MADISON - Versatility can be a good thing in football, helping different players see the field early in their college careers or hinder their progress because they can’t practice consistently at one position.
Sophomore linebacker Leon Jacobs fully understands the good and bad that comes with being a versatile player. As a freshman Jacobs played outside linebacker. When fall camp opened this year he was practicing with the inside linebackers, but bounced between both positions with injuries to others.
Now with true freshman inside linebacker D’Cota Dixon sidelined the rest of the season due to a shoulder injury, Jacobs has been once again moved back to inside linebacker.
“Leon will play some inside, he’ll play some outside, which he’s been taking those reps and all the packages except for the very four wide receiver packages,” Head Coach Gary Andersen said. “Leon is in a good spot.”
Dixon has been playing through a torn labrum since his high school junior season, but showed enough promise during fall camp to earn a special teams role. Through three games, Dixon excelled on kickoff coverage and was able to record three tackles before the pain became too much.
Because he didn’t play in more than 33 percent of the team’s games, he’ll be able to redshirt.
“His shoulder got to the point where … the trainers decided it was pointless to keep going,” Andersen said. “He’s a very, very tough young man he would have kept on going as long as you would allow him to go. But he has a bright future he’s going to be a very talented player for us a long, long time and we want to get him ready for his second season.”
Jacobs has played in 16 career games and has registered seven tackles on the year. His best performance came against Bowling Green last week when he register a career-high four tackles.
Wide Receiver Development
Through three games redshirt junior Alex Erickson has already eclipsed his numbers from the previous year, leading the team with 15 receptions and 165 receiving yards.
“Alex has been very, very good this year and it shows on the film, it shows on the field, and it shows on gameday, which is great to see,” Andersen said. “The best thing I can say about Alex is you’re looking at a young man who got hurt during the bowl game, couldn’t come back during spring ball, mentally got much better during spring ball, took advantage of when he did get healthy in the summer (and) obviously worked very hard. He understands the offense inside and out. You can put him in any of our wide receiver positions and he’ll go out and play them, so he’s a coach on the field and has proven to be a very talented player it really has been fun to watch him progress. The credit goes to that young man and the way he’s developed himself and his game.”
Tight end Sam Arneson is second on the team with eight receptions, but only three other wide receivers have recorded a reception this yea (Jordan Fredrick, Reggie Love and George Rushing). Although it is a concern, Andersen is confident that the other receivers will step up when the offense finds its identity.
“We want to get more people involved, obviously,” said Andersen. “When their time comes they need to catch the ball. When their time comes to block they need to block. I like the development where we’re sitting at the tight end development and we’re looking for more from the wide receiver. But that’s the whole offense, it’s not just the wide receivers. We just don’t sit back and just talk about one person or one position group. We can all get better. When we get better as an offense there will be other wide receivers who will have opportunities to make plays.”
On the development of the young defensive line
“They’ve been forced into action, which concerns you but also it is a great thing because of the development. I think Chikwe and Alec have become much more consistent through out their play and there’s nothing like playing games you can practice all you want, talk about all you want in the meeting room but actually playing is so very, very important and I think they have developed and they want to consistently get better and their work habits in practice have always been good but I think they’ve taken a step up since they’ve been playing so much.”
Extra Points: Senior nose tackle Warren Herring is still progressing from his injury, which he suffered against %%MATCH_13%% in the season opener. Andersen said that Herring is still weeks away from seeing the field … Dare Ogunbowale, who rushed for 94 yards last week against Bowling Green, will remain at the running back position. According to Andersen he’s learning more of the offense and he received plenty of reps during practice … Andersen said he doesn’t get distracted by all the playoff talk that surrounds college football. He also encourages his players to take care of business and not worry about what is being written.