MADISON - Much like the rest of the team, Wisconsin's linebackers are working with a new position coach this season. But the Badger linebackers should be used to coaching changes by now. Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda is their fourth different coach in four seasons, and he's bringing an entirely new defense with him.
The Badgers will run the 3-4 as their base defense this season, and it's already having implications on playing time. Young players will also have to step up following David Gilbert's departure, but Aranda thinks his new players have adjusted well as a whole.
Obviously you never want to lose someone like David, but have any of the younger players stepped up in his absence at outside linebacker?
Dave Aranda: The one guy that really sticks out is Joe Schobert. Joe has really been performing well, making plays when it counts. Whether he's isolated in coverage or setting the edge on defense, rushing the passer, he has great ability that way and … a knack for coming up with a big play that has been demonstrated again, and again, and again. Jesse Hayes is the other that's made plays with the more time that he's gotten. He's gotten better with the reps, and those two have taken a big step up.
Did Joe kind of catch you by surprise this spring?
DA: He's kind of an unassuming guy. He's a smooth character- we call him Sinatra. If he was a singer, he'd be Sinatra if he had a Rat Pack with him or like a Michael Bublé or something like that. A real smooth guy. He plays that way- he's violent in snapping off blocks and he's violently getting pass breakups, but there's such a smoothness to him. He's a natural athlete, and he's only going to get better the more reps he gets.
How about Jesse- what is it that he brings to the table?
DA: Jesse is explosive. He's got snap to him, he's got great size and speed. And so when we can turn Jesse loose he makes plays, and we want to find as many ways as we can to get him in a spot where Jesse can just get loose, and so we're working on that as we speak.
DA: Both of those guys have played well. It's gotten to a point where Nick is really working on his hand placement on blocks. In pass coverage Nick's probably one of the best that we've got, and Nick is proven versus the run. Vince is just getting overloaded with everything. This is the first time Vince has been able to play, so just the run defense, the pass defense, everything else, he's just getting to where that's comfortable for him, and he's going to be a hell of a player for us.
Do you think the guys are feeling more comfortable with the defense at this point in spring ball?
DA: There's not doubt. You teach something, a guy learns it, but it doesn't really sink in until they're comfortable with it and there's a confidence with it, and there's an 'I've been there before and I've done that.' I think you need to take some steps to get to that point, and I don't feel like we were close to that point until we came back from spring break. When we came back and we talked about base defense or this blitz or whatever, and the guys were like 'Oh yeah I know that, I remember that.' That was the first time that I've been here where we've had anything similar to that. Up until then everything was coaching. It was all, 'This is something new, this is something else.' We're getting some recall now, which is nice to have.
Have you installed the whole defensive playbook or do you still have some left to install?
DA: We've got about one or two calls left. We're still kind of debating about when we're going to put that in. I think we have more than enough right now. The issue now is more on fully executing what we have. I think we're kind of at that point- the past two weeks have been kind of throwing the kitchen sink at them and seeing how they respond.
What about Brendan Kelly? Obviously he's had to focus on mental reps, but how do you feel about him so far?
He's great. He's very intelligent, very meticulous in how he approaches thins. He's a gym rat, and in terms of football he's up there looking at all kinds of tape. He's going to be a great one. He's a prototypical guy. He's the outside linebacker that we would recruit right now in a heartbeat.
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