Freshmen Backers Not Taking A Break

With five true freshman linebackers in this year's recruiting class, Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Doeren was expecting a couple bumps in the road. After two days on the practice field, Doeren isn't seeing problems, he's seeing potential, as UW could get contributions from multiple freshman on defense.

MADISON - When Dave Doeren was battling through two-a-days at Drake University as a freshman, the Wisconsin defensive coordinator couldn't rush back to the dormitory fast ahead for a quick one hour of shut eye.

The five freshman linebackers the Badgers have this season are anything but sleepy, as the eager group have spend their breaks relaxing in Doeren's office, intently watching film to fix unwanted tendencies.

"It's a pretty impressive group up there watching," Doeren said.

A group that consists of outside linebackers A.J. Fenton, Nick Hill and Conor O'Neill and inside linebackers Ethan Armstrong and Chris Borland has been all the rage of Head Coach Bret Bielema and his staff since the freshman came on campus this past summer, especially since the depth at linebacker is thin this season with injuries and seniors Jonathan Casillas and DeAndre Levy graduating from the program.

With few second options, it's been no surprise to see Borland taking a lot of reps with the second-string linebackers, barking out calls and making plays.

"The middle linebacker to me is the sheriff of the defense, you've got to have great confidence, be loud, have a presence and be a playmaker," Doeren said. "I think Chris is all of that. It's just a matter of whether is mind will process all this stuff."

When Borland first committed to Wisconsin in June of 2008, he weighed a minute 205. When he came back for his official visit in December, Borland weighed 220. Weighing in the first day of practice, Borland is 230 pounds, but hasn't lost any quickness on the field.

"When we got him, we weren't sure where it (his weight) was going to go," Doeren said. He's pretty impressive. I am excited to see him in pads and see what he does. He gives us a good option there."

Another option that has emerged from the Badgers is Conor O'Neill. An all-state and all-county selection as a senior and junior at St. Thomas Aquinas, O'Neill, complete with his body control and ability to go from sideline-to-sideline, has been put on the outside by Doeren, who has already started to see some positives.

"Conor O'Neill is a really fast kid that can run and change direction, has great instinct and super smart as a football player," Doeren said. "He's a football junkie."

Youth also Injected into Cornerbacks

O'Neill wasn't the only former Raider to commit to Wisconsin in 2009, as former Aquinas teammate Dezmen Southward also making headlines in his first week of camp.

Although being recruited as a safety, Southward, who is practicing in a green no-contact jersey with a club on his hand, has been moved to cornerback for the simple reason of getting him on the field quicker.

"Our lines our shorter at corner and we thought he'd get reps at corner," Doeren said. "We're pretty loaded at safety with all the seniors. It's easy to slide a guy back in. We wouldn't get a lot of work with him at safety right now."

Another young cornerback Doeren has his eyes on is sophomore Devin Smith, who made a deep impression on the coaching staff during the spring for always being in the right spot and not making mistakes. Reminding Doeren for having Aaron Henry's mentality and Allen Langford's intuitiveness, Smith is challenging Niles Brinkley for playing time at the corner position.

"He doesn't beat himself, he knows his weaknesses and he understands where his help is a lot of the time," Doeren said. "That's a big part of what we're trying to get across to the rest of the defense. I don't care how good you are, if you make mistakes, you can't play. You got to be a consistent guy that's always in the right place and is dependable. That's what Devin brought to the table in the spring."


Doeren on Niles Brinkley's sometimes lack of focus:

"When you lose focus out there, it's a touchdown. We don't want to have that. Having competition out there makes it that much better."

Doeren on the improvement of redshirt freshman Brendan Kelly from his injury:

"He's over 240 pounds and an animal downstairs in the weight room. He loves it down there. He's a flashy guy in the pass rush."

Doeren on Tyler Dippel's improvement from his ACL injury:

They are still working back from the Shrine Game when he had his injury, but I think he's pretty close. Probably a couple days away from being let go.

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