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September 11, 2013Follow @JohnVeldhuis
MADISON, Wis. - At the start of the 2013 season, it was obvious that the Wisconsin Badgers had a surplus of linebackers.
With Chris Borland already entrenched as the middle man, the Badgers had to sort through like likes of Brendan Kelly, Ethan Armstrong, Conor O'Neill, Derek Landisch, Joe Schobert, and others as they moved in to Dave Aranda's new 3-4 defense.
The Badgers eventually started Borland, Landisch, Armstrong and Kelly in their first game against UMass, and subbed in O'Neill against Tennessee Tech after Landisch was injured in week one. But with Landisch still trying to get back on the field, the Badgers have decided to shuffle their starting lineup, if only for one week.
The Badgers will start Borland and Kelly as usual at inside linebacker and at the boundary outside linebacker spots, but the team has moved Armstrong inside next to Borland and promoted Schobert to the first team at field outside linebacker. Aranda said O'Neill will still play at inside linebacker this week against Arizona State, but in large part the move is about getting the right personnel on the field against the Sun Devils' offense.
"[Arizona State's] pace is the deal," Aranda said after practice Wednesday. "I feel really good about Connor, and Connor was our player of the game [last week]. But Connor was really the only guy with any experience at that Rover spot, and we didn't feel we can go in to a game with just one guy playing. We're going to have to be able to sub in and out, depending on how that game goes."
By starting Armstrong in the middle and Schobert on the outside, Aranda and the Badgers are hoping that they can use their athleticism to cover Arizona State's receivers in space, and make up ground on the field if they get beat. Aranda said Schobert's skillset in particular allows them to make this change for the time being, after the sophomore impressed the coaching staff in both spring and fall camp.
"He's made for a spot like this," Aranda said of Schobert. "He'll play man-to-man some, he'll play some zone, and all of those things."
The Badgers are showing their faith in Schobert, who has played in just 10 games for the Badgers in his short career. Saturday's game against Arizona State will be the first start of his career, and he'll be responsible for reading and reacting to the run/pass option plays that the Sun Devils use in their offense.
"Thankfully, Arizona State aligns for success," Schobert said Wednesday. "That's good, but it can also tell the defense what you're going to do sometimes. You can kind of get an idea of what sort of plays might be coming."
But no matter which team comes out ahead on Saturday evening, it seems like the Badges are planning on moving Armstrong back outside when they play teams who run offenses similar to their own. Aranda said there's more of a gap between Armstrong and Schobert in that sense, but for now the switch is all about getting their best 11 defenders on the field at the same time.
"If it's [against] a downhill run game, then there probably is some gap," Aranda said. "But if it's the team that we're playing, there's no gap at all."
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