Speed and versatility

Themes clear on 2005 signing day

At Wednesday's Signing Day press conference, Wisconsin head coach Barry Alvarez and his staff carried two resounding themes throughout their assessments of this year's recruiting class. The two go hand in hand: speed and versatility.

The 2005 class is filled with players who played both sides of the ball in high school and have the ability to play numerous different positions at Wisconsin. With only nine returning starters next season, it makes this year's recruiting class particularly intriguing.

"As I take a look at this class … it's a fast class. There's a lot of speed in this class regardless of the positions," Wisconsin head coach Barry Alvarez said. "It's very athletic. You'll see a versatile group of athletes. A number of athletes have several positions that they can play. There are a couple of them that we don't know where they're going to play when they show up. I think you'll see a lot of growth potential."

The speed starts with the strongest area of the Badger class: linebackers Travis Beckum, Jonathan Casillas, Elijah Hodge, DeAndre Levy and O'Brien Schofield.

"We always look for speed … But I can't say that we really targeted speed more this year than we ever did," Alvarez said. "It just so happens that when you watch that film, you can see that they can run. Particularly I'm impressed with how the linebackers run."

Along with playing at linebacker, Casillas played wide receiver on the offensive side of the ball at New Brunswick High School in New Brunswick, N.J. Along with 90 tackles and 16 sacks in his senior season, he caught 20 passes, for 410 yards and eight touchdowns.

"Jonathan is going to play linebacker," defensive coordinator Bret Bielema said. "He can really run. He and Beckum might be the two fastest, not that the other guys are slow."

While specific positions will play out in practice, Bielema said that Hodge and Casillas will probably start out at the will linebacker position, Levy and Schofield at mike linebacker and Beckum at sam linebacker.

Another area where the speed and versatility will allow this class to make an early impact for the Badgers is on special teams. Schofield not only made 99 tackles last season, but he also returned three kicks and one punt for touchdowns.

"What we try to do is find the best guys we can get," Alvarez said. "I think when you find someone that you want to take at a specific position, yet he can play some other positions, it does provide more value because with your 85 scholarship limit, you like versatility. When they can play more than one position certainly that helps you and allows you to be flexible."

Versatility might as well be Jarmal Ruffin's middle name. Listed at 6-foot-4, 200 pounds, Ruffin's official position for Wednesday's signing day was "athlete." The Philadelphia native had 409 career tackles including 88 sacks on defense, while catching 75 balls for 1,856 yards and 26 touchdowns in his career on offense.

"He plays wide receiver. He plays defensive line. We're just going to have to see where we're going to play him," Alvarez said. "Our defensive coaches like him, but we're not exactly sure where he'll start. He could be a safety, he could be a linebacker, he could play with his hand on the ground."

Shane Carter, of Troy, Ohio, falls under the same category. At 6-2, 190, Carter was recruited as a safety, making 77 tackles and six interceptions his senior season, but he also caught six touchdowns and had 376 receiving yards as a wide receiver.

"He played both sides of the ball. He has very natural hands … great leaping ability. We initially recruited him as a safety, but he could start at wide receiver," Alvarez said.

Aubrey Pleasant, who once called Madison home, returns from Flint, Mich., where he rushed for more than 1,200 yards, caught passes for 242 yards, scored 21 total touchdowns and made 113 tackles in his senior season.

"He's a physical player … very athletic. We plan on playing him at safety, but he played both sides of the ball," Alvarez said. He added that Pleasant could play corner for the Badgers as well.

These players are just a few examples of the versatility and speed that this year's recruiting class represents. While there are a few players who come in with specific positions in mind, Alvarez and his staff have recruited athletes capable of filling a variety of gaps in the lineup.

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