The Wisconsin Badgers football team didn't have a bye last week, but the 70-3 victory over Austin Peay was the next best thing. Being able to rest a couple injured players and holding out so many starters in the second half means the Badgers will be the healthiest they have been all season.
The only players who have been ruled out for the Big Ten Conference opener on Saturday at Michigan State as of now are linebacker Chris Borland, who is out for the season with a shoulder injury, and backup quarterback Curt Phillips, who is a week or two away from returning following major knee surgery in the spring.
"I'm very excited," UW coach Bret Bielema said at his Monday press conference. "Probably since fall camp started, this is the healthiest we've been.
"We were able to rest a few guys in the second half Saturday, which was critical, because there were a number of guys, we didn't know if they were actually going to be able to play in the game. For us to be able to get those things done on Saturday without them being out there was very, very big in our preparation for this week."
Wide receivers Nick Toon (turf toe) and David Gilreath (concussion) are both expected to return. Gilreath has not officially been cleared for contact. He won't find that out until Tuesday morning. Gilreath wore a green non-contact jersey in practice last week and it doesn't sound like that will change any time soon.
"He may be in green the rest of his life here at Wisconsin," Bielema said. "No reason for him to absorb any hits or anything like that."
"Obviously, Saturday, they (Spartans) are going to be in green jerseys so we're not going to be allowed to wear one," Bielema joked. "I don't think they would pay attention to it if we did."
As for Phillips, he took part in "pretty much a live situation" at the end of Sunday's practice, in a scrimmage with developmental players and some second-stringers.
"He took off on two different occasions and looked like the Curt of old, so that was encouraging," Bielema said.
It remains to be seen, if Gilreath returns, who will handle the returns. Freshman James White continues to be listed as the No. 1 kickoff returner, while redshirt freshman wide receiver Jared Abbrederis and junior free safety Aaron Henry are listed as the co-punt returners.
Henry got his chance in the last game and looked good on a 30-yard punt return.
"Another guy that can handle that, that we haven't put on his plate is James White," Bielema said of punt returns. "James has looked more than adequate. I was very happy with `Abby,' (but) he scared me with those two he bobbled. For those of you that know Camp Randall, that position on the field with an 11 o'clock game is a very tough fielding assignment for a high punt. That's what that guy was executing."
Bielema must weigh the risk of using Henry, a starter coming off his two best games back-to-back, along with questions of how much they want to expose Gilreath, who has been the top returner throughout his four years.
"It's a legit question, one we've already had discussions on," Bielema said of using Henry.
Bielema said the decision on the punt returner likely will be made during pregame warmups.