MADISON - Returning six of 11 starters on defense might not seem like a lot, but Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda feels pretty good about the projected starters the Badgers have at their disposal and their ability to play fast in his 3-4 defense.
It’s the reserves he’s most concerned about, which is becoming one of the main focuses of spring football.
For the second straight practice, Wisconsin did no team drills or 7-on-7 work, sticking purely with the position groups and hammering home fundamentals as the new coaching staff continues to evaluate and build relationships with a new group of players.
“There’s going to be some baby steps,” said Aranda.
The two positions where Wisconsin is the youngest on defense is the line and inside linebacker, the latter which is Aranda’s coaching responsibility. On Wednesday, Wisconsin had junior Leon Jacobs, sophomore T.J. Edwards and freshmen Ty DeForest and Nick Thomas all working at the position, as well as redshirt sophomore Keelon Brookins.
Originally coming in as a defensive back, Brookins has deal with a pair of knee injuries and is starting to put some weight on to his 209-pound frame to see if he gives the Badgers another option to replace outgoing seniors Derek Landisch and Marcus Trotter.
“There is such raw athleticism at that spot,” said Aranda, referring to the inside linebackers. “It’s fun to work with that.”
Tibesar Growing with Outside Linebackers
While Aranda has plenty of youth on his hands on the inside, new outside linebackers coach Tim Tibesar has got just the opposite. Starting with senior Joe Schobert and junior Vince Biegel, a duo who combined for 30 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks a season ago, the Badgers are hoping to build some confidence behind the pair.
Behind them, Wisconsin has fifth-year senior Jesse Hayes, redshirt sophomore Jack Cichy and redshirt freshman Ryan Connelly. To add some more depth to the position, Wisconsin moved redshirt sophomore Garret Dooley off the defensive line and back to linebacker. Linebackers was where Dooley was recruited to, as he made 132 tackles, 18 tackles for loss and 14.5 sacks as a middle linebacker as a senior at Rochester (Ill.) High.
“I think he’s happy because linebacker fits his body type better,” said Tibesar. “He’s probably still got more of that defensive-line mentality about him, excels better at run defense than pass rush. He still working on some of the coverage concepts and that’s stuff he has to work on, but I’m excited about him. He’s a good athlete and some great potential.”
Voltz Works Lightly
A solid start to the season ended in injuries for junior center Dan Voltz. Although starting 19 consecutive games heading into 2015, Voltz lasted only a handful of plays against Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game because of an injured ankle and broke his left leg in the first half of the Outback Bowl win over Auburn.
Not expected to be a major participant in spring, Voltz was dressed in practice gear and worked off to the side with graduate assistant Josh Oglesby, mimicking the drills of the starters without having contact.
This spring will be important to Wisconsin considering the Badgers have to replace three seniors from a group that had a hand in rushing for 480.8 yards per game in 2013 (a school record) and 468.9 yards per game last season (third best in school history).
While Wisconsin didn’t do any team drills for the second straight practice, seniors Tyler Marz and Ray Ball worked at left tackle and left guard, respectively, redshirt freshmen George Panos and Michael Deiter were at center and right guard, respectively, and junior Walker Williams worked at right tackle.
Extra Points: Receivers Jordan Fredrick and Peter Roy (redshirt freshman walk-on from Muskego) and kicker Rafael Gaglianone were not dressed for practice … Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne worked with John Settle and the running backs … Wisconsin returns to the practice field Friday afternoon.