Brandon Kelly is taking the long view since converting to defensive end. The redshirt freshman has played sparingly this season but, with five senior defensive linemen at the top of Wisconsin's rotation—including all four starters—Kelly is working this year to learn the position with an eye on regular playing time, and potentially starting, in 2005.
"I'm learning behind great people," Kelly said. "It is just a learning year for me. And if I get in, hopefully I'll be able to perform. That's what I'm working hard to do right now.
"I'm working hard in the weight room, working hard on the field, going up and watching film. Next year—[defensive line coach John Palermo] told me to focus—so that's what I'm working for right now."
Kelly works in with the two-deep at left defensive end during practices, playing behind Erasmus James and sophomores Joe Monty and Mark Gorman. James and right defensive end Jonathan Welsh will venture to the NFL next summer, leaving Kelly, Monty, Gorman and redshirt freshman Jamal Cooper as the ends with game experience. Two true freshmen ends—Mike Newkirk and Jason Chapman—are redshirting but will also be in the mix next year.
Kelly would be hard-pressed to pick a better mentor in James, who has shredded opposing offenses to the tune of 13 tackles, three sacks and three quarterback hurries.
"Just seeing him every day is just a great learning experience," Kelly said. "Seeing his hard work, dedication; watching Erasmus go out there and do it day by day has been great for me."
Kelly began his Wisconsin career last fall as a drop, or strongside, linebacker, then moved to middle linebacker during spring workouts. After Elliot Goode went down with a knee injury, Kelly briefly played with the No. 1 defense at mike before Reggie Cribbs took command of the position.
The Badgers' coaching staff then also took the long view. Cribbs is Wisconsin's leading tackler this season and the Badgers have depth at the position: true freshman Andy Crooks played three snaps there last week and, if not for an official's call, would have scored a defensive touchdown. Veterans LaMarr Watkins and Paul Joran are capable of playing mike and Goode has returned from injury.
Kelly, therefore, stands a much greater chance of getting on the field in the future at defensive end. It helps that his weight already stacks up well with the team's other ends.
"When I got here I was like 220," Kelly said. "Now I'm up to 245. I think I'm at a good weight right now. Coach Palermo told me if I can add five pounds that would be perfect. So that's all I need. I don't need to drink extra shakes or anything. Just go out there and learn the spot and get as good as I can at it."
Prior to fall camp, Kelly had never played defensive end. He was a safety, linebacker and quarterback in high school.
"Every position has different things you have to focus on play-by-play," he said. "Defensive end it is more getting your hands on the guy, not letting him get inside of you."
In addition to hand placement, Kelly said staying low and "exploding into the offensive lineman" were the most important things he has had to learn. In essence, he said, his responsibilities are similar to when he was a linebacker: keep his shoulders square and hold the point when the action flows his way. Playing on the line, however, he has to make quicker reactions but has less ground to cover.
"Coming from middle linebacker I know a lot of the schemes of the defense. I know where the defensive linemen are supposed to be in certain lineups. I know what help I have behind me… That certainly helps a lot playing defensive end now because now I have a corner of the defense whereas at linebacker I was responsible pretty much from end to end. Now I just have that one side to focus on. So, it certainly breaks it down and makes it a lot easier for me to focus in every play and do my responsibilities."
Kelly has played in only one game so far, during mop-up time in the opener against Central Florida.
"I get in the first game and got the whole first play in," he said. "I'm ready to go right now. All the nervousness, all the built up anxiety behind actually getting on the field, that's gone. I'm just focused in, ready to work hard every day."
Kelly learning ropes at defensive end
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