Looking ahead: defensive line

Freshmen tackles are helping in spots this season, will be counted on in 2005

Wisconsin will celebrate its seniors Saturday, in the final home game of the 2004 season. With three defensive tackles playing their final game at Camp Randall, the experience freshmen Justin Ostrowski and Nick Hayden have received this year is invaluable.

"Nick and Justin obviously are the heir apparents at those positions and I think both of them have come along just fine," defensive line coach John Palermo said.

Along with senior Kalvin Barrett, Ostrowski spells senior starters Anttaj Hawthorne and Jason Jefferson. He and Hayden also assume the mop-up duty playing time. The young tackles have not been gobbling up snaps—just receiving some here and there—but every little experience will prove helpful in years to come.

"They needed to get some game experience," Palermo said. "They've been able to do that and I hope they continue to do that."

"Justin's been doing real well. He's been practicing hard and learning the techniques," Jefferson said. "He's going to be a pretty good player in the future. Nick's the same way. He's a young guy; he's just learning. In the future they are going to be pretty good tackles."

Ostrowski and Hayden, though talented, will have their work cut out for them replacing standouts like Hawthorne and Jefferson. As a result, their learning curve has been swift.

"I run within the second group and Justin Ostrowski, Jamal Cooper, Nick Hayden, those guys are great," Barrett said. "They are very anxious to learn. They are always asking me questions and I'm asking the seniors questions. Then we rally and talk and ask, "How'd he do that?" It's always a big classroom environment."

Among players currently on the roster, Palermo will also give a close look to Gino Cruse, who is currently redshirting as a true freshman. There are also a pair of defensive ends—Jason Chapman and Mark Gorman—who could play tackle.

"Gino shows signs of being a pretty good player, particularly since it's cooled off a little bit," Palermo said. "For a guy coming from Arizona he don't have a lot of get up and go when it's hot out. So that's something that he's got to work on."

"He's a big body," Jefferson said. Cruse is listed at 308 pounds. "He's down there on the scout team. He's going to be a pretty good one too."

Cruse has reputation as one of the more effervescent and talkative players on the team.

"He is. He is. But, you know, I like a little personality in a d lineman," Jefferson said.

Chapman, like Cruse, is redshirting as a true freshman. With his combination of size (6-foot-4 and 278 pounds) and quickness, he could play end or tackle his next four years on campus.

"I think that's going to depend. He's 278 right now and I would tell you he's athletic enough right now to play end so that's probably where we'll start him in the spring and then go from there," Palermo said.

Gorman, a third-year sophomore, made significant strides since last season and has played in spot duty this year at defensive end. He could serve a role similar to what Nick Cochart did the last two seasons in Madison, providing depth at tackle and end.

"Mark Gorman is a solid guy. Mark hasn't seen much playing time but I don't have any problem putting him in the game because I think he's made tremendous improvement over the year," Palermo said. "I think Mark is just starting to come into his own physically, mentally and I anticipate that he'll be a very good player for us the next two years."

Wisconsin also must replace both starting defensive ends—Jonathan Welsh and Erasmus James—next season. This too will be a daunting task but the Badgers have much more experience in reserve at end than they do at tackle. Sophomore Joe Monty has served as a top reserve for two seasons and redshirt freshman Jamal Cooper, though undersized, has played very well, flashing the potential to become an elite pass rusher.

Also in the mix at end next season, among current roster players, will be Chapman, Mike Newkirk, Brandon Kelly, converted tight end Kurt Ware, and Gorman.

"The Chapman kid from Ohio, I think ,is going to be a really good player and Jamal Cooper just continues to astound me and amaze me cause for a little guy he has a good motor and he's played very well for us," Palermo said.

Barrett has very simple advice for the youngster players: "Listen to Coach Palermo. No matter what he says, no matter how he says it, no matter when he says it: listen to him and take it as a positive note. Never negative."

"Looking towards the future, we at least have a good starting point in the spring," Palermo said. "Then it's a matter of who kind of takes it to the next level as far as who will be in that mix in that starting four guys. Newkirk's got a chance to get in the mix and like I said Chapman and there's a lot of guys that I think are talented individuals that if they can adhere to what we do from a discipline standpoint they will be very good players for us."

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