Hughes: Big Ten media days notebook, Day 2

first_imgCHICAGO – Players and coaches sat at tables for one-on-one interviews in another eventful day at the Big Ten football media days. I caught up again with those representing Wisconsin. Let me fill you in on the good stuff from day two:Henry thankful for Bielema’s astuteness Aaron Henry, a redshirt senior out of Immokalee, Fla., said some pretty interesting things about the relationship he’s had with Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema over the years.Let’s start at the beginning: Henry enjoyed a rather successful year at cornerback as a true freshman for the Badgers in 2007. He played in 12 games, started two, and totaled 3.5 sacks, one interception and 38 tackles. But after suffering a torn anterior cruciate knee ligament in a practice prior to the Outback Bowl, Henry said he and Bielema began to disagree on some things.“Me and Coach B, our relationship has never been really negative, but sometimes we didn’t always see eye-to-eye on things,” he said.Henry said he had his doubts on whether or not he could recover from such an injury, but his head coach was more optimistic. Henry agreed to redshirt the 2008 season to rehabilitate his knee and spent the following year in 2009 as a nickel back. After that though, Bielema had a change of plans. And again, Henry didn’t initially take to the idea.“I end up redshirting and he moves me to safety,” Henry said. “I hated it. I was a cornerback my whole life, I wanted to be a cornerback my whole life.”“But as you guys can see, the guy is smarter than he looks.”Clearly. In his first season at safety last year, Henry was named Second-Team All-Big Ten by the coaches in starting all 13 games and accumulating 58 tackles, two interceptions, three fumble recoveries and scoring three touchdowns.Henry said over the course of recovering from his knee injury he contemplated transferring and even reconsidered playing football as a whole. But after sticking with it and reflecting on the past, he knows he owes a lot of his success to Bielema.“I’m so thankful for that today,” Henry said. “Coach B has truly been an instrument of my success here.”A reminder of what the D-line has Wisconsin has some pretty big holes to fill in from last year’s Rose Bowl squad and, right now at least, it looks like the Badgers have the right personnel to absorb those blows. But given the mammoth effort J.J. Watt put forth a year ago, his departure has left more people wondering.And sure, Butrym, a redshirt senior, knows just how much Watt contributed, but after being asked if he was growing tired of questions relating to Watt, Butrym answered in a nice way and pointed out something that a lot of people (present company included) have overlooked.“The funny thing is, we literally return three starters (on the defensive line) and [several] contributors,” he said. “But [Watt] was the No. 11 pick of the draft and the guy can play, no question about it… We gotta replace him somehow.”He’s got a point, though, there is plenty of experience on the defensive line. Himself and Louis Nzegwu started all 13 games last season while redshirt sophomores Jordan Kohout and Ethan Hemer split the 13 starts. And behind those three are several more guys who played in more than 10 games last year.Even if a standout player fails to emerge, you got to like the chances of the line at least forming a fundamentally sound group.But can anyone replicate Watt?“You look at the past couple years, guys had solid previous seasons and then just burst onto the scene,” Butrym said. “J.J. Watt… and O’Brien Schofield is the other guy… I just kind of take the approach they took.”Watt and Schofield’s final years as Badgers were a different species compared to their penultimate seasons. And when you look at Butrym and Nzegwu, two guys who played solid up front last year, it can be easy to see one or possibly both making a similar leap.Until that time comes though, replacing Watt will probably remain a valid question. But just be sure to keep Butrym’s point in the back of your mind.Bielema and Chryst in harmony Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst has become a hot commodity in the football world recently. In the past, Chryst has been offered a position as the Dallas Cowboys’ quarterbacks coach but over the course of this offseason he earned offers from Texas, as an offensive coordinator, and Pittsburgh, as a head coach.Despite chances of higher wages and prominent positions, Chryst, who has been with Bielema throughout his career at the helm of UW, decided to remain in Madison.I’d heard a lot about how Chryst and his family – a wife and three kids – very much enjoy life in Madison and how that probably played a significant factor in keeping Chryst in town. But on Friday I got to hear Bielema talk about his fluid relationship with Chryst.“Even when I was talking to (Texas head coach) Mack Brown, I said ‘Mack, the advantage I have is he works for me right now,” Bielema said. “Paul knows what it’s like to be an offensive coordinator for Bret Bielema. I do not try to be the offensive coordinator; I do not even pretend to be. I give suggestions, ideas, and I think we have a relationship that’s really very special and that’s not common.”“Defensive coaches on my staff have it a little bit different because of my background and my history. I naturally gravitate to that side a little bit, but I think to be an offensive coach in our program with me as a head coach is a lot of fun because I don’t mettle.”Chryst reportedly accepted a pay increase at UW shortly after declining the offers from other schools. It’s good to know that things are happy at home and at work for one of the nation’s hottest assistant coaches. That’s huge for Wisconsin.Elliot Hughes is a senior majoring in journalism. Are you as amazed as he is over how positive the offseason has been for Wisconsin? Tell him about it at ehughes@badgerherald.com.last_img

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