bielema said he expects him to return for Sunday.
“He’s a guy that will have a plan throughout the course of the fall,” Bielema said. “He’ll practice Tuesday’s, maybe won’t go on Wednesday and go Thursday’s. He’s a guy that can really help us from the line of scrimmage.”
Bielema on the play of Derek Watt, UW’s freshman fullback:
“Derek Watt, you can mark it down and I know his older brother did a lot of good things here, but Derek Watt is going to be a phenomenal player here at fullback. For him to be a freshman and doing what he’s doing at fullback is unbelievable.”