A Minor Makeover

For the second year in a row, pundits have pointed to Wisconsin's defensive line as the Badgers' weakness, especially after losing five seniors from a group that didn't allow a Big Ten foe to rush for over 100 yards. Just like last year, Patrick Butrym and Jordan Kohout hope to prove that they have strength in numbers.

MADISON - It didn't take Patrick Butrym long to find out that this year's defensive line had an entirely different personality than last year's edition.

"Those inside jokes aren't there anymore," Butrym said, talking with disappointment. "Somebody will say something and then just look around, waiting for a reaction."

In addition to losing some quality knee slappers, Wisconsin's defensive line lost five senior contributors, including four at the defensive tackle position that proved instrumental in the Badgers not allowing their last 10 opponents to rush for over 100 yards.

It's a task that the new defensive line, particularly current starters Butrym and Jordan Kohout, have taken to heart.

"Coach Partridge talked about that trait of last year's line and how people expected them to be a weakness," Kohout said. "They ended up being a big strength last year. I think we are building toward a good year."

To repeat the performance laid out by last year's group, Butrym and Kohout have forged a bond during the last eight months. From working long hours on perfecting fundamentals and technique to studying film and finding weaknesses, Butrym has seen Kohout take noticeable strides, important for a projected starter that has yet to play one snap.

"We've become really good friends and we have a similar sense of humor," Butrym said of the redshirt freshman. "We're not afraid to critique each other and help each other out. He's worked so hard this summer that there's a definite change in his game now and from the end of spring. He'll be just fine in the middle … I can guarantee you that."

Butrym is only entering his fourth year in the program, but is the unquestioned veteran player of the group, having the most game experience (26 games played, two starts) and tackles (29) than all the projected defensive tackles combined.

It's a far cry from a defensive tackle position that had senior Jeff Stehle, Dan Moore, Dan Cascone and Jordan Hein all provide valuable snaps last season.

"I've accepted the leadership and you start to matriculate toward that role when the older guys leave," Butrym said. "Your leadership style mirrors those you come before you, and mine mirrors Stehle because he helped me out so much. That's another guy that's been instrumental bringing me along in my career."

While Stehle brought along Butrym, Butrym has returned the favor to Kohout. A four-star defensive tackle coming out of Waupun, Kohout had struggled adjusting to the speed and quickness of the game since enrolling for the 09 spring practices. Those traits are in the past, thanks to his constant competition against UW's offensive line.

"It comes from experience playing opposite those guys," Kohout said. "Those guys are the best in the country. Even if the second string offensive line is stacked. If I can do well and hold my own against them, we can have a really good defensive line. (With Butrym's help), I've started to come into my own."

Kohout and Butrym won't be able to do alone, which is why the contributions of returning tackles Ethan Hemer (a redshirt freshman named the Defensive Scout Team Player of the Year) and redshirt sophomore Eriks Briedis will be key.

Over the past few weeks, however, all the rage of the upperclassmen have been about the size of Beau Allen and the strength of Kyle Costigan, two incoming freshmen that have wowed players and coaches to the point where they could see plenty of snaps on the defensive line.

"Physically, no doubt about it they are further along," Butrym said. "Beau is a big boy and Kyle is one of the strongest guys on the team. These guys just came in and they are physically ready, they are smart and they pick up on stuff fast."

It is possible to draw parallels to last season's defensive line during fall camp. Junior J.J. Watt has taken the place of Schofield as the recognizable player, sophomore David Gilbert and junior Louis Nzegwu are comparable to Watt last year (players entering will high expectations) and Butrym and Kohout are somewhat no names.

Using that logic, it would be fair to say this year's line is better, seeing as Butrym and Nzegwu both got a lot of snaps in Partridge's successful eight-man rotation.

"We have good experience, just not every game starting experience," Butrym said. "We have to create our own identity, and that's what we're figuring it out now. At the end of three weeks, I think we'll have that down."

They may have their own identity, but they have relished the underdog role. Just like last year when outsiders pegged Wisconsin's defensive line as a weakness, those same prognosticators have recycled last year's faulty prediction.

For a group that has carved a demanding course during summer lifting, it's all about the performance on the field.

"People think they know what they are talking about, but nobody is here during the summer seeing us busting our butts in the hot weather," Kohout said. "I think we do our own thing and not worry what people say about us, because we think we are going to be one of the strong points."

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