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July 25, 2013Follow @JohnVeldhuis
CHICAGO - There's always a lot going on at the Big Ten Media Days. New coaches like Gary Andersen always face a swarm of reporters looking for perspective on how they're doing at a new school, and there's usually more storylines to follow than I'd feel comfortable counting. I never was that good at math.
I'll keep posting stories and notebooks from the interviews I did and the players I talked to during the event, but that would still leave a lot of content by the wayside. After all I have two hours worth of a roundtable interview with Andersen burning a hole through my recorder, and I'm pretty sure that only half of it involves Andersen talking about Urban Meyer.
Here's two notes I thought were interesting from Andersen to hold you over as I work through the rest of the interview and make my way back home from Chicago. Audio from Andersen's roundtable interview is included below, if you want to hear the whole conversation.
Lewis ready for switch to safety
Jeffrey Lewis was buried on Wisconsin's depth chart for the better part of the last few years. And with James White and Melvin Gordon set to get most of the carries for the Badgers this year, the Jackson came to Andersen after spring camp and told the head coach that he would be open to changing positions if it would give him a better chance to get on the field.
But Andersen and Lewis had a decision to make when Vonte Jackson tore another ACL. The Badgers were suddenly a little thin at running back, but Andersen said Lewis was already working hard to switch positions, and he didn't want to take a chance of more playing time away from Lewis.
"When Jeff moved, Vonte was great, Vonte was fine," Andersen said. "The fact of the matter is that Jeff had really sunk his teeth in to [playing safety] and wanted to do it, and rather than let a kid be a [third-stringer] and not have as much playing time as he may, let's give him a chance to be a one, let's give him a chance to be a two, and if that doesn't work out he can go back and play running back."
Andersen also said he believes Lewis can play safety at a high level once he gets comfortable with the new position, and he wouldn't have done it if it wasn't the right fit.
"I would not have done it if I didn't believe that he could have [done it]," Andersen said. "How much he's sunk his teeth in to it during the summer, we'll find out. I believe his mindset is good, his mindset is good, so he will get that opportunity on day one to show us where he is.
"He's not going to go out there and be an all-league safety on day one. If he [moves up] we're going to be a better defense, because we'll have someone back there who can run."
Andersen not afraid of mission-bound players
The Badgers will largely recruit the same states under Andersen, but the first year head coach has introduced a few new recruiting practices since he arrived in Madison last winter. In addition to recruiting more junior college players at positions where the Badgers have a hole in their roster, Andersen and his staff have also started recruiting Polynesian players, some of whom are planning on taking a two-year mission trip after they graduate from high school.
The Badgers have already received a commitment from running back Ula Tolutau, who will sign a national letter of intent with the Badgers this February but will not enroll at Wisconsin until 2015. Andersen said recruiting mission-bound players is something other coaches avoid, but he isn't afraid to recruit and sign players who want to delay their eligibility.
"It's something that we're very used to, and I grew up in that scenario," Andersen said. "It's not foreign at all for me, but it is foreign for some of our coaches.
"When I first walked in and said 'Hey, this kid is going to come to Wisconsin and we'll see him in basically four years, they were like 'What are you talking about?' But I looked at the coaches that have been here and said 'Well you guys are recruiting ninth graders, it's no different than that!'"
"It is important to get those kids in the program, you just have to manage the structure of your class. Just like if you do if it's a junior college player- they're just bumped up a couple years."
Andersen Media Days Roundtable