Extra Wattage in the Middle

After spending last year working as an outside linebacker on the Wisconsin defense's scout team, redshirt freshman Derek Watt has been moved to the center of UW's defense. After being one of the units top playmakers in two scrimmages, the move shows that Watt is a fast learner.

MADISON - Right now he's known as J.J. Watt's younger brother, but redshirt freshman linebacker Derek Watt is building up a reputation that will likely stand on its own before his Wisconsin football career is said and done.

Spending last season building his body and his knowledge, Watt has undergone a position change in spring camp and has started producing in his new role at middle linebacker, being one of the standout players on the defensive side of the ball in the last two scrimmages.

With the coaching staff holding back junior linebacker Chris Borland's snaps on Saturday's spring game, Watt will be receiving a lot of opportunities to prove the UW coaching staff that he is capable of handling whatever workload the staff throws at him. Following Thursday's practice, Watt talks to Badger Nation about his position switch, his redshirt season and the strides he's made this spring.

How has this camp gone for you working at the middle linebacker position?

Watt: I've been getting a lot of reps with the twos and I have been learning a lot from Borland while he has been out. I feel like I have really come along since I just started playing ‘Mike' in the spring. It was a big change, but I feel like I have really come along, made improvements, got my name in there and do what I could.

Moving from the outside to inside linebacker is a completely different position despite only being separated by a couple yards. What were some of the challenges?

Watt: It is totally different. When you are playing ‘Mike,' you have to know a little bit more because you are the quarterback of the defense. You have to control everybody. Get everybody lined up, make calls and have that extra responsibility. It's tougher transition than people will think because you are just moving three yards, but I've done the best I could and go from there.

What was the reasoning behind the switch?

Watt: We were looking for more speed on the inside. Borland has been injury prone, and we're obviously hoping he doesn't get injured. The coaches were just looking to build some depth behind him for when he leaves in two years. We have a lot of linebackers, so the coaches are just looking for the right depth behind guys.

In order to prepare for the position, did you watch a lot of film of Borland last year and when you watch him, what do you learn from him on how he made the same transition from outside to inside linebacker last year like you did this year?

Watt: I watch film with Chris and I watched film of Chris, and he's a great teacher and a great guy to learn from. He's one of the most instinctive, dominate football players at the "Mike' linebacker position. He's just so physical. If you are reading your keys and are lined up right, it's about being physical and doing what you can. Chris knows what he's doing, and he's a great person to learn from.

You originally thought you were going to be a grayshirt and you would not have joined this team until this past January, so what was last year like for you and your development?

Watt: I redshirted officially and played on scout team all fall, so that helped me get stronger in the weight room during the season. We're getting stronger everyday and practicing against the first team, so I felt that helped me a lot. Going to battle against the No.1 offensive line and No.1 running backs was such a benefit. I really wasn't learning the system at all because we are just doing the opposing team's defense, but I felt I was getting better with my hands, my technique, my strength in taking on blocks, so I felt it really stepped up my game.

What was that big jump you made during that eight-week winter conditioning, knowing that you were going to be learning the defense this spring and getting a chance to compete?

Watt: It's more mental than it is physical. We were obviously in the weight room and put more lean mass on and only a little bit of weight so I can keep my quickness and speed, but it was more mental with learning the spot and the game. I just wanted to have more mental awareness of how the whole scheme is played rather than just my position because it'll help you out in the end.

How much weight did you put on over the winter and since you got on campus last fall? Do you feel a difference in your game?

Watt: I weighed in during the mid winter at 227 pounds. I came in at 215, so I have gained probably 12 pounds. I've lost a little since spring ball started, but I am still up in the mid 220s. I have put on some good weight. I've been talking to coach Herb about what to eat and what not to eat. I've gotten a lot stronger in the weight room with all my lifts, but I don't' feel like I have lost a lot of my quickness overall, which is what the coaches want. If I was putting on weight and losing speed, the coaches would get on me about it. I'm not too worried about where my weight is at.

How do you think you graded out in the two Saturday scrimmages this spring, because you appear to be really active around the ball and making plays?

Watt: I feel like I have done pretty well. I missed a few tackles. I didn't tackle anybody since high school before that. I feel like I did pretty well, but I have a lot to work on. I made some mistakes with my run fits, but I feel like I played pretty well and that's all I can ask for.

Can you tell you are making a stride each practice? Have you made more steps forward than backward through these practices?

Watt: Yeah, and that's all coach (Andy) Buh asks. After every practice, he'll ask, ‘Did you guys get better today? Did you get better at something today?' Almost every day the answer is yes. You always learn from something. We'll go watch film the next day and correct what we did the previous day. You can learn tomorrow what we all did today, and pick out specific things that you have to remember and fix. I can definitely tell that guys are getting better at stuff as the days go on.

Do you approach the spring game as a game or as the No.15 practice, because it's really your first chance to compete in front of a crowd in a couple years?

Watt: You approach it as both. We've had two scrimmages already and essentially it's another scrimmage with a bigger crowd. We're just going to take it and prepare like it's a game, but it's a big deal and a big evaluation day. It's an important day to impress coaches.

In order to focus on the season you have to focus on the summer, so what's your big focus going into the summer to get your body ready to contribute in some capacity?

Watt: My biggest thing that I am going to do is add a few pounds of lean weight, get my footwork down and I'll be in the film room. We'll have days together where the linebackers will do drills together, and I'll try to get better at the drills, my reads, my keys and learning everything I can to improve my all-around game.


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