Maybe that's why the last four weeks, the last two especially, have been such a challenge for Gilbert, forcing to watch No.19 Wisconsin struggle on defense and special teams late in games and not having the ability to do anything about it.
"Watching the games have been real frustrating, especially when you think it would make a difference," Gilbert said. "There's a lot more to us losing those games than the pass rush, and not be able to help my team has been difficult."
The Badgers were counting on Gilbert, a junior from Northeast (Fla.) HS, to elevate his game to help the defense replace some of the gaudy numbers that junior J.J. Watt put up the season before. Until he was hurt, Gilbert had been picking up steam, picking up 10 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, three sacks and a forced fumble in the four nonconference games.
He was named the co-defensive player of the week after his three tackles, one sack performance against Oregon State in week 2 that was one of his standout performances.
"(That) Saturday was probably his best day of football he's had since I have been on campus," defensive coordinator Chris Ash said. "He played at a high level, pressured the quarterback a lot and did some really good fundamental things in terms of his pass rush they work on every day. What he saw out there Saturday is what we've been hoping to see out of David."
It's the main reason the injury was so troublesome. Leading up to the Nebraska game with the team practicing on the Camp Randall turf, Gilbert attempted to cut to the right with his weight on his right foot, only to have the turf slip underneath him and put extra stress on the outside of his foot. X-rays showed Gilbert snapped his fifth metatarsal – the long bone on the outside of the foot that connects to the little toe.
"It was kind of a freak thing," Gilbert said.
Gilbert had surgery the next day and was said to be out 6-to-8 weeks. Still able to do upper body workouts while waiting to be cleared to practice, Gilbert says he can walk and go through pool workouts without much pain and is targeting Wisconsin road game at Illinois Nov.19 as his return date, roughly seven weeks after the injury.
"When I first started walking again, I felt like I didn't know how to use my foot," Gilbert said. "I am not healing super fast, but I am getting stronger every day. As soon as I can do one-legged calf raises, I can come back because it can show I can handle my weight. It gets better every day."
The weight room has been one of the biggest benefits to Gilbert. Needing to make a change in his life style to improve his body following his sophomore year, Gilbert improve his eating and sleeping habits to keep his calorie count higher and have a tougher focus in the weight room. The result was Gilbert entering fall camp roughly 20 pounds heavier at 255.
The results have showed on the field. In the first two weeks of the season, Gilbert's grade sheet read 72 ‘good' plays to only 8 ‘bad' plays, a testament to him playing more confident with his stronger frame.
"That's always been one of his issues," Ash said of Gilbert's weight. "He's tall and lean, but he's gotten a lot stronger and put on a lot of weight. The biggest thing is keeping it on throughout the season."
Now the biggest thing is getting back on the field, a spot he's anxious to return. After shedding the crutches one week ago, Gilbert is pushing himself to be ready for Wisconsin's final road test of the regular season, if not sooner.
"If I can play, I will," Gilbert said. "If I physical can and my coaches are confident in me through my week of practice, that I'll play."
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