MADISON - Secondary coach Bill Busch came to Wisconsin from Utah State along with new head coach Gary Andersen, and he has arguably one of the toughest jobs in his first year. The Badgers are losing three of their four starters from last year's unit, with Dezmen Southward serving as the lone returner at safety.
But the Badgers already have a few candidates to replace their starting corners, and Busch seemed excited about what he'd seen out of the defensive backs so far this spring.
I spoke with coach Busch after Wednesday's practice, and my question and answer session is included below.
What have you seen out of the secondary so far? There's obviously a lot of opportunity for some of the younger players.
We've got guys who play hard, and they really care about what they're doing. There's not like 'Ah, I hope it works out.' Their 'want-to' factor is huge. When you have that, then you always have a chance to be really good.
You're obviously losing a lot of experience from last year, but you have some experience with Peniel Jean coming back this year. How has he impacted some of the younger guys?
The 'give-a-shit' factor, pardon me, has been big, and the attention to detail. He's always extremely focused, so that's a big plus for us. He leads that way.
How about Darius Hillary?
He's exclusively a corner right now, and he'll play some nickel for us. These first couple days have been great. I always hold off judgment from practice until we see it on film. Usually when you're really excited about a play it's not that good and vice versa. He's doing very well for us, and he cares a lot.
What is it about Darius and Peniel's skillset that you guys think will translate to them playing at a high level at the cornerback position?
They're physical. In the Big Ten you have to be physical at all positions, so that's a big plus. And again, just they're multiplicity. We're going to do some different things and create some different things in the back end for them to be successful and they'll do a great job with that.
How about Dez Southward at safety? What are you looking for out of him this spring?
We're playing him in some coverage spots, some nickel. He has the ability to play some nickel and dime so we're going to play some man coverage on receivers, which he can do extremely well. That's something that I'm not 100 percent sure about but from talking with him I don't think he did that last year. That's an area that's under research right now. So far, what we think is going to happen is going well.
What would you like to see out of this unit by the end of spring camp?
Obviously the care factor is there. I want to see the execution and I want to hear the communication. Great defenses communicate extremely well. They're talking during the game, pre snap, pre-huddle, 'What's the down and distance, what's the situation, what's getting called?' If it's third and eight, they already know 'Ok, I have a really good idea that coach is going to call this because we've prepped and know what's going to happen.' That's what I'm looking for is the communication.
You're had a lot of special teams experience during your career. Is there any particular unit that you're working with? What's the most important thing for your unit?
Punt return, and finish the play with the ball. That's the number one thing- when the play's over it's your ball. Some guys muff them, you've seen it probably cost the 49ers a trip to the Super Bowl last year after they muffed a ball.
It's important because kickoff return is cleaner. Punt return … the guy might punt the ball straight up in the air, it might bounce and hit somebody, or he booms one. All of a sudden, you might not return a punt in the game because say the guy punts four balls out of bounds. The big thing is making really smart fielding decisions in the back end. And then when you have the opportunity, make the big play. Our goal will always be to get a first down.
A 10-yard return is an outstanding return. We sell our guys on- 'If you get the ball vertically, don't let the ball bounce off the ground. Any time the ball hits the ground, on average you're going to lose 17 yards. That's a study. So if all of a sudden we get in front of it and get a 4-yard return, we'll save ourselves 21 yards. So field position is big for us.
For more Wisconsin Badgers news, notes and discussion, follow John on Twitter.