Looking for the Great Eight

After losing five members of an eight-man front that was so vital to Wisconsin's success last season, Defensive Line Coach Charlie Partridge starts the rebuilding process, eying a number of veterans and young contributors to keep the success moving forward.

Badger Nation: Last year your dream was to have an eight-man rotation and you got there. Are you close to a five-, six-man rotation right now? Obviously this is the time where you need to find the depth.

Charlie Partridge: (laughing) Right now if I had to say …… it's tough. We've got a couple of guys like David Gilbert and Louis Nzegwu that are getting game ready. Patrick Butrym, Jordan Kohout and J.J. Watt are guys you feel are game ready. Tyler Dippel got nicked and he's getting close. I'll be anxious to see Brendan Kelly when he gets back and where he is at fundamentally. We are a little thin at the defensive tackle position and we need to find some more depth there.

Badger Nation: Kohout seems like a guy that has taken the year and the spring to get a lot more comfortable within the defense. Your thoughts on him?

Charlie Partridge: It's fun because when he first came in here, it was the most basic of basic things, just trying to get his first step right and he has gotten past that point. Now it's the next level of fundamentals, which is the easiest way I can say it. Right now, he's to the point where he's holding strong and he's not giving ground and he's getting to the point where he's ready to start producing and making plays, which is the next step for him.

Badger Nation: Warren Herring seems like he really gets it at times and makes some good plays and other times he really looks like a freshman. Is he where you thought he would be or is a little bit further or back from your projection?

Charlie Partridge: Oh, he's right about where I thought he would be. When he shows up on some of those plays, it's like ‘OK, he's a division 1 talented player.' Fundamentally at the defensive line at this level, if you step a couple of inches out of position against this offensive line, you are done. It's over, and that's the lesson he's learning and the lesson most of them learn when they first get here.

Badger Nation: Is the hardest thing with a guy who played on both sides of the ball in high school to get the offensive mindset out of their head?

Charlie Partridge: I don't think so. I think it's more just the purest of footwork, hand placement, blocking and the things you have to do to put yourself in position to be able to get off a block.

Badger Nation: Talk about what kind of kid he is.

Charlie Partridge: Great kid. Very attentive, very green and raw and has a long ways to go, but I sure like his approach. The thing I like is when I coach him on the details, he doesn't take it personally like a lot of kids his age do. That approach will help him get better. When he first got here, we were out recruiting, so there was a month and a half where the weight chemistry started growing. That defensive line group started handling things well before I am allowed to start coaching them again.

Badger Nation: How much has Coach Herbert helped with winter conditioning, stuff in the weight room and different drills to make your job easier up here on the practice field?

Charlie Partridge: Herb does an outstanding job. What Herb does the best job of in my opinion is making sure what they are doing in the weight room and conditioning carries over on to the field. He's not a weight coach that worries about getting kids ready for a combine. There are strength coaches that are all about the 40-yard dash or this drill or that drill. Herb just wants them to be better football players and that does carry over on the field.

Badger Nation: With Watt, if your team had a captain vote tomorrow, do you think he would garner quite a few of the votes and what does that say about the guy?

Charlie Partridge: I think he would garner some votes. Just his story to get here, his drive is second to none. His internal drive … he's never satisfied. He's never satisfied with how a practice goes … ever. He analyses himself to a degree that most young men his age just can't or don't have the maturity to do so. That's why he continues to get better, even when he is competing at a high level.

Badger Nation: Can you see some of that rub off on Nzegwu because the two are roommates and play the same position?

Charlie Partridge: Yes I can. I think the combination of what J.J. does and what O'Brien Schofield accomplished a year ago. OB made a 12-month decision to approach things as mature and competitive as you possibly could everyday. Louis is learning those lessons and he probably had his best practice (last Thursday). That's good to see because we need it.

Badger Nation: I remember a couple years ago that Louis' name was pretty high on the ‘loaf' category (given to players who missed assignments, plays or mistakes). Is his name starting to drop?

Charlie Partridge: It's starting to drop. It's not there yet, but it's starting to drop. It's key to build depth, build trust and if there's a young man that doesn't play with everything he's got, it's hard to trust him. You have David Gilbert right there that is working just as hard, so it's a fun competition to watch.

Badger Nation: Tyler Westphal isn't at that level yet but just to have him healthy, does that give you some confidence that he's starting to make strides in a positive direction?

Charlie Partridge: He hasn't truly played since the fall of 08, so he's a year and a half out from the fundamental standpoint. He's a little like Warren in that he's relearning all the fundamentals. That's what he's going through.

Badger Nation: With the steps Gilbert and Kohout have made and the fact that they look like contributors to you this year, how much do you love that this is their second spring ball?

Charlie Partridge: It's hard to even quantify to be quite honest. The transition happened earlier so they got their fundamentals in line, which led them being a full semester ahead then some of the guys coming out of their redshirt freshman year. After fall camp, I can't coach them anymore because they are on the scout team. I was able to coach Gilbert and Kohout for a whole spring and fall camp, which is why they are in position for a starting job.

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