Levy a fast learner

True freshmen linebackers are getting up to speed; Neal has a role to fill

True freshman will linebacker DeAndre Levy stands 6-foot-3, 215 pounds. Sophomore fullback Chris Pressley is 6-1, 258 and is considered the strongest player on the University of Wisconsin football team. So it stands to reason that Pressley has an advantage in a collision with Levy.

Such was the case during a mostly freshmen-versus-freshmen scrimmage session Aug. 14, the first day of full pad work in the Badgers' fall training camp. On that Sunday morning, Pressley bulled his way into the hole and delivered a lead block that decleated Levy, flinging him backwards.

Tuesday afternoon, however, was a different story. During a 9-on-9 segment Levy met Pressley in the hole and staggered the fullback backwards to disrupt a running play.

"I saw DeAndre Levy make a play today," UW head coach Barry Alvarez said after Tuesday's practice. "About 10 days ago, on an isolation play, Chris Pressley blew him up. Now, Pressley's 270 pounds. You go in to take him on and you are a little hesitant and you are standing straight up and down. And the guy has a 10-yard run at you. That's a pretty good blow.

"But he learned. Pressley ran that isolation at him today and he met Pressley two yards in the backfield and lit Pressley up. That's very impressive to me that a young guy can learn that fast and be that physical. And he can really run. I like him. I think he'll see some playing time this year."

Levy is not the only true freshman linebacker expected to work his way onto the field this fall. In team work this week, Travis Beckum has typically been the second-team sam linebacker, with Levy the second-team will ‘backer. Elijah Hodge has rotated with Josh Neal on the second team at mike. The true freshman trio has not been in the mix when UW works on preparing for Bowling Green, but it appears that it is just a matter of time before all three find their way onto the field.

"I really think that Elijah Hodge is very physical and has made some plays. He's been hampered with a groin (injury) but he's a guy that I'm sure will see some time…

"Beckum's a guy that has all the ability that we expected. He has a lot to learn but he really is talented."

Alvarez also likes what he has seen from senior LaMarr Watkins as the starting sam linebacker, a role that he will play at least against pass-oriented teams, such as Bowling Green. Watkins opened camp as Dontez Sanders' backup at will linebacker, but has since moved over to sam, with Mark Zalewski sliding to the first-team mike spot.

Watkins played regularly as a true freshman and as a sophomore, starting a total of eight games, but did not letter in 2004, partly due to injuries.

"We were just back looking at some clips the other day," Alvarez said. "We try to go back and use examples of games. We teach the game at night (during camp). And you see LaMarr Watkins as a true freshman in there several years ago. He has an opportunity, he's been playing well. I thought in the scrimmage Saturday… he made some effort plays. I'm really pleased for him. He's a guy that's been around. You just want him to keep his concentration and I think he's the first one to tell you that he'd lose concentration. But he's had a good camp and hopefully he can continue to play like he has been."

Along with Zalewski, sophomore Andy Crooks and Hodge, UW expects Neal to play a role at mike linebacker.

"There's a place for Josh on special teams and in the physical game," Alvarez said. "Josh will fill a hole. I don't want him out there covering backs 1-on-1 or receivers or playing in space a lot. But he's kind of like me: he can play in a phone booth."

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