When Wisconsin kicks off against Northern Iowa on September 1, the Badgers' defense will return the conference's top two tacklers and two of the nation's top seven stoppers in senior Mike Taylor and junior Chris Borland.
Even better for Buh is that even though Taylor and junior Ethan Armstrong are out this spring, the veteran coach has a couple of eager young guys chomping at the bit to compete, a scenario Buh told Badger Nation is a nice blend to what he's trying to accomplish through 15 spring practices.
Even before you stepped on the field for the first practice, you had to be really excited to start working with guys like Chris Borland and the bevy of young players you have at your disposal?
Buh: I'm really looking forward to getting out on the grass with the players. That's what makes a good football team. I've enjoyed meeting them and they've brought me in with open arms. I am excited, like they probably are, to start working. When you are a new coach and are put into a whole new system, it's like learning a whole new language. Having a group like this that is acting like a veteran group, it's made it a whole lot easier on me.
Having a veteran like Chris out there being a leader, he's running out and helping us coach out there. He's in the meeting rooms first and leads by example. It's been pretty helpful for me. After the first four practices, it's been pretty nice. A lot of the younger guys are getting reps. They are competing and battling. I've got a couple of guys that are already making me look like a good coach and a couple of guys I can develop underneath them.
Talk me about the early rotation you are working with.
Buh: With Chris Borland, we have Derek Landisch and Conor O'Neill. They are doing really well and eating the reps up. Behind those guys is A.J. Fenton, Jake Keefer and Cody Byers. Everybody is at the right position now, we feel, and Marcus Trotter and Derek Watt are right there at the middle linebacker position.
Having between eight and nine guys for a couple spots, how are you approaching the rotation with this group?
Buh: We have a pretty good two-deep right now and the threes we rotate. For instance, Cody Byers took all the two reps on practice one and Jake Keefer took all the two reps in practice two. So not only do they get reps, they get full day reps in those positions. We're not quite sure where some guys are at, so we're giving them full days of reps to show us.
You obviously didn't know how they were coached last year, so how have you tried to approach coaching these guys? What's your style of coaching that is going to help these guys?
Buh: Coach Huxtable did a fantastic job with them. Just coming into the room and just seeing how knowledgeable they were about the game of football told me how well he coached them. I am just using my own style. A lot of it's the same. We aren't reinventing the wheel at the linebacker position.
With each younger guy getting full reps, which guy has really stepped up and opened your eyes in an unexpected way? Has there been a moment like that?
Buh: Well we haven't had pads on very much yet, so the guys that are moving really well are Derek Landisch and Conor O'Neill. Those two guys are doing a good job. We're seeing some good things we really like out of Derek Watt. Those three guys are doing really well right now knowing what they need to do.
With guys like O'Neill and Josh Peprah who have moved from linebacker to safety, what's the benefit of having played the safety position? Is it just more knowledge of the defense having played two positions?
Buh: The big thing is more space awareness. Those two guys are actually doing a real nice job when we are matching up with our coverages, because they understand blitzes, space and timing and value of re routing guys. That's probably the biggest advantage those guys have got out of it. Josh has made a nice transition in a short time and fits in well with what we are doing.
Where are the main strides you want to see your group make going into week three of the spring practice schedule?
Buh: The main thing is improvement every day. We ask these guys for a half a percent a day. If they can improve a half of percent in every practice they are in, then we are improving as a team. We are putting in a new aspect of the defense every day and improving on what we've installed every day, seeing that type of improvement is going to help us. Once we put all the pads on, seeing some guys create some contact will be key, too.