Defense still trying to dominate

An almost completely different defensive front shows strength in spring game

In a spring game featuring a small number of offensive fireworks that were few and far between, the defenses of both the Cardinal and White teams took hold of play and refused to let go.

Players from nearly every position made impacts, with inexperienced Badgers continuing to step up, something that has quickly become a theme during spring practice. As a whole, the Cardinal and White defensive units forced three interceptions to go along with a trio of sacks. Junior free safety Zach Hampton continued to flash his nose for the football, intercepting a Stocco pass intended for wide receiver Jarvis Minton on a corner route in the first quarter.

"Coming in I wanted to get an interception, just to boost my morale a little bit, boost everybody in the DB's," Hampton said. "It just capped off a pretty good spring for myself."

Cornerback Ben Strickland and safety James Kamoku also made interceptions for the White defense. Strickland was around the ball throughout the day, ranking unofficially tops on the team for tackles.

The White team defense surrendered only one touchdown to the Cardinal offense (made up of the Badgers starters) in the first half, and similarly allowed just one score in the second with the Cardinal (at this point consisting entirely of offensive players) possessing the ball for the entirety of the last two quarters.

"Our defensive staff does a good job of making sure guys know their responsibilities," head coach Barry Alvarez said. "These kids know what they're doing, so they can play fast. It remains to be seen how good they'll be next year, but I thought they played well, and they have played well all year."

A bevy of youth served Wisconsin well, starting with second unit linebackers Josh Neal and Jammar Crane. The redshirt freshman duo made tackles from sideline to sideline throughout the game, with Neal amongst the team leaders in stops.

"Josh and Jammar really did a good job," defensive coordinator Bret Bielema said. "They're hungry, they want to be successful, they're eager to learn, they really like the game of football and it shows because of the way they play. They're guys who are going to continue to make leaps and bounds of improvement over a short amount of time just because they haven't had that much experience. They're fun kids to work with."

Starting sam linebacker Mark Zalewski continued his strong spring campaign with a sack of White team quarterback Tyler Donovan. Zalewski repeatedly harassed Donovan during the first half of the contest.

The young UW defensive line stood out on both sides of the field, an encouraging sign for the team's coaching staff after losing all four starters from a season ago. Redshirt sophomores Kurt Ware and Brandon Kelly each turned in solid performances, with Kelly, playing for the White squad, batting down a pass at the line of scrimmage and Ware posting a sack on Donovan while working with the Cardinal defense. Fellow Cardinal lineman Jason Chapman stopped Donovan on a scramble for a loss as well.

"[The defensive linemen are] competitors, they listen, they really try to hold the tradition that the defensive line has had here at Wisconsin and that's exactly what they're going to do," Bielema said.

After entering the spring season as a bit of a question mark, Saturday's showing bodes well for a unit devoid of seven starters from last season. Overall, Alvarez is pleased with the progress he has seen on the defensive side of the ball.

"We're getting pretty solid play from the defensive front, I think our linebackers have improved and I like the competition that we've got in the back end," Alvarez said. "So, if they continue to improve, if they continue to do that during two-a-days and have a good summer, I think we'll have a chance of being a nice defense."


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