Stunned, but Not Stopped

Even with having to lug around a bum arm for two weeks after a painful stinger, redshirt freshman defensive tackle Eriks Briedis has started to become a complete player, an attribute he hopes will thrust him into the two-deep depth chart on next season's defensive line.

MADISON - Freshman Eriks Briedis wasn't having fun sitting on the sidelines, but his mid-season neck injury might have been the best thing that happened to the redshirt defensive tackle in 2009.

Briedis still isn't sure what happened, as his entire arm went numb after a practice, resulting in test that diagnosed a neck stinger that came with some limited nerve damage, forcing him to the sideline for three weeks.

"My left arm went completely numb for like three weeks," Briedis said. "It's like when you wake up and your arm is asleep and it feels like ants are crawling down your arm."

But for a man as determined to make an impact on the depth chart as Briedis, the athlete from Miami wasn't about to sit back and digress. Although he couldn't do any upper-body work in the weight room, Briedis fine tuned his lower body, improving his strength and quickness while awaiting his neck to heal.

Throw in the fact that the oversized Briedis saw the scale move from 295 to his present weight of 275 and the fully-healed injury is still showing its effects.

"It helped me get my lower body right and stronger, which has given me a big difference on the field," said Briedis, who estimates being able to lift an additional 80 pounds on his squats since the injury. "I've come a long way in a year. I am going to try to put some weight back on my upper body, but (Strength and Conditioning Coach Ben) Herbert is showing me how to put that all together."

Becoming the complete package couldn't come at a more crucial time for Briedis or Wisconsin, as the Badgers will lose defensive tackles Dan Cascone, Jordan Hein, Dan Moore and Jeff Stehle after the four complete their careers against the University of Miami (9-3) in the Champs Sports Bowl December 27 in Orlando.

Study under the group for the past two seasons, Briedis has taken a page from Stehle's repertoire in learning to be patient and use the scout team role as motivation to get better.

"It serves as motivation, because we have great senior leaders in front of us," Briedis said. "You have to learn from them everyday on what they do and approach the game. I'm just working hard every day to wait for my turn.

"The biggest thing is learning to take every rep and getting better from that rep. Going against our offensive line, one of the best in the country, you can't take a rep off because you can get better every single time working on your footwork or your fundamentals or your strike. You just go out there and try to get better."

With solid senior leadership inspiring the group behind them, Briedis makes up a logjam of reserves with Ethan Hemer and Jordan Kohout competing for an open spot next to junior Patrick Butrym, who could be the only tackle with any experience. The motivation to find experience and keep a productive eight-man rotation comes exclusively from position coach Charlie Partridge.

"We've got a lot of seniors, so we definitely are going to lose people for next year," Briedis said. "Bowl prep is a crucial time because Jordan, Ethan and I are getting reps at the inside and coaches have been evaluating us for next year and finding the guys who can get on the field."

Although a physical linebacker and playing several positions at Miami Country Day, Briedis' aggressiveness, physicality on the line made and quick release off the line of scrimmage made it a natural for defensive coordinator Dave Doeren to mover Briedis to the line of scrimmage.

Having the knack for reading the play and making plays has carried over for Briedis, who, like many of his teammates, have the goal of 1) see his name on the depth chart 2) getting better every single day on the field and the weight room and 3) get bigger, faster and stronger.

"Making that change, it was mostly about the fundamentals, the footwork and the striking," Briedis said. "Here at the college level, you can't just run around like you could in high school. Everything has to be perfect and you have to focus every single play. Playing linebacker helped me have that mentality to make every single play."

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