MADISON - Wisconsin's defense is getting a make over with new head coach Gary Andersen running the show. The switch to a 3-4 front has received the most publicity so far, but the Badgers are making some changes in their secondary too.
After years of using zone coverage and conservative types of man coverage, Andersen wants Wisconsin's defensive backs to be a little more aggressive this season. That means the Badgers will have their cornerbacks press wide receivers off the line of scrimmage, and try to cover them one-on-one more often. The Badgers will still vary their defensive calls based on the game situation, but the defensive backs are already noticing a difference during spring camp.
"When he first came in, the scheme that he had previously used at Utah State was definitely more aggressive with the DBs, especially the corners were pressing and playing more man (coverage)," cornerback Darius Hillary said Wednesday. "He came in and he made it clear that that's what he wanted us to do."
"Last year we were a Cover 4-based team. Now we play a lot of man, and in our zone coverages we kind of pass everything off."
But shifting between playing in a zone and covering a receiver one-on-one is more complicated than covering a specific spot on the field or just running with the receiver. Hillary said the shift requires good pre-snap positioning as well as being aware of what the situation is at all times.
"Technique is everything, because it can help you out in certain situations or it can get you beat," Hillary said. "Along with that is knowing the down and distance- if it's a short down and distance you're typically going to get shorter routes, if it's long then you're typically going to get intermediate to longer routes. You definitely have to tie all of that together."
The Badgers played some man coverage last year, but it was rare for them to press receivers off the line to try and disrupt their routes. The Badgers won't be that aggressive on every play, and secondary coach Ben Strickland said the defensive backs are using some concepts from last year to make sure the transition goes smoothly.
"Depending on the situation we might play more man than zone, and I think we kind of do a good job mixing it all up," Strickland said Wednesday. "It's still the same concepts, just a couple tweaks here or there. So I think guys are used to it, it's just getting used to the new verbage and understanding what's that's telling them."
Using man coverage puts a larger burden on the defensive backs, and the results aren't usually good for the defense if a receiver can beat his man and get behind the coverage. But there's also a substantial reward for locking down receivers between the defensive backfield: it buys more time for the defensive line and the linebackers to get after the quarterback.
It's a lot of responsibility to put on a relatively inexperienced secondary, but Strickland said they're making progress so far.
"As young guys, the first step is making sure they understand what the call is telling them and getting aligned in order to have success," Strickland said. "The good part is they're taking a look at the film and applying it to the next time they're on the field."
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