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April 24, 2014

Spring Wrap Up: Defensive Line

MADISON, Wis. - 15 spring practices are in the books, so it's time to look back and sum up what we learned about each of Wisconsin's positions groups over the last month and a half.

Today we'll move on to the defensive line, after I broke down the offensive line on Wednesday.

The Badgers are trying to get smaller and faster

We learned that defensive coordinator Dave Aranda was trying to get faster across the board early on in spring camp when the team announced several position moves, including moving Alec James and Garret Dooley from linebacker to defensive end. Both players are small for their new position, but the Badgers think they have the athleticism to be difference makers on the line when they adapt to playing with their hand on the ground.

Of the two, James seemed to take to his new position the quickest- in no small part because Dooley was hurt with nagging injuries for a lot of spring camp. But James looked like a natural, and said that he played a lot of defensive end on the scout team last year. James broke out and racked up a few tackles for loss and other impact plays midway through camp, but he quieted down a bit towards the end of spring ball. With a summer's worth of off-season conditioning ahead of him, James could make his way into the two-deep if he puts on some extra weight and is able to maintain his overall athleticism.

Chikwe Obasih is pushing for playing time

James was the talk of spring practice about halfway through camp, but another Brookfield, Wis., native outstripped him in the final week of camp. Obasih started taking reps as a first team defensive end during the team's final few practices, and head coach Gary Andersen raved about Obasih during his last few media appearances.

Obasih seems to be in a good spot heading into fall camp. As a result of Obasih's strong push the Badgers moved Jake Keefer to the second team, which gives them a little more depth at a position where the Badgers are losing a lot of experience. In the end Obasih's move is just a microcosm of Aranda's "smaller and faster" transition- with a little extra weight on his frame Obasih seems to be the prototype for the Badgers at defensive end moving forward.

Warren Herring could be used in different spots

Like Obasih, Herring made his share of news towards the end of spring camp. The Badgers started toying around with playing him as a defensive end in certain packages, in addition to his traditional spot at nose tackle. Herring has played all over the defensive line during his career, and his pass-rushing skills make him a good fit for an edge position against certain opponents.

It doesn't sound like the Badgers are going to make that a permanent move, but it does show that Aranda and his staff are going to play a lot of different players in different spots to get the exact look they want. They'll need another nose tackle, such as Bryce Gilbert or Arthur Goldberg, to take a step up and hold down the fort as a 0-technique, but if they can manage that moving Herring around to different spots would allow Wisconsin's defense to be even more multiple.

Warren Herring, 2014 spring game from Jon McNamara on Vimeo.

John Veldhuis covers Wisconsin football, basketball and recruiting for BadgerBlitz.com on the Rivals.com network. Follow him on Twitter at @JohnVeldhuis.

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