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Wisconsin Football News: Co-DC Clarification, Bicknell Update, & More

The Badgers coach covered several topics when talking with the media.



Wisconsin Badgers Football head coach Luke Fickell
Sep 16, 2023; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers head coach Luke Fickell prior to the game against the Georgia Southern Eagles at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

In a recent media availability ahead of the Big Red Rally, Wisconsin Badgers head football coach Luke Fickell shared some insights into the program’s coaching additions and the team’s offseason.

Fickell shed light on why he hired AJ Blazek as the Badgers’ offensive line coach, addressed the meaning behind the co-defensive coordinator designation, and even touched on Jack Bicknell Jr’s future role within the program. 

Here are a few things that stood out from the head coaches press conference. 

Why Wisconsin Football Hired AJ Blazek as OL Coach 

Wisconsin football was on the market for its fourth offensive line coach in as many seasons this offseason. The Badgers’ head coach went out of network to add AJ Blazek from Vanderbilt, who came well recommended.

“It’s not like you can go and interview a bunch of guys, right?” Fickell said. “I mean, guys have really good jobs, and to think you’re going to bring them in there and spend a whole day and do the interview process, I think, is a little bit difficult… I had an opportunity just to sit down with him [Blazek] for a couple of hours and just have a cup of coffee, and there was pretty much no doubt exactly what he was all about.

“It had a lot to do with the energy and the, you know, the passion to just to be an offensive line coach… I thought that was was important.”

Blazek’s coaching journey includes stints at Fort Hays State, Winona State, Western Illinois, Rutgers, North Dakota State, and Vanderbilt.

He’ll now look to turn around a Wisconsin football offensive line room that endured its fair share of struggles from its first season playing in a spread offense.

Fickell Addressed the Badgers’ Lack of Offensive Line Depth

Speaking of offensive line play, the Wisconsin Badgers lost a significant portion of their two deep along the line this offseason. 

Nolan Rucci, Trey Wedig, and Dylan Barrett entered the transfer portal in pursuit of more playing time, and starting center Tanor Bortolini declared for the NFL Draft, leaving plenty of spots up for grabs. 

“We don’t quite have the depth that you would expect for us to have,” Fickell told reporters. “So, the development of some really young guys is going to be really critical, and so that’s kind of where that whole energy and you know, sometimes a little bit of something new was something that I just thought we really it was necessary for us to continue to grow.”

The Badgers return starting tackles Jack Nelson, Riley Mahlman, and interior lineman Joe Huber. After that, Jake Renfro has the inside track to earn the starting center job. 

Wisconsin football will count on in-house development from guys like Joe Brunner, JP Benzschawel, and perhaps some incoming freshmen to push for spots in the two-deep. 

Jack Bicknell Jr. Still Without a Defined Role

Luke Fickell wasn’t impressed with what he saw from the Wisconsin football team’s offensive line last season and decided a change was needed. As a result, Jack Bicknell Jr. was reassigned

What exactly “reassigned” means has been a mystery, but reporters asked coach Fickell about Bicknell’s new role. 

“Jack [Bicknell], we don’t really know,” Fickell said. “That’s kind of the hard thing is trying to figure out how it all kind of works together. We’ll figure that out as we move forward if he’s going to be a part of it. We love him, he’s a great guy and trying to feel the dynamics of all those things, to be honest with you. Without us being together and actually starting to do some stuff, it’s kind of hard to figure out.”

Translation: Jack Bicknell Jr. is exploring potential job opportunities, but the door is open for him to return as an analyst should he accept that role. At least, that’s my two cents—but who knows?

What to Make of Wisconsin Football Co-defensive Coordinator Titles

When the Wisconsin football program announced the hiring of Alex Grinch as its new safety coach, adding the co-defensive coordinator title sparked some uncertainty among the fanbase. 

Those question marks were largely put to rest by Coach Fickell on Thursday. 

“Mike Tressel is our defensive coordinator,” Fickell told reporters. “Titles are titles, right? I mean, they don’t mean a ton… everybody’s a part of what it is that we do.

“He’ll [Grinch] have a big part in not just coaching the safeties but also continuing to help us evolve the defense, and you know, be a be a right-hand man in some ways to Mike Tressel.”

Grinch, a four-time nominee for the Broyles Award, has served as the defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach at Washington State and the co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach at Ohio State. 

He was also the defensive coordinator and safeties coach at Oklahoma, continuing in the same role under Lincoln Riley at USC. 

Grinch will now have a chance to work with an established group of safeties such as Hunter Wohler, Kamo’i Latu, Austin Brown, and Preston Zachman, among others. 

Wisconsin Football Junior Day Recruiting Philosophy 

Luke Fickell and the Wisconsin football coaching staff have welcomed recruits to campus for junior day visits on two weekends this offseason, one of which was cut short due to weather. 

He shared insights into why the Badgers have kept some of those recruiting visitor lists smaller rather than getting as many targets on campus as possible to widen their board. 

“We don’t try to bring in like 35, 40 guys and go to a basketball game and shake hands with guys and spend a little bit of time with them,” Fickell said. “We specifically try to say, ‘Hey, if we’re going to bring them on campus, let’s bring no more than like 10 to 15, 10 to 14, just so that we can spend a lot of time with them, individual attention.’ Which in times can be a difference, right?”

In talking with Wisconsin football recruiting targets, the Badgers staff has been knocking said visits out of the park. In their first round of junior day visits, the coaches had four targets on campus, three of whom committed to the program shortly after that. No notes. 

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