Spring Practice Report - March 10

Former Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland once joked that defensive coordinator Dave Aranda approaches every game as 'a science experiment.' With less than six months until UW's season opener, Aranda is overhauling the formula to give the Badgers a better product on the field.

MADISON - In an effort to increase speed and athleticism on Wisconsin's defense, something that was lacking in UW's four losses last season, defensive coordinator Dave Aranda and his staff are overhauling the defense – moving safeties to linebackers, put field linebackers to bench linebackers and bench linebackers to d-linemen.

It's part of a grand scheme Wisconsin continues to fine tune entering the second week of spring practice that the Badgers hope will provide dividends come fall.

"The thought there as at the end of the day to be as fast as possible," said Aranda following Monday's practice. "To make negative plays, whether it's tackle for losses, quarterback sacks, pressures or affecting the quarterback in some form or fashion."

Part of the reason for the changes was what the tape from the last two years revealed. During Wisconsin's dominant defense of 2012, Aranda said the Badgers only threw pressures at the opposing offense seven percent of the time, yet registered more sacks and tackles for loss than last year's defense that pressured, according to Aranda, 40 percent of the time.

"Whatever we can do to be faster and more agile and make those plays, especially those plays when things break out when it's not designed where it's supposed to go, we can get that guy down," said Aranda.

Some of those moves include Leon Jacobs moving from the outside spot to get work at the interior linebacker role (Monday was his first day) to possibly become a playmaker in UW's third-down package. Joe Schobert worked at outside linebacker (the position he was originally recruited at) Devin Gaulden worked as a first-team cornerback and Peniel Jean continued working at safety.

While Aranda said the big disadvantage to playing with a smaller defense is straight ahead runs, UW's young group has a perfect group to work against in UW's physical offense.

"The teams that are good verse the spread generally are the teams whose offense runs the spread," said Aranda. "To see that up-tempo every day, to see the pace of things, to see the bubble screens, the zone reads and all those things. I think we've been traditionally good verses power teams. We see it all the time … I think there's some transfer there."

Redshirt freshman Alec James has grabbed the most attention for his productiveness so far at defensive end after playing last year at outside linebacker, but it's just not James who has transitioned from a different position to make some plays at defensive end.

Garret Dooley, who started practicing in bowl prep after getting injured in fall camp, has spent the first four practices with the second-team defense, and long snapper Brady Kelliher has also seen reps with the second and third team.

"I'm glad they (the coaches) gave him a chance on the line," said senior linebacker Derek Landisch, who went to the same high school as Kelliher. "He's a quick guy. If he gets his technique down, he'll be able to make some plays here."

Young Guns

Wisconsin's tight ends are missing a lot of key moving pieces in spring camp, as long time veterans Jacob Pedersen and Brian Wozniak, along with Brock DeCicco, all graduated following last season and leaving few pass-catching veterans in the group.

Heading into the second week of practice, however, there are signs that the Badgers are going to be just fine at the position. Senior Sam Arneson is the unquestioned leader of the group, but the first handful of practices show why UW was content with not adding a tight end in the last recruiting class.

Redshirt freshman Troy Fumagalli is upwards of 25 pounds heavier than last fall and looks the part with his route running. Austin Maly has the height and is healthy, enabling him to really compete for the first time in his career, and junior Austin Traylor looks like the unquestioned No.2 man of the group.

Traylor is a big, quick target running down the field, and spent the first week of the drills open to the media catching passes down the hashes and developing his blocking scheme up front.

"He would be playing at so many different places the last couple years," Arneson said of Traylor. "He's so versatile and he's so athletic. He always has been. It's about limiting the mistakes. We always try to stress solid play. If you keep making mistakes it's going to limit your time on the field. He's always had the talent and he's working so hard. It helps that we've had the same offense for the second straight year to help him really continue his learning."

Throw in Derek Watt to the mix in certain situations and the group has the potential to be a strong unit.

Stave Returns

Originally planning to have Joel Stave limited until Wisconsin returned from spring break March 25, the now-junior quarterback competed in 7-on-7 drills without a pass rush. The results were encouraging – 7-for-9 with a touchdown pass, as he had good velocity on his throws and good touch on deep throws.

Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen made it clear during his national signing day press conference that Stave is the team's quarterback until somebody beats him out, comments that offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig echoed Monday. While this wasn't a live action drill, it was a good first step.

Deiter Hanging Strong

Both Ludwig and offensive line coach T.J. Woods both expressed the amount of concern they are having with the lack of offensive line depth for the second straight season, as Woods went so far to say the challenges were even harder this season.

Wisconsin is down two starters who are recovering from offseason surgeries (Dallas Lewallen and Dan Voltz), are limiting the amount of reps Kyle Costigan gets, lost Jack Keeler and Matt Miller to medical redshirts and incoming freshman Jaden Gault is out this spring with knee surgery.

That's what makes the work of incoming freshman Michael Deiter vital as the team's starting center. One of the team's four early enrollees, Deiter hasn't faltered in picking up the offense and has had very few quarterback-center exchange problems.

"Some of the growing pains we're going through with a new freshman quarterback (and) a new freshman center, it's a little bit painful to watch at times right now, but we know in fall camp they'll be light years ahead of where they would be had they shown up August 1," said Ludwig. "We're going to use these reps as a huge advantage for the Badgers."

Extra Points: Rob Wheelwright (knee) won't start practicing again until after spring break … UW moved Wednesday's practice from the 3 p.m. to 6 a.m.

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