Big Ten: Aubrey Pleasant


Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


The national spotlight will shine brightest in Dallas and South Bend this week, but quite a few eyes and ears will be tuned to what happens Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium.
 
 Scott Boehm/Getty Images
 Bret Bielema's Badgers are looking to rebound from Saturday's loss at Ohio State.


The Iowa-Wisconsin matchup means something, and not just to the two rivals competing for the Heartland Trophy. It means a lot in the Big Ten title race, and possibly the national title chase, given Iowa's unblemished record. Granted, we'll hear the standard storylines all week (Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema facing his alma mater, border battle, homecoming in Madison, etc.), but the matchup has bigger-picture implications.

Back in the preseason, a marquee matchup seemed unlikely as both teams dealt with major concerns.

Wisconsin entered August without a starting quarterback -- again. The Badgers were banged up along the offensive line and had major questions at linebacker after losing DeAndre Levy and Jonathan Casillas. Running back John Clay, a projected star, didn't have the offseason many had hoped for and slipped behind Zach Brown on the depth chart. Dark horse quarterback candidate Scott Tolzien emerged as a surprise starter. Veteran safeties Shane Carter and Aubrey Pleasant were indefinitely suspended. Bielema showed up on lists of coaches on the hot seat, even though his job was never in serious jeopardy.

Iowa, meanwhile, endured arguably the worst preseason of any Big Ten team. Hawkeyes running back Jewel Hampton, the projected successor to Doak Walker Award winner Shonn Greene, couldn't recover from a knee injury and had to be shut down for the season. Injuries also hit the wide receiving corps hard. Things still looked bleak after the season began, as Iowa barely survived its opener against Northern Iowa and lost more standout players (left tackle Bryan Bulaga, tight end Tony Moeaki, wide receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos) to injuries.

The fortunes have changed for both teams heading into Saturday's matchup (ESPN, noon ET).
 
 AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
 Kirk Ferentz and the Hawkeyes are 6-0 for the first time since 1985.


Iowa is 6-0 for the first time since 1985, a season that resulted in a Big Ten championship and a trip to Pasadena. The Hawkeyes own the nation's second-longest win streak (10) and the longest in head coach Kirk Ferentz's tenure. They're tied for second nationally in takeaways (19) and rank 20th in points allowed (15.8 ppg). The defensive line has been fabulous, and quarterback Ricky Stanzi continues to show resiliency despite some troubling miscues. Perhaps most important, Iowa has maintained its poise in close games, winning three by a combined six points.

"This year's team just has that air about them," running back Adam Robinson said. "Everybody wants to win when it's crunch time. We just have that no-quit attitude."

Wisconsin continues to sniff the national rankings despite a loss to Ohio State that in many ways validated the team's 5-0 start. The Badgers boast the Big Ten's most balanced offense and a defense that ranks third in the league in takeaways (16). Tolzien has emerged as the answer at quarterback, and Clay re-established himself as the team's top back with big performances against Michigan State and Minnesota. Senior end O'Brien Schofield has been the Big Ten's best defensive lineman this season, leading the nation in tackles for loss (2.42 per game). Defenders like Mike Taylor, Chris Maragos and Chris Borland have emerged as surprise stars.

If Wisconsin had translated a strong game plan into more points and fewer mistakes in Columbus, Saturday's matchup would pair two undefeated teams. Would that take the spotlight away from Texas-Oklahoma or USC-Notre Dame? Hard to tell.

But the Badgers and the Hawkeyes still deserve your attention.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is reporting that suspended Wisconsin players Shane Carter and Aubrey Pleasant had their appeals denied and likely won't play for the team again.

Head coach Bret Bielema suspended both Carter and Pleasant for unspecified reasons Aug. 15, and neither player has returned to the team.

A Wisconsin spokesman said the players' status has not changed. But a source tells the Journal Sentinel that the chairman of Wisconsin's athletic board said the players wouldn't be reinstated under any circumstances.

Both players are fifth-year senior safeties who were competing for starting jobs at the beginning of training camp.

Big Ten lunch links

September, 9, 2009
9/09/09
12:15
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


A lot on your plate today.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema doesn't second-guess his decision to indefinitely suspend senior safeties Shane Carter and Aubrey Pleasant last week, even though family members of the players plan to fight the ruling.

Neither side has revealed the reasons behind the suspensions, but Carter's brother and Pleasant's father told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the situation was handled poorly and a request for an expedited hearing has been made.

Bielema isn't backing down, either. 

"They can do what they want," the coach told me Tuesday. "I know who's going to be on my team. I wouldn't have done something if I didn't know where it was going to end up."

Badgers senior linebacker Jaevery McFadden remains close with both suspended players and talked to Pleasant on Monday, but McFadden said he's still in the dark about what happened. 

"It's a difficult situation, but there's nothing I can do," McFadden said. "They're missing what they love to do, but times are hard."

Bielema was encouraged to see the team respond well shortly after he announced the suspensions Friday.

The team went through its first two-a-day session Saturday, and after struggling at the end of the morning workout, Bielema told players they would remain in full pads at night. They delivered their best practice of camp under the lights.

"It tells me the mind over matter thing is real," he said. "Their bodies weren't in the ideal shape to go out and do that, but their minds were, and that's why they prevailed."

As a leader on defense, McFadden knew he needed to push ahead. 

"I came in with those guys [Pleasant and Carter], so it hurt me," he said. "But at the same time, I couldn't let it affect my play and hurt the team. Some of the leaders on the team, we gathered the team up, got them together and told them, 'What happened, happened. Nothing we can do about it. We've got to move forward.'

"That's what we did."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

You don't see this very often, but Wisconsin senior safeties Shane Carter and Aubrey Pleasant plan to fight the suspensions handed down Saturday by head coach Bret Bielema.

Relatives of both Carter and Pleasant told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that they're asking the university for a hearing to contest the suspensions, which will last at least through the end of preseason camp.  

Here's what Pleasant's father Garner had to say about the situation: 

"I hate to say this, but you just can't treat people any old way. I think that is what he [Bielema] is used to doing. Maybe this is how they do things at Iowa. And I hate to say that ... but I hope the guy comes to his senses. Lawyers have been contacted, and we just want the kids' names cleared."

Wow. This isn't the type of situation you want right now, especially for a Wisconsin team that supposedly improved its chemistry problems from 2008. 

The reasons behind the suspensions remain unclear -- Bielema didn't provide specifics Saturday -- but it doesn't appear as if Carter and Pleasant violated Wisconsin's student-athlete discipline policy. 

Pleasant's father and Carter's brother both said the players want to remain with Wisconsin for the season. 

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema didn't elaborate on the suspensions of senior safeties Shane Carter and Aubrey Pleasant when he met with reporters Saturday, but the punishments will last at least through the end of preseason camp. 

Carter and Pleasant, both listed as backup safeties to Chris Maragos and Jay Valai, will be removed from the 105-man camp roster. Camp lasts until Aug. 29. 

"The part that our guys have really concentrated on," Bielema told reporters, "is when we're in camp the 105 guys that are here, those 105 have got to work. ... All I want is the guys that want to be here and (be) involved and that's where we're at."

Carter's suspension is his second in the last nine months. He missed bowl practices and the Champs Sports Bowl last December for violating team rules.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Ritenberg

Wisconsin senior safeties Shane Carter and Aubrey Pleasant have been indefinitely suspended from the team, head coach Bret Bielema announced Saturday morning.

No explanation for the suspensions was given in a short news release announcing the suspensions, but Wisconsin officials expect to release more information later today. Carter and Pleasant are listed as backups to Chris Maragos and Jay Valai.

Carter, who led the Big Ten with seven interceptions in 2007, was suspended for bowl practices and the Champs Sports Bowl in December for violating team rules. The younger brother of former Ohio State and NFL star Cris Carter has started 20 games for the Badgers, while Pleasant has made 14 starts and recorded 80 career tackles.

Bielema is expected to address reporters at approximately 12:30 p.m. ET.

Wisconsin spring wrap

May, 6, 2009
5/06/09
9:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Wisconsin Badgers
2008 overall record: 7-6

2008 conference record: 3-5

Returning starters

Offense: 6; Defense: 5; Special teams: 2

Top returners

QB Dustin Sherer, RB John Clay, LT Gabe Carimi, TE Garrett Graham, DE O'Brien Schofield, LB Jaevery McFadden, CB Aaron Henry, K Philip Welch

Key losses

RB P.J. Hill, G Kraig Urbik, G Andy Kemp, TE Travis Beckum, DE Matt Shaughnessy, DT Mike Newkirk, LB DeAndre Levy, LB Jonathan Casillas

2008 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: P.J. Hill (1,161 yds)
Passing
: Dustin Sherer* (1,389 yds)
Receiving: Garrett Graham* (540 yds)
Tackles
: Jaevery McFadden* (84)
Sacks
: O'Brien Schofield* and DeAndre Levy (5)
Interceptions
: Niles Brinkley* (4)

2009 Schedule
Sept. 5 Northern Illinois
Sept. 12 Fresno State
Sept. 19 Wofford
Sept. 26 Michigan State
Oct. 3 at Minnesota
Oct. 10 at Ohio State
Oct. 17 Iowa
Oct. 24 BYE
Oct. 31 Purdue
Nov. 7 at Indiana
Nov. 14 Michigan
Nov. 21 at Northwestern
Nov. 28 BYE
Dec. 5 at Hawaii

Spring answers

1. Toon time -- After struggling at receiver in 2008, Wisconsin might have identified a top wideout this spring, and he has a familiar name. Sophomore Nick Toon, the son of former Wisconsin great and three-time All-Pro Al Toon, blossomed during spring ball. Toon brings both speed and size to the outside receiver spot. He had a game-high four receptions for 62 yards and a touchdown in the spring game.

2. Phillips emerges -- Wisconsin wanted to find another quarterback to challenge projected starter Dustin Sherer, and redshirt freshman Curt Phillips emerged late in spring ball. Phillips finished with a flourish, completing 10 of 16 passes for 122 yards and two touchdowns in the spring game. The Tennessee native might not be a textbook passer, but he brings playmaking ability to the pocket.

3. High Wattage -- Opportunity abounds on the defensive line, which loses three multiyear starters, and end J.J. Watt seized it this spring. The Central Michigan transfer earned a starting spot opposite O'Brien Schofield and has the versatility to play both line positions after transforming his body during the last year. Watt's presence elevates expectations for the Badgers' pass rush.

Fall questions

1. Quarterback clarity -- The big dilemma in Madison is this: Will Wisconsin go with a more experienced player in Sherer and live with another one-and-done situation at quarterback, or will the coaches take a risk with Phillips? Sherer had a solid offseason and played well at points last season. He likely remains the team's best option, but Phillips could provide continuity for the future.

2. Secondary shuffle -- At least two starting defensive back positions and possibly three are unsettled entering the summer. Hard-hitting junior safety Jay Valai must fend off senior Aubrey Pleasant for a starting spot, while Niles Brinkley, last year's interceptions leader, is being pushed by sophomore Devin Smith. Senior Shane Carter is listed as a backup safety on the post-spring depth chart, but he could push Chris Maragos.

3. Clay's conditioning -- There's little doubt that sophomore John Clay possesses the skills to be a first-team All-Big Ten running back in 2009. But Clay has struggled with his weight, which exceeded 250 pounds late last season. He also has had recurrent ankle problems, so maintaining a healthy weight (235-240 pounds) will be vital through the summer and into preseason camp.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Senior Dustin Sherer is listed as Wisconsin's starting quarterback heading into the summer, according to the team's post-spring depth chart released Monday morning.

Redshirt freshman Curt Phillips and junior Scott Tolzien are both listed as possible backups for Sherer, who started the final seven games of 2008.

Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst wanted to narrow the candidate pool to two players by the end of the spring, and despite what the depth chart says, you have to believe Phillips is the No. 2 option. Phillips came on strong the last week of spring ball and completed 10 of 16 passes for 122 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions in the spring game.

The coaches must decide if he's good enough to beat out Sherer, who has improved his game but provides yet another one-year option at quarterback for the Badgers. True freshman Jon Budmayr, an early enrollee who turned heads at the start of spring ball, appears headed for a redshirt year as he's not listed on the depth chart.

Other thoughts from Bret Bielema's post-spring two-deep (doesn't include special teams):

  • Sophomore wide receiver Nick Toon moved into a co-starter position with David Gilreath after an excellent spring. I'd be surprised if Toon doesn't earn a starting receiver nod alongside Isaac Anderson or Kyle Jefferson when the season begins. On plays when Wisconsin uses only one tight end, Toon will definitely be on the field.
  • Sophomore Josh Oglesby held off freshman Peter Konz for the starting right tackle spot entering the summer. Oglesby has all the physical tools to be dominant and appeared to respond well after Konz pushed him this spring.
  • Not surprisingly, Central Michigan transfer J.J. Watt is listed as a starting defensive end opposite O'Brien Schofield. Watt could be a difference maker for the Badgers this fall. The competition at defensive tackle will continue between senior Dan Moore and sophomore Patrick Butrym, who are listed as co-starters.
  • Keep an eye on the secondary this summer. Sophomore cornerback Aaron Henry might be the only guaranteed starter at this point. Hard-hitting junior Jay Valai and senior Aubrey Pleasant are listed as co-starters at one safety spot, while Niles Brinkley and Devin Smith will compete at cornerback. Safety Shane Carter remains a second stringer behind Chris Maragos, but if Carter can improve his tackling and overall fundamentals, he'll make a push for more time.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin went through a full-pads practice Thursday afternoon at the McClain Center, and I was there for almost the entire workout (had to step out to interview Ohio State safety Kurt Coleman, and a friend called informing me the Bears had traded for Jay Cutler, woo hoo!).

All four candidates for the Badgers' starting quarterback spot got plenty of work, as did an improved wide receiver corps led by Kyle Jefferson and Nick Toon, the son of former NFL star and Badgers great Al Toon. The younger Toon has been one of Wisconsin's spring standouts, and he didn't disappoint today, hauling in several receptions. He also nearly made a circus catch, only to cough up the ball to safety Aubrey Pleasant for a turnover.

"It's growing pains," offensive coordinator Paul Chryst said. "Nick has a big-time play and then puts the ball on the ground. Is that a good thing? Yeah, he got there, made it, got big, but bad that he didn't finish. So shoot, that's spring ball."

Here are some other observations from the Badgers' workout:

  • Everyone wants to hear about the quarterbacks, so here goes. All four are receiving about equal reps, but I'd give a slight edge to fifth-year senior Dustin Sherer, who looks more comfortable with his throws and moving in the pocket. Sherer has shortened his throwing motion and found Toon for several completions. He also threaded the needle to tight end Garrett Graham midway through team drills.
  • From talking with several Wisconsin beat writers, Scott Tolzien had arguably his best practice of the spring, hitting several different receivers, including David Gilreath on a deep ball. Tolzien also found Toon for a leaping grab toward the end of practice.
  • Curt Phillips, who wore No. 19 instead of his usual No. 10 because his jersey was reportedly "too tight," has an unorthodox throwing motion but gets the job done most of the time. He seems to shot-put the ball, but he connected on several nice throws, including a deep fade route to Isaac Anderson. Phillips also is clearly the most athletic of the four candidates, and his scrambling ability should help his cause.
  • Freshman Jon Budmayr didn't have his best practice, from what I was told, but he still showed why people are buzzing about him this spring. Budmayr isn't very big -- generously listed at 6-foot-1 -- but he's got a very live arm. Not surprisingly, the Illinois native is a Rex Grossman fan but seemed excited about the Bears acquiring Cutler. Budmayr might not win the starting job this year, but he'll be on the field soon. There were some growing pains for Budmayr, including an interception to linebacker Tony Megna.
  • Chryst and head coach Bret Bielema want to narrow the quarterback pool to two by the end of the spring. I'd be stunned if Sherer isn't one of them, but the other spot is unclear.
  • The Badgers wide receivers are much, much better, which isn't saying much after last year. They caught the first six passes during team drills, an excellent sign after been plagued by drops in 2008. Toon and Jefferson look like the top two wideouts, though Anderson and Gilreath also had their moments. The wideouts caught several deep balls and more important, the intermediate routes over the middle. Tight end Graham looked to be in All-Big Ten form Thursday, but this team needs the wideouts to step up.
  • The first-team defensive line consisted of senior O'Brien Schofield and Central Michigan transfer J.J. Watt at the ends and seniors Jeff Stehle and Dan Moore at tackles. Moore, a converted end, looks undersized at the tackle spot, but Wisconsin might need to go that route after losing three starters.
  • Defensive coordinator Dave Doeren came over to chat briefly during the water break. Doeren is working with a pretty green linebacker corps but likes the development of junior Culmer St. Jean. He seemed most excited about Watt, whom he called "a beast" and a future star along the defensive line.
  • Why is weight always an issue with Wisconsin running backs? P.J. Hill isn't around any longer, but John Clay will need to manage his size as the season nears. Clay apparently eclipsed 250 pounds last season and is listed this spring at 247 pounds but looks bigger. The sophomore can be one of the best running backs in the Big Ten next fall, but he'll be at his best closer to 235-240 pounds.
  • Former Badgers coach and current athletic director Barry Alvarez stopped by the practice for a few minutes to chat with Bielema. Alvarez showed off his speed as Toon nearly took him out after catching an out route near the sideline.
  • Hard-hitting safety Jay Valai, who underwent sports hernia surgery during the offseason, was held out of most contact drills. You can see it's killing him not being able to crush somebody.
  • Defensive end Louis Nzegwu was on crutches Thursday after tearing his MCL at the end of Tuesday's workout. Bielema said Nzegwu, who had been coming along nicely this spring, will miss 6-8 weeks.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The Wisconsin Badgers are up next on the superlatives rundown. Quarterback certainly hurt the Badgers more than any other spot last season, but the team should be better stocked under center this year.

Here's the good news and bad news for Wisconsin entering spring ball.

Strongest position -- Safety

Key returnees: Junior Jay Valai, senior Chris Maragos, senior Shane Carter, senior Aubrey Pleasant

Key departures: None

The skinny: The secondary as a whole should be stronger despite the loss of top cover corner Allen Langford, and the safeties are all back for 2009. Valai has established himself as one of the Big Ten's hardest hitters, and Maragos is a solid tackler with experience at free safety. If Carter improves his tackling to complement his ball-hawking skills, he'll be an asset this fall. The running backs would have earned this distinction if P.J. Hill had stayed, though the group still remains solid. Other strong positions include tight end and cornerback.

Weakest position -- Defensive line

Key returnees: Senior end O'Brien Schofield, senior end Dan Moore

Key departures: Tackle Mike Newkirk (59 tackles, 9 TFLs, 4 sacks), end Matt Shaughnessy (8 TFLs, 4 sacks, 10 QB hurries), tackle Jason Chapman (5 TFLs, 2 sacks)

The skinny: Several offensive position groups could fit in this category, especially quarterbacks and wide receivers. The linebackers also will be restocking after losing DeAndre Levy and Jonathan Casillas. But enough players are back at all of those spots, and the production hit along the defensive line might be a bigger problem for the Badgers. Newkirk was terrific last season, recording nine tackles for loss and four sacks, and Shaughnessy brought a pass-rushing presence to the edge. Schofield could be a star this fall after a productive junior year, but he'll need some help.

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