Spring Game Preview: Ben Strickland

Losing both starters from last year's Rose Bowl team, many who attend today's Wisconsin spring game will be watching how the young cornerbacks react. Appearing on the show Inside Badger Nation, cornerbacks coach Ben Strickland breaks down his position, the coaching staff's approach to the spring game and in-state recruiting.

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What are some of the ideas and schemes you and the Wisconsin staff are trying to get out of the spring game?

Ben Strickland: Well I just think as practice as a whole, obviously it's an adjustment to a new scheme and a new philosophy. I think every day is a learning experience for these guys. I think they have approached it the right way, both coaches and players but more players because they're the ones that play the game. They've done a great job with tremendous energy. They've taken to the defense and they've really taken it and run with it.

It's (about) understanding what we're trying to ask them to do and then making sure we're doing a great job of coaching it up in the film room. When they have the opportunity to go back out on the field, prove again what they've learned and try to transition that knowledge from the classroom.

Do you approach this at practice number 15 or approach it as a game?

Strickland: I think for us anytime we get in a scrimmage-type situation, that's a test for us. Obviously a lot of younger guys that haven't played they're going to be playing in front of a crowd, a lot of eyes are going to be on them, so I think there is a little more pressure than you typically would get in a scrimmage. I think (for) those guys it's really an opportunity to show themselves, show each other who is going to step up and who is going make plays, (and) what guys need to continue to move along in the right direction come fall camp.

Seven new assistant coaches are going to be on the sidelines for the spring game. You and Bill Busch are working together this spring with you having the cornerback and Busch having the safeties. How have you two been working together?

Strickland: I think we both understand the safety position and the corner position are two completely different positions of what you ask from your young men. I think that's why we separated it, because there's a lot of different techniques corners work that safeties never work. I think it's been good for our guys from a developmental standpoint. There's obviously communication that needs to take place between us and defense as a whole, so it's just continuing to make sure we're doing a good job communicating when we are on the field. If there are things here and there that comes up, make sure we communicate those things off the field so we get it clean the next time we come out.

I think a lot of fans coming to the game will be really interested in your position because there is no Devin Smith or Marcus Cromartie anymore. Talk a little about your group.

Strickland: As a collective whole, the group has been a group that has been very willing to take to whatever is being coached of them. They are trying to absorb everything. They're doing a great job of taking what they've learned, whether it's in the classroom or the previous practice, and trying to make sure it doesn't beat them twice. Now of course that is going to happen from time to time but I think they have steadily gotten better, each and every one of them at the position. I think it's created competition where we'll still see the guys who step up into the starting position.

Whatever roles the guys are in, they understand that it's about the team as a whole, the best players are going to play who give our team a chance to win and they're doing a great job of competing and coming along. Every one of them has their strengths and weaknesses, but it's (about) understanding who you are as a player and get better through these spring practices.

Through the spring we have seen a lot of Peniel Jean and Darius Hillary paired together with the number ones. What do you like about those two guys and how have they improved since last year in the fall?

Strickland: In the fall, especially in game situations, they were individuals who had specific roles … but they've gotten playing experience. I think for me that's a relief because they aren't just going out there, running out there for the first time come fall. They've been out there, they understand the expectation. Now it's just a matter of developing that consistency from practice to practice (and) then when it comes game time showing up for the games.

How has the transition from Bret Bielema to Gary Andersen gone for you personally? What do you like about your new boss now?

Strickland: Obviously I am incredibly grateful to Coach B for giving me the opportunity to start my career here. Not many people get to do that, especially with the age I am at. I feel very blessed to have gotten that opportunity from Coach B and even more blessed that Coach Andersen decided to keep me on. Like he always talks about, he wants coaches that care about kids. I think that's a common ground that we had and as we continued to have conversations, it's something I am very proud to be a part of.

I am learning a lot as a coach. Obviously different scheme, different philosophy, but it's been an enjoyable experience for me. Different way of doing things, it's also been a lot of fun because I do think Coach Andersen is a coach who has done a great job of when he says he's going to put the kids first he's done that every single time. You can see that in his actions and his words.

Gary had never recruited the state of Wisconsin while you played high school and college football here and recruited here. How have you pushed your knowledge on Gary so he can embrace the state of Wisconsin and what the high school scene is all about here?

Strickland: He understands the importance of the state. He was in a very similar situation at Utah. He was from Utah, played there, coached there, so he had been in Utah a long time. He understands the in-state tradition that takes place. He talks about he came here because of the kids, and so I think those things go hand in hand with recruiting the state of Wisconsin. You got great kids here that are willing to work, blue-collar-type guys and guys that are only scratching the surface with how good they can be. Coach Andersen understands that and we'll continue to do a great job recruiting in-state and keeping the best players at home.

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