James and Obasih Emerging for Wisconsin

With Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen saying two weeks of bowl practices are impacting Wisconsin's 2014 recruiting board, the Badgers have been pleased with the steady progress of defensive end Chikwe Obasih and linebacker Alec James.

Alec James and Chikwe Obasih are brainy kids and studious students, so they don't need to be reminded how many starting defensive spots are going to be vacated following this year's Capital One Bowl.

While the 15 spring practices will be the critical stretch for the two freshmen and many others on the Wisconsin football roster to really assert them self, the in-state duo hasn't let an opportunity to shine before final exams pass them by.

"It's huge right now because (the coaches) are evaluating at all times," said Obasih. "Technique slips during scout team because it's completely different than playing our defense. It's important to get the technique back up, focus on the little things, watching film on the practices is all critical."

Wisconsin started putting in the game plan for South Carolina this week, but the last two weeks of practices have been strictly about conditioning and developmental work for the younger players.

Those practices also benefit a coaching staff, which has been in charge for less than a year, an opportunity to see some players running the Wisconsin offense or defense for the first time since fall camp.

Coach Gary Andersen was open in saying that watching certain players go through drills has impacted UW's recruiting board and how the coaching staff will use its remaining scholarships.

"Our recruiting board has changed in a positive way because some young men came out here and are really playing well," said Andersen. "You can compare your recruiting board as you are looking at young men, saying, ‘If the young man was at a junior college or a high school but he's sitting right here in our own backyard and he's playing at that level, would you be happy to have him and would you feel good about him?' If you say yes, then you can move a recruiting number somewhere else. That's taken place for a couple kids. That's great to see."

Two of those players are James and Obaish, both of whom have redshirted this season and reaped the benefits from that decision. James – the Wisconsin Football Coaches Associate defensive player of the year last year – has gained between 15 and 20 pounds and is playing the outside linebacker position at 245 pounds.

"Redshirting has helped me gain experience with the game and given me the opportunity to go against good players," said James. "I am not wasting a year not doing much on the field, and I am eating better and working harder than high school."

Obasih put on about 15 pounds in his first two months on campus, but spraining his left knee in fall camp made it hard to get used to his increased body size. Now up to 255 pounds with a goal of getting up to 260, Obasih has been a steady contributor throughout the season and earned defensive scout team player of the year at the team' football banquet last weekend.

Although projected as a defensive end in UW's scheme, Obasih has played at defensive tackle with the unit low on numbers.

"That's helped me tremendously because that's the biggest adjustment in getting use to playing as a three technique and playing inside against the run," said Obasih. "Getting the experience against one of the best offensive line in the country for months now has helped me against the run a lot better, especially since I felt my pass-rush skills were enough to keep me on the field. I quickly realized that wasn't enough."

Defensive ends Tyler Dippel, Ethan Hemer and Pat Muldoon are all leaving after this season, but Obasih's play has allowed the Badgers to move a 2014 scholarship off of the defensive end position, according to a source.

Wisconsin loses outside linebackers Brendan Kelly and Conor O'Neill, meaning James will be put into the mix with Vince Biegel, Joe Schobert and others during spring practices and allowed UW to take just two linebackers in the 2014 class.

"I am not going to set a goal to not be in the mix," said James, who has learned the art of studying film from Kelly. "It's one of my goals to be in the mix, whether it's first, second or third. My goal is to keep working hard out here, learn the players' and coaches' respect and to just do the best I can."

While both players have the goal of impacting the Badgers' defense next season, each has concerted their focus on giving the Wisconsin offense the best look possible to try and help the program win its first bowl game since 2009.

"I'm excited to give a look to these seniors before the Capital One Bowl," said Obasih. "They've been a great help, and this is the best group of guys I have been around. Their leadership and their willingness to get us ready for the years to come has been a huge help. I want to see them go away with a huge win before I even think about the spring."

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