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August 7, 2011

Welch in kicking positional battle

MADISON - Lost in the comfort of having two senior specialists at place kicker and punter is the fact that there are other players behind them still competing like they're going to get their shot sooner rather than later.

According to Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema, it seems as though Philip Welch has found himself fully entrenched in a positional battle for the starting gig.

"He's in a great competition," Bielema told a throng of reporters during his annual media day press conference Sunday afternoon. "He's obviously done it and he's been successful at it. I think Kyle French and Alec Lerner are hitting the ball extremely well."

Welch has been the Badgers top placekicker his entire career in Madison. He's UW's all-time leader with 153 career extra points made and 156 extra points attempted. Welch also ranks second in school history with a 77 percent field goal percentage, career field goals made (54) and points (315).

But with a couple of costly misses, including one in last season's Rose Bowl loss to TCU, Welch has to earn his spot back atop the depth chart this month. Through two practices it seems as though it's off to an interesting start.

"The first day we went out to practice we were eight-for-eight with competitive field goals," Bielema said. "Yesterday Phil missed one for sure and the other guys were perfect. So you're not going to be given a position just because you've been there. It's a competition and there's a competition not only for the field goal spot, but also for the kickoff spot.

"I think those two younger guys want to have it and we always have our ace in the hole Chris Borland, who's perfect so far on PAT's."

Addressing the turf at Soldier Field

Soldier Field is notorious for sporting some of the worst turf of any athletic arena out there. It's continually falling apart and it's continually being repaired and replaced throughout a given football season.

This year, though a football game has yet to be played there, it seems to be even worse. The Chicago Bears, the team that calls Soldier Field home, had to cancel their Family Fest scrimmage Friday night because the turf deteriorated from a recent resodding to the point where the surface was deemed hazardous.

The Badgers are scheduled to play Northern Illinois at Soldier Field in early mid-September. According to Bielema, a new turf will be installed by the time his squad rolls into town.

"I don't know the exact timing of it, but they're going to lay down turf," Bielema said. "I believe it's under two weeks out. There's going to be one game that will be played on that field before we play so we should have a relatively new turf. It was something going back to a couple of years ago when I know Iowa played down there. I visited with them before we did the contract. Basically we carried the same contract that Iowa did over to ours.

"That was one of the parameters in there."

Staying put:

To say Manasseh Garner was utilized as a true freshman a year ago would probably be a vast understatement. Having played on both sides of the ball and having had a number of coaches prying at him for his services, it was a difficult transition for the young athlete to make.

Now, as he prepares for his sophomore season, Garner seems to have found a solid home at wide receiver. And his head coach seems to be excited about what that will do for the progression of his talents during the course of the season.

"He was kind of a jack-of-all-trades last year," Bielema said. "I think we may have given him a disservice to play him on offense and defense and a little special teams. He had a lot of people pulling at him so one of the things we tried to do as coaches was honing him in to a specific slot. That's where he's been at wide receiver since the start of spring camp last year. You can see the development coming out of him.

"He's a willing soldier and he's very athletic. He's a kid that I really think is going to take a big jump during these next three weeks."

The next Bill Nagy?

Former Badger Bill Nagy didn't really have a set position his senior year in Madison. He'd dabble at tight end here, play a little bit of right guard there and make an appearance on the left side of the line every now and then. He was essentially willing to play wherever the coaching staff needed a fill-in.

With the offensive line seemingly set once again this fall, except for a positional battle taking place at right tackle, it seems as though Ryan Groy might fulfill a role similar to what Nagy did a season ago.

"I think that's exactly where we'd be if that's how it ends up," Bielema said. "Those moves have kind of happened later in fall camp. We want to give Ryan every chance in the world to become as good at the position he's naturally slotted in at center or guard.

"I know Ryan is a willing soul and he'll do whatever we ask."

Quick hits:

-Defensive tackle Jordan Kohout, who suffered a hamstring injury last week, will return to practice Monday when the Badgers where shoulder pads for the first time in camp.

-The UW Athletic Department instituted a no-tweet policy during open practices. So, for those of you that enjoy getting news on Twitter, don't expect to get any updates during open practices the next two weeks.

Quotable:

Bielema on Derek Watt

"I'm not going to slot him into (J.J. Watt's ability), but to have the last name Watt isn't a bad thing. John and Connie raised two great kids and there's another one on the way. Derek, in the all-star game, had three interceptions. I think he's a guy that has a big play mentality. I know he's got big feet. He's got a size 13 or 14 shoe. I was talking to his high school football coach and he was like, 'Coach, just like his brother he's growing everything after he gets done playing for us.' After his senior season he put on 15 or 20 pounds and he looks great. He's got a great demeanor and a great attitude. He's got all those things his older brother has. I don't think he's going to let anybody down."

The following is the audio file from that presser:
Bielema, media day



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