Spring Game Analysis: Linebackers

With both units only allowing two touchdowns all afternoon and no major injuries, the linebackers had plenty to smile about during the spring game. With positions and rotation spots still to be decided, some linebackers had more on the line than others.

MADISON — With these defensive injuries piling up this spring, it wouldn't have been a total shock if the University of Wisconsin backups hung some serious points on the starting defense during the annual UW spring game Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium.

Playing without Matt Shaughnessy, Jason Chapman, Jonathan Casillas, Mike Newkirk, Aaron Henry or Allen Langford – all starting defenders during the 2007 season – provided an interesting challenge to the Cardinal squad; however, nobody would have blamed them if the White team, featuring Scott Tolzien, Lance Smith and John Clay, did some damage.

However, the starters stepped up Saturday, not allowing a single point to the backups (the White team's three points came on rapid fire kicking points in between quarters).

Credit senior linebacker DeAndre Levy for his leadership with younger players like Elijah Hodge, Culmer St. Jean, and Jaevery McFadden, and he's quick to praise them for their progress during the spring.

"It's been great, I've been really impressed with them," Levy said. "The younger guys hadn't really played before as freshmen, they came and competed especially well today."

McFadden did a particularly nice job filling in for Casillas, Levy's co-leader on the linebacker corps, at the will linebacker position, leading the Cardinal defense with nine tackles.

But since Casillas is expected to regain his starting spot when completely healthy, the focus for UW coach Bret Bielema is on the individual battle forming at mike linebacker between Hodge and St. Jean.

"We wanted to have great competition between Elijah and Culmer," Bielema said. "Culmer was doing really well at the beginning of camp, he kind of faded off, Elijah came on. So we'll have that one probably going right into fall camp."

Hodge was the starter last season, but fought through injury and faded down the stretch, surrendering some playing time to St. Jean and McFadden late in 2007. Hodge also holds the experience edge, as a junior to St. Jean's sophomore eligibility.

But St. Jean made the bigger impact on Saturday's game, making four tackles including one for a loss. Hodge had a pair of tackles. Levy also had just two tackles, but was rested late in the afternoon.

"I took him out in the fourth quarter just because of what he's able to bring as far as just a spark plug and a guy that really brings some energy to the field," Bielema said.

The Badgers showed depth at linebacker, as White squad teamers Ryan Flasch and Erik Prather also had nine tackles in the game.

Prather made one of the most bone-jarring hits of the day. In the first quarter, Cardinal team running back P.J. Hill broke free for a first down, but Prather caught him on a spin move and drove him to the ground, stopping him on the 12-yard gain.

The only trouble the Cardinal team had was with Clay, the redshirt freshman back who played well in his highly-anticipated debut in a Badger uniform. Clay burned the Cardinal defense after halftime with 16 carries and 90 yards.

But the White team never could punctuate a drive, so the starters will take it.

"They drove down a couple times, but the big thing is we stopped them from scoring," Levy said. "The younger guys have experience now, so this won't be as new to them in the fall."

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