By BENJAMIN WORGULL
MADISON -- Going through six weeks of rehabilitation with the desire to try and get his broken foot healthy for the final weeks of the season, junior defensive end David Gilbert stuck with his positive persona, never considering the negatives when positives exist.
So with his decision to redshirt after his body hadn't responded rapidly enough to the treatment, No.16 Wisconsin will be getting back a player next season who registered 10 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and three sacks in its first four games of the season.
"Big picture, certain things happen in a certain way," UW coach Bret Bielema said. "Thinking about him two years from now, it's a pretty good visual to see that body keep getting bigger and stronger."
Along with senior Louis Nzegwu, Gilbert was expected to be one of the key contributors at UW's defensive end position that was looking to fill a void left by junior defensive end J.J. Watt, who was drafted in the first round by the Houston Texans in the 2011 NFL Draft and made an appearance at practice Thursday.
Even without Gilbert, Wisconsin, which travels to Illinois at 11 a.m. Saturday, has gotten production off its edges thanks to junior Brendan Kelly finally being healthy. Starting in place of Gilbert the last five games, Kelly has set career highs this season in tackles (26), tackles for loss (4), sacks (3) and forced fumbles (2).
"He's come back, had a number of different setbacks and Brendan is a real positive kid," Bielema said. "I think our kids have a lot of respect for how much he's been through for him to get back out there."
Bielema also mentioned that freshman Melvin Gordon's groin has not improved and he will take a medical redshirt, meaning he still will have four years of eligibility remaining.
"He couldn't play right now," Bielema said. "I saw him running out there and you can see he wasn't at full swing. He hasn't practiced in four-five weeks."
From the infirmary: Sitting on Monday, Bielema couldn't help but feel a little sorry for himself, thinking he would have upward of six starters out for Saturday's game. Other than center Peter Konz, Wisconsin will find itself near full strength.
Wide receiver Jared Abbrederis practices the last two days and is expected to do both receiver and punt returner. Bielema said whether or not he'll return kicks will be a game day decision and if Abbrederis can't return, freshman Kenzel Doe will return kicks with sophomore James White.
Wide receiver Manasseh Garner will travel with the team Saturday, but freshman Fred Willis is questionable to travel after getting dinged in Wednesday's practice and dealing with bad seasonal allergies.
Jeff Lewis (concussion) practiced Thursday and is expected to travel with the team.
WIAA setback: With the WIAA high school championships taking part in Camp Randall on Thursday and Friday, the Badgers have moved inside the Dave McClain Center and have done everything from pumping in crowd noise to using wet balls to try and simulate the conditions at Memorial Stadium.
Bielema isn't involved in the state event because of the way the NCAA rules are written, saying he can't talk to a coach from a school he's already visited during the fall. That's been an interesting topic if Bielema chooses to make his way on to the field.
"For instance, if I were to have a player that is committed from a high school that's going to be here, I call the high school coaches and say don't take offense that I am not going to be around," Bielema said. "You can have a simple rules violation if a kid is traveling with the team, we've had this in the past with a lot of great players that have been here in the past, a kid can't come up and say hi to us. It's just insane rules because when they travel with the team, it's considered an official team function.
"Even though they are on our campus, it can't be an unofficial visit, so you have to be really cautious."
Bielema does have two players committed to Wisconsin's 2012 recruiting class in Wisconsin Rapids Lincoln linebacker Vince Biegel and Kenosha Bradford running back Vonte Jackson, but the Badgers will be on their way to Champaign by the time the Division 1 game kicks off at 4 p.m. tomorrow.
Bielema on Ryan Groy's progression during the week: "He's doing great. We actually practiced him Sunday. Tuesday made steady improvement. Illinois does a lot of movement, a lot of things at the line of scrimmage, a lot of different blitzes and pressures and I think he's been great. He gets better every day and the good news is that (Travis) Frederick and (Kevin) Zeitler (are) right next to him and have played a lot of football to help him through difficult situations."
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