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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Badger ‘D’ looks to make big statement

After a promising set of practices, J.J. Watt and the Badger defense are ready for the spring game.[/media-credit]

A lot of the focus this spring has been on the Wisconsin offense — the Badgers return all the key players from a unit that averaged 416.9 yards per game in 2009. But with reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year John Clay sidelined after ankle surgeries and first-option receiver Nick Toon to miss the spring game, fans might be wise to pay more attention to the guys on the other side of the ball in Saturday’s scrimmage.

Granted, there are question marks on ‘D,’ especially on the line, where the Badgers need to replace the departed O’Brien Schofield, who was second in the nation in tackles for loss. Former cornerback Aaron Henry is taking over for Chris Maragos at free safety, and with linebackers Mike Taylor and Chris Borland out, it’s up to senior Blake Sorensen to lead untested teammates behind the front four.

But if there are any doubts as to how the Wisconsin defense will perform, they aren’t owned by the players.


“For our team, it’s been a great spring,” junior defensive end J.J. Watt said. “We’ve been working on all the things that we needed to work on, our footwork, our fundamentals, everything that we’re trying to get done in spring, and it’s been great for us.”

“I think we’ve got a lot of young guys coming up who can make a play,” senior safety Jay Valai added.

A good portion of the young guys will be featured on the defensive line. Watt is the most proven commodity on the line, after 15.5 tackles for loss — including four and a half sacks — last season playing on the opposite end from Schofield.

Watt acknowledged Schofield’s impact last season, referencing the sacks and double-teams he drew. But with a more mature Louis Nzegwu and redshirt freshman Jordan Kohout having great springs, he’s confident the line will be ready for the spring game and beyond.

“Our guys are extremely dedicated to the task,” Watt said. “We know what we have to do, we know we’re a young defensive line, particularly. We’re trying to do everything we can to negate our lack of experience, by studying film, by getting extra reps and everything that we can do.”

With the first-team offense going against the second-unit defense and vice-versa, both the top offense and top defense are primed to put on a good showing.

Sorenson said the defense’s obvious goal is to pitch a shutout.

“It’ll be the best we can [do], we gotta go three-and-out every time, that’s our goal,” he said.

Scott Tolzien will quarterback the first-team offense to begin the game, with redshirt freshman Jon Budmayr starting with the second-team offense, then getting a few reps with the first unit, according to head coach Bret Bielema.

With Toon sidelined after getting dinged up in last Saturday’s scrimmage, the guy to watch on offense might be redshirt freshman receiver Jared Abbrederis, who has been turning heads all spring with his speed. Budmayr has developed a pretty good chemistry with Abbrederis, connecting on a number of long passes throughout spring practices.

The main focus however, could just be keeping guys healthy. Bielema also hopes to get big-time performances from players who have had good springs, singling tight end Lance Kendricks as a guy he wants to do well.

“First off, everybody that takes the field, I want them to come off the field,” Bielema said. “I’d like the guys that need to make jumps — that have — to show up on Saturday, because it will be the most realistic game day situation.”

Saturday’s forecast calls for a high of 60 degrees and sun, a fitting end to a spring that has been blessed with nice weather. The team often was able to practice out on the Camp Randall field instead of inside the McClain facility, which has a shorter field.

“It’s been a beautiful spring,” Watt said. “I was talking to Coach (Charlie) Partridge, he said he’s never seen a spring that had this nice of practices. Anytime we can get out here and practice in Camp Randall, on a 100-yard field, we’ll take it.”

And while the Badgers have reveled in the opportunity to practice outside much of the spring, the fact remains that nobody was in the seats. For guys like Kohout and Abbrederis, Saturday will be the first opportunity they get to play in front of an audience as a Badger.

Watt thinks the game-like atmosphere will help prepare those guys for the real thing in the fall.

“It helps them quite a bit,” he said. “Playing out here every day in front of an empty stadium, it gets your work done. But when the nerves start running through your veins Saturday when all the fans are here, sometimes you step a little wrong. Sometimes you’re playing on straight adrenaline.

What we need to do is we need to get those guys settled down the first couple of plays, get them to realize it’s the same football game as when you’re playing with nobody in the stands.”

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