Musings from Maragos - Minnesota

Former Wisconsin safety Chris Maragos can't say how it feels to lose Paul Bunyan's Axe. Like many players over the last five years, the axe has never left Madison. But in his weekly column, Maragos talks about special teams and secondary depth, two things that could play a big part in where the axe will wind up Saturday evening.

MADISON - No offense to Racine Horlick High School or Camp Randall Stadium, but those two spots have nothing on the new Cowboys Stadium that hosted former Badgers safety Chris Maragos and the Seattle Seahawks Sunday. In a word, ‘JerryWorld' lived up to its billing.

"It's unbelievable," Maragos said. "It's nor Horlick field that's for sure. It's an unbelievable facility. He did it right, that's for sure."

Although the Seahawks their third straight contest, Maragos continues to make an impact as the second-year NFLer played on all four special teams unit and was involved in some of the dime packages, making him a perfect person to ask this week about the Wisconsin's problems in the secondary and on special teams.

BN: After you lose a couple in a row, how good does it feel to come out and dominate an opponent and get that winning feeling back, a lot like what you guys did in 2008 by crushing Indiana after a four game losing streak?

Maragos: It's a great thing in large part because you get back to the mindset of ‘this is who we are when we do things.' You get in that rhythm again and you want to continue to build off of that. It's really big. Really from the get go, you could tell Wisconsin wanted to get after them. You could see in the first half that they were smoking (Purdue) and really did some good things. Midway through the first, you could tell that they were going to handle business.

BN: When both offense and defense are clicking, it's a great feeling but when you have a breakdown on special teams, how demoralizing is that for the team when you are put in a tough position because of your special teams?

Maragos: Yeah, I'll tell you what, special teams are a big part of the game and I don't think a lot of fans understand it as much as coaches and players understand it in terms of field position. In large part, bad special teams limit what a defense can call, how aggressive the defensive coordinator can be in certain situations and be aware that there's no margin for error. Even if you force a three-and-out or you allow one first down, but something bad happens on punt, you're offense has to start inside the 20 and go on a long field. It's really important that all phases are clicking well if you want to be a great football team and take the team to a new level.

BN: With special teams, how much emphasis is there on doing the little things right because anybody can run down the field, stay in their lane and try to make a tackle?

Maragos: There are different philosophies on each team for how they cover kicks. A lot of it has to do with personnel, how you put them in and how you try to do it. There are a lot of one-on-one blocks where you have to beat the other guy, especially when you are on kickoff unit. Once you figure out the side of the field the return is going to, take care of the guy that is in your space but be prepared in case the returner comes back at you. I think a lot of times beat a block, they continue at an angle but they don't stay vertical to keep that lanes' integrity. If you trust your teammates that everybody is doing your job, you can really swarm the football. If not, it can really open up some creases and some lanes.

BN: For the last couple years, Wisconsin's special teams unit have been more average than great. What do you think is holding them back?

Maragos: I think the depth of your team really plays a big role in your special teams unit. The NFL is different but in college it's really important that you have great depth and a lot of talent that can be backups and play on special teams for you. You don't want your starters on special teams because they are taking a lot of reps already. At Wisconsin, you have a lot of young guys primarily on your special teams and they aren't quite as savvy as the older guys. There could be possible breakdowns there. I am not quite sure what it is, but it's probably a little bit of everything if you have young guys.

BN: You've made a career out of playing special teams. Bradie Ewing is a guy that loves playing special teams. In your time, how many starters really wanted to play special teams and you have been some of the better special teams players that you have worked with?

Maragos: It depends on the team. I know a lot of guys want to play special teams, but the coaches don't want to risk injuries. There are a lot of guys that don't want to run down on kickoffs, but there are a lot of guys that have a lot of a grit that want to do it. Special teams are a different animal. You have to find guys that have a blend of athleticism and a ‘want to.' If you find the right blend, you will have a lot of success.

BN: Yeah, is having pride in doing the job the most important way to have success on those units? You can have all the talent in the world but if you aren't on special teams, you aren't going to perform well.

Maragos: No question. I would say give me a guy with a ‘want to' and some athleticism and you are going to have a great special teams player. I think the biggest key in understanding how important special teams are, when I truly understood it as a player, it really changes your mindset on how important a tackle inside the 15 sets up your defense. That's huge. That helps your offense out, too, with the field position. Making a key block that springs a guy for a huge run helps our offense. Tackling a guy as stood as he field a punt is huge momentum. It's really important and ultimately helps your team win games.

BN: Who have been some of the better special teams players that you have worked with?

Maragos: In Seattle, we have Michael Robinson, the former Penn State QB. He's been in the league since (2006) and he's made a career out of special teams Because he's done so well, he's the starting fullback for us. He's done a great. Heath Farwell was an undrafted guy and turned into a special teams pro bowler and signed a huge contract with Minnesota to play special teams. At Wisconsin, Lance Kendricks was a great special teams players. Because of his speed and strength, he could run down on kickoff and split double teams and really do some things to make plays. Bradie Ewing does all the special teams and does most of the offensive snaps. The list is long but those are a couple guys.

BN: How much does a lack of depth hurt a unit, particularly the secondary which could be without two opening day starters at Minnesota this weekend, and how much pressure does it put on a guy like Marcus Cromartie, who wasn't a starter at the beginning of the year?

Maragos: It hurts, especially with the secondary because the secondary is an entirely different animal. There are so many different communication things you have to get down and such a little margin of error. It impacts special teams, because those guys were on special teams and now they are starters, making your special teams depth ever thinner. They can't take as many risks because of the impact they are going to have on defense. It's a trickledown effect, but the coaches do such a good job of preparing a game plan every week and that the guys understand the game plan. It really comes down to the guy getting experience and playing with confidence.

BN: When did you get your first experience with Paul Bunyan's Axe and describe that feeling?

Maragos: My junior year we played them at home and we beat them in a weird back-and-forth game (35-32), but I purposely didn't touch the axe because I wanted have something rally around my senior year. I wanted to go into that game so hungry so I can make sure to get that axe at the end of the game. We went into Minnesota in the first Big Ten game at its new stadium and we handled our business, allowing us to carry that axe around the field.

Anytime you are playing Minnesota it's a huge rivalry. You have a lot of pride that you own the axe, you took something from them and you don't want to give it back. Those guys know exactly what it's about and they'll be cranked up.

BN: How much tougher has this game gotten in the last three weeks with Wisconsin struggling and Minnesota getting a huge win over Iowa to retain the Floyd of Rosedale and almost beating Michigan State in East Lansing?

Maragos: I tell you what, Minnesota is a weird team and it's hard to put a finger on them. They have some talented recruits and I don't know if they are finally buying into what's going on now or what, but they are playing with a lot of confidence. Anytime you get a team with confidence, they are going to give you a run for the money. It'll be a big game against a border rival and Minnesota is going to give Wisconsin its best shot.

BN: What's a key to this game for Wisconsin to win and what's your prediction for this game?

Maragos: The key is establishing the run, which is what Wisconsin does, and using the play action off of that. Obviously, there special teams are going to have to improve in order to provide short field for our offenses and not create short fields for their offense. I think guys just coming out and executing the little details are the key. I do see Wisconsin winning this game, although it's going to be closer than people think. I'm going to say 45-28.

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