The Wisconsin football team broke in the turf in Camp Randall Stadium for the first time in 2013 this week, with players in full pads working on new schemes brought in by Gary Andersen and his coaching staff.
The defense continued to work on implementing the new 3-4 system for the front seven brought in by new defensive coordinator Dave Aranda.
Although the new defensive scheme was looking effective during its outdoor practices this week, it will look very different come fall because of the numerous injuries to key players the defense has sustained this spring.
Senior defensive tackle Beau Allen and linebackers Ethan Armstrong and David Gilbert headline the injury report for the defensive squad that is in transition.
Allen, coming back from January surgery on a torn anterior talofibular ligament in ankle, is the biggest cheerleader for UW’s defense during spring practices.
“It’s definitely frustrating because I want to be out there and getting reps,” Allen said. “I just have to be patient with myself and not come back before I’m ready, but it is frustrating. But, I’m kind of also being a big cheerleader on the sidelines just trying to get everyone psyched and ready for practice. I’ve got a role to fill even though I’m not out there.”
Gilbert and Armstrong are also recovering from surgeries on their foot and shoulder, respectively.
With so many key players down for the Wisconsin defense, the players have put together as Allen said “a special rehab group” to help push each other to ensure smooth recoveries.
“Since none of the guys in the transitional rehab are playing, we’re really working on getting our bodies right and healing injuries, but also making gains in the other areas that we can really train hard,” Armstrong said.
While Allen is openly itching to get back on the field with his teammates this spring, it will be a while longer before Armstrong and Gilbert suit up for the cardinal and white since Gilbert just underwent surgery on his foot in mid-March, and Armstrong is nursing his shoulder back to health until the fall.
Although Armstrong will not be lacing up until long after spring ends, he is not worried about catching up with his defensive teammates.
“In fall camp, we’ll have 30 practices to get it all hammered out,” the redshirt senior said. “I’ve done more in less time before. So, we’ll be alright.”
While all three, as seniors, have extensive experience to lean on in missing spring practice, they will be learning Aranda’s 3-4 system for the first time just as the newest players have been.
Allen says he isn’t too daunted by the task of catching up with the new defensive system once he finally does get to put his hand in the ground again.
“I’ve played a lot of football here,” Allen said. “I’ve got three years under my belt and [the 3-4] is not too different.”
Since the injured players can’t take live reps with the rest of their teammates on the field, Aranda is making sure the guys who are out are kept up to speed.
“We give them scripts when they are on the sidelines so they can follow along with the calls,” Aranda said. “We involve them in all of the meetings and we have player teach tapes where I voiceover a defense. So they’ll be able to study that and get better that way.”
One positive to be taken away from the onslaught of injuries that the defense has sustained this spring is increased amount of reps the younger players get to see while filling in for the injured veterans.
Allen sees the opportunity for the younger players to get better and has made sure he does whatever he can to help them improve every day.
“One thing I’ve been doing a lot is helping out with the younger guys because they haven’t gotten as many reps,” Allen said. “It’s a good opportunity for them to step in and get those good reps, prove themselves and get good experience.”
At the end of the day, all of the defensive players coming back from injury want to get back on the field and are doing everything they can to make sure that will be sooner rather than later.
“Even though we aren’t out there during practice we are still getting our time in,” Allen said. “We just all want to get back on the field and be healthy and I think we’re all motivating each other to do that.”