Focused on the Future

While No.4 Wisconsin prepares for one of its toughest challenges in the high-powered offense and suffocating defense of No.3 TCU, the Badgers balance their bowl prep with prepping for their future, especially when it comes to building depth in the secondary.

MADISON - Changes are afoot at the University of Wisconsin, especially on the defensive side of the ball.

Yes, Wisconsin's offense will be losing at least three receivers, a Mackey Award finalist at tight end, three senior offensive linemen and the best senior quarterback in the country, but the defense is in line for a massive shake-up.

There's the obvious with Defensive Coordinator Dave Doeren heading to Northern Illinois for his first head coaching job, which would lead many to believe that either Secondary Coach Chris Ash or Defensive Line Coach Charlie Partridge would get promoted, engineering a massive staff shake up.

The Badgers also are losing two senior linebackers, two senior secondary players and, quite possible, junior defensive end J.J. Watt, who is projected by some as a first-round NFL pick.

So while No.4 Wisconsin is preparing for its date with No.3 TCU 15 days from today in the 97th Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., the Badgers have taken time to work in a number of developmental practices to cultivate the depth for next season.

"I think they all have taken great steps," Ash said. "Collectively, they have all developed, and that's what we are trying to do as a group. They've come a long way and they've got a long way to go, which is why these practices in preparation for the Rose Bowl are huge."

Wisconsin's 26-member 2010 recruiting class was ranked 33rd in the country by, a group that UW Coach Bret Bielema has said was full of raw, talented players. That's a good thing, according to Ash, when the Badgers don't need those players to play right away.

After playing only three members of the class – Beau Allen, Manasseh Garner and James White – playing this season, the coaching staff has had a chance to improve that talent pool.

"If you need them to play fast, raw talent isn't much because we need guys that have talent and are ready to play," Ash said. "I wish we had more depth and more guys for competition, but having those three guys (Niles Brinkley, Antonio Fenelus and Devin Smith) certainly helped up this year."

With Brinkley and safety Jay Valai the only two seniors leaving the secondary, the Badgers have a log jam of talented players waiting in the wings, especially at safety, as the Badgers have given reps to redshirt freshmen Josh Peprah and Dezmen Southward and true freshmen Frank Tamakloe and Michael Trotter.

"I am not down playing myself, but we have guys that can play and step up into great roles," Valai said.

Southward, whose first year of organized football was his senior year of high school, redshirted last season after having wrist surgery, but has played all 12 games on special teams on special teams.

"When he moved to safety, he just had no idea," Ash said. "He's learning the game of football, learning technique, how to play faster in our system and do the things we're asking him to do."

The same goes for Tamakloe, who suffered a hairline fracture in his fibula that cost him the final two weeks of his senior season and spent the majority of the off-season wearing a protective boot and on crutches. Tamakloe, who has been limited with an undisclosed injury, has taken positive steps, when healthy, of being a factor down the road.

"I think Frank is going to have a pretty good career here if he stays healthy and keeps that hunger that he has," Brinkley said. "He's quick, fast and a smaller guy that isn't afraid to hit. He's got good footwork and he comes from a good high school program, which helps a lot."

At cornerback, Brinkley points out that third-year sophomore Marcus Cromartie is the cornerback most ready to play because of his experience, vision and play-making ability, but acknowledges that Wright has taken strides after getting reps with the second team during fall camp.

Coming out of high school, Wright ran a 4.25 shuttle, hit 34.5" on his vertical and was versatile enough to play either safety or cornerback.

"He's like a sponge, absorbing all the knowledge we give him and try to apply it on the field," Brinkley said of Wright. "It might not be right the first time, but he plays hard and tried to get better."

The same goes for Jean, the small 5-foot-11 cornerback from West Palm Beach. Just like Brinkley (5-foot-10) and Fenelus (5-foot-9), Jean is a small-statured cornerback with good speed and agility, causing him to really follow the movements of Wisconsin's two starting cornerbacks.

"He's learned by watching and listening," Ash said of Jean. "He's got a long way to go because he hasn't played a lot of football. He's improving every day and the other guys are doing a good job of tutoring him."

Even the players that have seen reps this year are taking full advantage of the developmental practices. With experienced players like Patrick Butrym and Jordan Kohout in front of him, Allen has been waiting in the wings. After finishing the season with 14 tackles, Watt has noted how the freshman from Minnetonka, Minn., has ballooned in size, and will extremely valuable to UW's future success.

"Beau has come a long way since he first got here and when he leaves here as a senior, he's going to be an unbelievable football player," Watt said. "He's got great work ethic, great talent, great size and he's going to be a beast when he leaves."

Badger Nation Top Stories