A high school player in the state, Maragos got a chance to walk-on to the Badgers' football program in 2007 after two uneventful seasons at Western Michigan. From there he changed positions, started two seasons at safety and became a team captain on a 10-win team in 2009.
Now as he prepares for his third year in the National Football League, he kicks off his third year with Badgernation.com to break down the Badgers.
Every Monday, Maragos will breakdown the previous week's game and answering subscriber questions posted on the insider board. Using his knowledge of Wisconsin's defense and its personnel, Maragos' contributions give added insight to Wisconsin football.
This week, Maragos addresses the early season struggles, battling with adversity, the differences in coverages and a closer look at the Wisconsin secondary.
You had the good fortune at Wisconsin of never losing a nonconference game, but you lost some early games in your career. What's the big thing a team needs to focus on following an early-season loss?
Maragos: I think when you have tough times, especially early on, it's sets the foundation on what you're team is going to become and what your identity is. For the leadership on the Badgers, it's going to be really vital for them to hold everything together and keep things tight. I think as you have some adversity early on in the season, if you can handle it the right way you're going to have success later on. It's going to be really important for those leaders to step up and for guys to continue to fight and scrap.
in 2008 when Wisconsin had trouble at quarterback, a lot of the outside focus was on that position and its struggles, kind of like what Wisconsin is going through now with its offensive line. How much of a distraction is that for players on the defensive side of the ball with what you are trying to do? Was it a distraction and if so, how do you pull together and now let that affect what you're trying to do?
Maragos: You have two separate groups that think different things and play in the way they approach games. I think it has a whole impact on the team in general but in terms of what you are trying to do as a defense, I don't think it changes much. I don't think it affects them as much as one would think. I think the team is going to continue to work and the defense is going to try to learn from its mistakes. I know they want to have a couple plays back, but it comes down to knowing what they need to do and knowing how to execute.
When an offense struggles in a game, does a defensive unit have the natural thought to put more pressure on yourself to make a play? If so, how hard is it to stay calm and play by relying on your fundamentals?
Maragos: You always rely on your principles and you have to not play outside of yourself when you are getting beat. Guys try to do too much, try to make a play or try to do something different, and it makes things worse. For me speaking as a defensive player, you have to trust your offense that they are going to get right whatever it is that they need to get right. If you do your part by getting them the ball in good field position, that's the focus and the reason why you don't play outside yourself.
Have you been a part of a team in the NFL that had a positional coaching change in the middle of the season? If so, how tough was it to hear one voice for such a long period of time and then to change course in mid stream and learn a new way of doing things for a game one week away?
Maragos: In my rookie year in San Francisco, our offensive coordinator got let go the second or third week and the quarterback coach stepped in for the rest of the season. It's definitely a weird position to be in. We had a lot of conversations with the offensive guys about that. In my experience dealing with that, obviously things weren't working before that so there's a little bit of a sense of relief that there is going to be some change. There's going to be different things that are going to correlate by what you have been doing and what you have been doing well. There's going to be a learning curve and a different style or philosophy between the two coaches. You have to be flexible and being a Division 1 athlete or a professional football player, you have to learn how to overcome adversity and roll with the punches. The good thing is that these guys have been through ups and downs, so they'll be able to battle through it.
How surprised are you that an experienced secondary has had three major coverage busts in the last two weeks that have led to wide-open touchdowns?
Maragos: The things we always, especially someone who has played in the secondary, you have literally zero room for error at all points in the game. The defensive linemen miss tackles, it goes to the linebackers. If the linebackers miss tackles, it goes to the secondary. If the secondary miss, it goes for a touchdown. As a defensive back, you have to be extremely on point with the things that you have. Those one or two things that might break down during the game are going for big plays. It really is about guys locking in at all point of the game, thinking about things pre-snap and being able to decipher to figure out what could possibly happen to you before it happens. You have a lot more success when you do those things.
For the last two years, Wisconsin's cornerbacks traditionally don't play up at the line of scrimmage, but instead play between 5-and-10 yards off the ball. Playing that way possibly prevents the long pass, but opens up room for those quick wide receiver screens that Oregon State torched the Badgers on. What's the benefit from playing so far off the line of scrimmage that you think Wisconsin does that?
Maragos: Wisconsin traditionally is a corners team, which means they are a Cover 4 team or a split-safety team, meaning a lot of times you have two high safeties. Those are certain coverages like Cover 2, Cover 4 and Cover 6. Wisconsin's base defense is a lot like a Cover 4 defense, which means you have corners off the ball. The weakness to that is the quick outs, quick screens and a lot of times you'll see teams run five-yard outs because that's the weakness of that coverage. Most of the time the corners have inside leverage, so those quick outs make them susceptible.
The quick screens benefit playing closer to the line of scrimmage. Anytime you are more up on a receiver, it really puts the corner on an island and on a point where if they don't get a good jam or a good bump and run, they are susceptible to the over-the-top fades and getting beat on a coverage. Having guys that are off the ball gives you more opportunities to play more zone coverages and utilize their instincts more than if they were pressed up to the line of scrimmage. It benefits the better athlete, so you really have to base that off of the level of athlete you have within your scheme.
Cromartie is a long-framed athlete and Devin Smith has a lot of experience. I know those guys play a lot of corners coverage and do some zone blitzing, so they do a good job of changing it up. It's all about being locked in to what you are doing and have all the details on all the assignments 100 percent of the time.
Maragos: Honestly I really don't have a level of panic because I have been in this program and I know who coach Bielema is. I know what he stands for and the way he prepares his guys. I know a lot of these guys on this roster still. I know from being in morning conditioning workouts with Chris Borland and Mike Taylor of what they are about and the talent that they have. For me, I know those guys are going to do whatever they can to get it right, and they have really good leadership. They have guys with a lot of character and guys who know how to win. They've been there, been in big situations, been in adversity and know what to do to have success. They are going to rise to the occasion.
What's the key for Wisconsin this week in order to beat a very good Utah State team and what's your prediction for the game?
Maragos: I would the key is to make explosive plays on both offense and defense. The defense needs to limit explosive plays and the big plays that have gashed them over the last two weeks, giving the offense good field position. For offense, I think for them to get rolling and establish the little things they do well in their offense that allow them to have big runs and pass plays. Those plays are going to be really important for this game.
It's going to be a tough game. The great thing that Camp Randall is Camp Randall and it's really hard to play for any opponent. With the changes they've made and guys being hungry, I think they are going to establish the run and do what they need to do. I think the defense has made some good strides from week one to week two. I think Wisconsin wins 28-17.
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