Follow the Leader

Injured and expected to be sidelined the last 10 practices with a ankle injury, senior linebacker Jonathan Casillas got tired of waiting, strapping it up for the final week of practice to show how determined he is to make 2008 a better season for Wisconsin.

MADISON - Senior linebacker Jonathan Casillas considers himself one of the lucky ones.

With a defensive that continued to get stockpiled with injuries, his included in the second week of practice, Casillas and the rest of his young teammates expected the vocal leader to be chirping from the sidelines instead of coaching on the field.

Thankfully, Casillas was able to remove the label of "spring casualty" in the last week of camp.

Although his ankle wasn't healthy enough to play on in the spring game after a teammate landed on it, Casillas sought it important to come back and get the competitive juice flowing as he works towards summer conditioning, a summer he has says previously would be mostly work and no fun, as the senior linebacker doesn't want last year's disappointment to become a new trend on the defensive side of the ball at Wisconsin.

BN: Does it feel good to get back before spring practices were over?

Jonathan Casillas: Yeah, it does actually. I can't really remember being out, besides freshman year. That was a long time ago. It kind of hurt watching but it felt good to be out there, making some limited plays, but it definitely felt good.

BN: How's the ankle feeling after you have played a little bit?

Jonathan Casillas: It's cool. They just didn't want me to do anything with contact because it is still not 100 percent right now. They wanted me to do what I could do. I can run right now and plant off of it but putting weight on it, like exploding and stuff like that, it's not really in the picture. As of right now, if spring ball went a couple weeks longer, that would be in the possibility. But it feels good and it feels normal after icing it.

BN: In view of the players, what does the spring game mean and how big do you guys make it?

Jonathan Casillas: I think it's great not only for us, but for the atmosphere and the university and also for the coaches, as well. For us where we are standing right now, the older guys with a lot of injuries happening right now, it's given a chance for the young guys to play in Camp Randall in front of a nice little crowd on national television. Kind of give them a feel of what it really is and that's unique to this year, this team. It just shows the learning curve of how people perform when they are put on a high stage in front of people and television.

BN: How crazy has this spring been in terms of injuries to you and the people around you?

Jonathan Casillas: (sigh) I mean, I don't know if it could get any worse to tell you the truth. A lot of guys are banged up or just coming off surgeries or injuries and stuff like that. You know, it's been a great thing that a lot of guys can get a lot of reps that never got reps before. That's where we have to go from. A lot of guys that are coming back from surgery are going to be back soon as myself. You've got to look forward to the future. A lot of guys have made a lot of strides, guys that have gotten reps that haven't gotten reps before, and they've come along a lot.

BN: When you look at the individual position battles, how much emphasize is put on a spring game?

Jonathan Casillas: I don't know if the spring game itself but spring ball in general. Spring game, we don't run everything. We're very conservative in what we do. Throughout practice, you see everything – blitzes, cover three, cover four, cover two, man to man, all that stuff. That's basically what you are going to come across in a season. During the practices throughout the weeks and the loose scrimmages we've had, those probably are more of a gauge as to who's moving up in the depth chart, who's moving up where in the depth chart of who's making a stride over another person.

BN: There's been some big plays with guys hitting players, jarring the ball loose, causing disruption. Are those the kinds of plays that you are hoping to put on the field next year and were you as physical last year as you would have like to have seen?

Jonathan Casillas: Well, I think that's what we are all about. I think we are a hard-nosed team and a very physical defense. I don't think we played entirely the whole last season. When I look back, some of us can be ashamed or embarrassed of what we put forth last year. I am not talking about every person every game because we did have some bright spots. In general, I don't think we put forth the effort of what I think we can do. I think we showed glimpses of it during spring ball but because of all the injuries, it was only here and there. We are going to bring it with physical, hard-nosed, executing defense.

BN: Who are the guys that have to lead the way for that physical defense?

Jonathan Casillas: DeAndre Levy. First off, I'll tell you what, this is the first time I've gotten a chance to watch him since I've came here. We've always been side to side to each other and it's actually amazing. I sit back and watch in awe at the things he does. He's a lot better. He's definitely stepped up his voice with the team. He's not a real vocal person off the field. He doesn't really talk too much. He's definitely stepped up his vocal leadership and I think he's doing a great job. He's mentally and physically getting better and I think he's one of the model team players that we have. I definitely look up to him and I am glad to have him as a teammate, a roommate and one of my boys.

BN: Are you feeling that role? Do you see yourself filling that role?

Jonathan Casillas: I think so. I am a little more vocal than Dre but I think that I came back to get back into flow, just talk to some of the guys so that they can feed off of me. I think I bring a little more energy than the average Wisconsin player. I have no problem with that. I think I know where I am at in my game as a player and as a person and where I stand on the team. I am definitely ready to take a role like that.

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