MADISON - A consistent issue throughout last season was Wisconsin’s defensive line struggling to make consistent plays in opposing backfields, appearing to be more so role players opening opportunities for the linebackers.
Hoping to buck that trend this year, Wisconsin was able to get off to a good start in the annual spring game with the starting and second-string defensive line able to consistently get pressure on any of the quarterbacks that took reps.
“We took a step back,” said defensive end Chikwe Obasih of the group’s approach to spring after registering only 11.5 tackles for loss (four sacks) last season. “Last year we felt rushed to get there and make sure everything was ready to fit the scheme since we had a lot of new guys coming into the front. This spring we took a step back and we were taught the techniques; we were taught everything that we need to do and what we want to do in order to have success this fall.”
Obasih led the defensive line last season in tackles for loss (2.5) and sacks (two) and the redshirt sophomore was the leading reason why the defensive line was able to be a disruption in Wisconsin’s offensive backfield. He finished the game with a team-high 2.5 sacks and forced fumbles on D.J. Gillins and Alex Hornibrook. End Alec James was able to record another forced fumble in the game.
“We’re making an effort to get to the football and that is something that the coaching staff has stressed to get to the football,” Obasih said. “Even if we can’t actually turn the football over, but if we do our part, we’ll give ourselves an opportunity to flip the field.”
Even with the performance Obasih turned in and how he ended camp, he didn’t deny that he still has plenty to work on and finding the comfort level in his technique at defensive end.
“I still feel uncomfortable, but that’s a good thing because last spring I was throwing away the technique to make sure I could get to the play on time,” Obasih said. “I just want to make sure I’m more consistent now with my technique unlike last year. I was doing it with awful technique and bad footwork. I still may feel uncomfortable but I’m doing things the way they need to be done and there’s just still room for me to grow.”
Having a year of live game reps, along with consistently getting reps this spring, has helped a young defensive line start to grow into their potential. While there are still question marks with the holes left by the graduation of Warren Herring and Konrad Zagzebski, head coach Paul Chryst feels better where his defensive line currently stands and in what direction they are heading.
“Chikwe has some ability, I like what he did, I thought Alec showed up, and Conor (Sheehy) showed up,” Chryst said. “I like how the guys played today they understood what we wanted to try and get done. Some guys showed up and it was fun to watch them compete … Arthur Goldberg didn’t practice the last week or so but I thought he was having a good spring. Conor Sheehy brings something to it, and Alec and Chikwe have developed, and we have some strengths in numbers there.”
With those kind of numbers, the line might just become the playmaking unit they desire to be.“We just have keep doing our jobs,” said Obasih. “Coach (Breckterfield) wants us to be our ownselves. We’re not just doing it for the linebackers anymore. We’re trying to grow within ourselves and do our job and grow into playmakers and not just role players.”
Evan Bondoc Shines
Third year defensive coordinator Dave Aranda will be pleased with what he saw from walk-on defensive back Evan Bondoc of Madison Edgewood High School. Working with the second-team defense, Bondoc finished with a game-high 12 tackles, two pass breakups and nearly intercepted Alex Hornibrook with an athletic catch but couldn’t get a foot inbounds.
Although the call wasn’t reviewed, it did appear Bondoc would have had a chance at seeing the call reversed in his favor.
“Coach always says you have to be ready every play for the football to come your way and you want to make plays,” said Bondoc. “You want to be tested, so it’s just fun to get an opportunity to do that. It’s fun to get out there to make some plays and I give a lot of credit to players in front of me like (Michael) Caputo, Tanner (McEvoy), the guys who I’ve learned a lot from this spring that’s really helped me make all the plays that I made today, it helps me so much and helps me become a better player.”
Caputo and McEvoy are the projected starters at safety and both have set good examples for Bondoc to learn from as his career progresses.
“Just their mindset and how they go about it,” Bondoc said. “They’re in there working hard every day with watching film, with footwork, with everything on how they approach practice each day and just how they take care of their bodies off the field.”
Knowing he’ll have to continue to work hard if he wants to get past the players ahead of him on the depth chart, Bondoc believes the way he played in the spring game will only help his confidence as he prepares for next season.
“I think I did a good job of showing the coaches that I can play and hopefully they will see it,” Bondoc said. “But I know I have to keep working hard in the summer and hopefully I can get an opportunity to make some plays in the fall.”