MADISON, Wis. - Like many teams across the nation, the Wisconsin football team started its 2009 season with its first practice on Monday. And like many other teams, the Badgers have been hit with the injury bug already.
Big hit to the offensive line:
After losing three instrumental players from last season's offensive line, this was one of the key positions that needed to stay healthy throughout fall camp. Instead, both John Moffitt and Bill Nagy suffered injuries that will keep both of them out of camp at least during the early weeks.
Moffitt, who started all of 2008 at center, suffered a strained pectoral muscle during the final week of lifting before camp. At first, the injury seemed to be much more severe than it turned out to be, but the junior will be sidelined for the first week or two of practice, depending on how he recovers.
"We won't have him involved in anything this week, but we should start getting him back into some limited activities next week," UW head coach Bret Bielema said following his teams first fall practice. "And then hopefully, two to three weeks from now, two weeks out from game day, he should be in a position to go."
But, as it often does with muscle injuries, anything can happen during rehab that could potentially serve as a setback and Bielema knows that. However, the fourth-year head coach believes Moffitt will be back and healthy enough to be over the ball when the season opens against Northern Illinois.
"There's a chance if things didn't go right with Moff (he would miss the opener), but Moffitt is already ahead of where they thought he would be two weeks coming out," Bielema said. "It was a lot less than what they thought originally."
Meanwhile, Nagy, a player that saw plenty of action a season ago when Kraig Urbik suffered an injury, was involved in a scooter accident that left him requiring surgery on his wrist in July.
"He had surgery immediately after that (accident)," Bielema said. "He's in a cast right now and he's pleading with a doctor that he's ready to play. But it's an injury that they aren't just quite ready to release him at this point.
"The good thing is that it happened at a point before fall camp so we were able to jockey some people around."
Travis Frederick, who Bielema said had a solid chance to win a starting job during the Big Ten meetings last month, Kevin Zeitler and Peter Konz all look to be in an opportune position to replace the injured players while they rehab their respective injuries, and potentially make a push for a starting role.
"Travis Frederick has moved into the center position where he worked in the spring as well as moving Peter Konz in there as well," Bielema said. "The thing that happened there with Billy Nagy and Moffitt was kind of a boom boom, our number one center and our next back up plan if Travis wasn't our guy.
"So it's helped us there."
Cautious approach with key veterans:
Senior tight end Garrett Graham was limited during Monday's practice and will continue to be limited through most of the week until the team goes full pads on Friday.
"Garrett Graham is a little bit limited at this point just because we're being a little bit cautious with him."
With Travis Beckum out of the picture, Graham is the most tenured tight end on the roster. When healthy, Graham figures to be one of the conference's, if not the nation's, premier tight ends. And with a history full of injuries, the staff is making sure none of those past setbacks creep up during fall camp.
"Garrett just basically had some of the things, all of the issues he had a year ago, his foot, his hand and he had a shoulder," Bielema said. "What we did was we wanted to limit him coming into camp to make sure he was full strength and able to move forward."
Along with Graham, the UW coaching staff is being cautious with sophomore cornerback Aaron Henry. Henry, who suffered a torn ACL injury leading into the Outback Bowl in 2007 missed all of 2008 when a setback occurred in fall camp. Now, with a full spring under his belt, Henry enters fall camp as UW's No. 1 corner and an instrumental player in the secondary.
"He (Graham) might be a guy, as well as Aaron Henry, just because of what they've proven in the program," Bielema said. "Aaron Henry made a nice play on a ball today and it's kind of nice to see him back in the flow of things."
Even more injuries:
Both freshman wide receiver Jeff Duckworth and freshman defensive back Dezmen Southward were limited in Monday's inaugural practice. Duckworth underwent surgery in February and is not yet fully cleared for practice.
Southward, who has already impressed both players and coaches with his athleticism is also limited do to an injury suffered during his senior year of high school.
"He had surgery pretty early after coming here and he's really close to being able to go," Bielema explained. "He actually practiced, he and Jeff (Duckworth) both practiced, but if we were going full live contact today in pads, they wouldn't be able to go."
Still, even while the injury has hampered Southward to a certain extent, he still has been able to showcase his talents throughout summer conditioning and Monday's first practice and thus seems to be in a position to be given a shot as a cornerback.
"We have him at corner," Bielema said. "He came in and impressed our coaches. I was really excited to see him move around out there today. Other than a big club on his hand, he is very athletic. He's very big. He's probably just as big as any of our safeties right now and we like what he brings to the table and hopefully we'll try him at corner."
No longer with the team:
There had been whispers during the summer that Dex Jones was not going to return to the team in the fall. On Monday, Bielema confirmed it. He also told reporters that Daven Jones will move on after his stay at UW never really flourished.
"Dex Jones and Daven Jones, both have left the program," Bielema said. "We've given them releases too. I think Daven, the last conversation I had with him, he's at Eastern Kentucky right now. I met with Dex this afternoon and he's in the process of deciding between some 1-AA options as well as some MAC teams."
Update on Tyler Westphal:
Like both Dex and Daven Jones, Westphal is no longer listed on the team's 105-player roster. But unlike those players, Westphal is still associated with the program while he continues to rehab his shoulder injury.
"He actually, because of NCAA rules, we can have him on campus because they changed the rules a little bit," Bielema said. "In the past, if you weren't on the 105, you couldn't be involved.
"But he had a pre-existing injury that had surgery so now he's in camp rehabbing his shoulder."
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