Wisconsin ranked 17th in the country in total defense last year, allowing just 305.7 yards of offense per game, 23.4 yards less than a season prior. The biggest gain was in the rush defense, where the Badgers ranked fifth in the country and held their last 10 opponents to less than 100 yards rushing. This year, the Badgers have to replace five defensive linemen in the rotation.
It's a tough job for Doeren, who will mold the defense with two new assistants (secondary coach Chris Ash and nickel back/assistant linebackers coach Greg Jackson) making this spring important on the field and on the sideline.
Badger Nation: Two weeks in the books. Are you happy with the progress of some of the young guys in your group?
Dave Doeren: Yeah, but we've got a long way to go. It's been fun to see how hard these guys work and how they come out and get coaches everyday. Still, we are nowhere where we need to be right now.
Badger Nation: Three guys that have gone through a major change – Kevin Claxton, Aaron Henry and Conor O'Neill – have you liked how they have absorbed their new position and have they started to make strides to find their new niche?
Dave Doeren: I think so. I think Aaron is further along than the other two guys, probably because he played safety for half the year last year. He's playing with a lot of confidence and is getting better everyday. Claxton is trying, but everything is new right now for him. He's trying hard because it's important for him. Conor has two weeks at safety as a football player after playing linebacker his entire career. He's got a long, long ways to go.
Badger Nation: Are we finally starting to see what a healthy Kevin Rouse brings to the table?
Dave Doeren: Yeah, he's fun to watch. I just told him that he's had the best eight practices he's had since he's been a Badger. Still, he's nowhere near what winning football is for us right now. He's got to be better like the other guys. He's a lot faster than people think. He's probably the third fastest backer we've got. He's finally knowing where to go where before he would think and slow him down. He's just playing ball. He can run, which is one of the reasons we offered him. I really like his ability that way.
Dave Doeren: They are alike in the sense that they are fast and sudden and have good instincts, but they are different in their body types. You can build around those two guys. I wish I had 10 of them, and I am not just saying that because they played good as freshmen. They're tough, and they play football the right way.
Badger Nation: It hurts not having them on the field but talking to Chris, he's still spending a lot of time in the film room with Mike and with you to find ways to get better.
Dave Doeren: We met one-on-one with those guys and challenged them to have a spring where they can get the most out of the spring. How can we get the most out of them with them not being able to practice? They understood that the way that was going to happen was mental. They are like coaches. They have the same script so they know every play, what they are looking at and just watching tape. That's the only way they are going to improve now.
Badger Nation: You had that solid seven-, eight-man rotation on the defensive line last year that really seemed to help you guys. You have work to do, but are you getting close to getting some able bodies and some potential to get up to that number again?
Dave Doeren: I think so. Once we get everybody healthy, I think we'll see that. It'd be nice to have Tyler Westphal practice a couple days in a row. There are a lot of names that would be followed with an ‘I don't know.' I think you can count on J.J. Watt, Louis Nzegwu and David Gilbert have been out here everyday. After that, we have to wait and see what happens between Westphal, Tyler Dippel and Pat Muldoon. Those three guys have all been hurt.
Badger Nation: If you had a captain vote today, do you think Watt would get a good majority of the votes?
Dave Doeren: Oh yeah. I would think so. I don't get a vote, but I would say he would get a couple thrown his way.
Badger Nation: How much have Greg Jackson and Chris Ash help make your job easier this spring?
Dave Doeren: The guys we had before here were very capable, and we lost two good coaches. Greg and Chris are two good coaches, too. Greg brings a dynamic to the table with the players that I think being in the NFL for 12 years and coaching gives him an area of expertise that is rare. Chris is a one of the toughest, hardest guys as far as details on his players. I think our guys are really benefiting from that right now.
Badger Nation: Biggest message you will preach to your guys when you start week three?
Dave Doeren: We have seven more opportunities to get better, but so does Ohio State, Northwestern and Iowa. We need to get better than them in those seven days.