Big Ten Preview: Badgers have an attitude

BY AMIE KIEHN | AUGUST 25, 2009 7:05 AM

Football season has yet to commence, but scary summer practice sessions have put the Wisconsin Badgers alarmingly close to a lackluster season.

Initially, left tackle Gabe Carimi suffered what most suspected to be a season-ending knee injury in practice on Aug. 18. But a MRI later showed the junior had only sprained his MCL, a sign of good fortune that spurred Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema to issue an encouraging Tweet to the Badger faithful.

“Good news after practice with Gabe Carimi,” Bielema wrote that day. “He has a mild knee [injury] that will keep him out for fewer than two weeks.”

Without the ESPN’s All-Big Ten preseason pick, Wisconsin’s three rotating quarterbacks — senior Dustin Sherer, junior Scott Tolzien, and freshman Curt Phillips — would have been extremely vulnerable in the pocket. Fortunately for the Badgers, especially offensively, the most valuable player will still be on the line.

While Wisconsin’s offensive line returns strengthened because of an experienced Carimi, the defensive line is raw. Of the 14 defensive lineman, 10 are underclassmen.

Bielema, who was a defensive lineman under legendary Iowa head coach Hayden Fry, has noticed how resolved the players are to get rid of their unseasoned persona.

“The thing that I saw during spring ball is a group of guys who were very determined to prove their worth,” Bielema said at Big Ten media days in Chicago.

Senior O’Brien Schofield who started 13 games last season and totaled 40 tackles and five sacks, is bent to improve upon those numbers. After Wisconsin’s pitiful 42-13 loss in the Champs Sports Bowl against Florida State Dec. 27, Schofield has his inspiration.

“That game was embarrassing,” he said. “At the end of the game, just to go get blown out like that in a bowl game once we started so fast in the game, it left us with a chip on our shoulders to work that much harder — especially with a new team.”

Another player wishing for a fresh start is cornerback Aaron Henry. He returns from an ACL injury and is a major gain for the Badger defensive bulk.

Offensively, the Badgers are equipped with running back John Clay and his bulldozer-like strength.

The sophomore from Racine, Wis., ranked seventh in the Big Ten last year (rushing for 884 yards) and will be one of the key contributors in the Big Ten this season. ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg put Clay in his list of top-20 players in the league.

Schofield, whose job is to push around guys on the field, admits he is even a little afraid of the 6-1, 250-pound Clay.

“He’s a bruiser, man,” Schofield said. “For him to be so big, a lot of guys just use a power back, but he’s very, very athletic, and very fast. I think people underestimate his speed. Trying to tackle that guy, you don’t see too many solo tackles against him. He’s one of those guys where it takes two [or] three guys to bring him down.”

If Carimi makes a speedy recovery and Clay delivers, perhaps — and that is a big perhaps — Wisconsin could redeem itself this season.

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