Checking in with ... Dave Doeren
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
When you call Dave Doeren's cell phone, you don't hear any tones before the Wisconsin defensive coordinator picks up. Instead, the unmistakable sound of House of Pain's "Jump Around" screeches through the receiver. Anyone who has ever been in Camp Randall Stadium between the third and fourth quarters of Badgers games knows why.
"The recruits like that," Doeren said.
Doeren doesn't come off as much of a rap fan, but he wants his defenders to follow Everlast's words after they spent too much of 2007 in their seats.
After the Outback Bowl, coach Bret Bielema dismissed veteran coordinator Mike Hankwitz and promoted the energetic, intense Doeren to get the defense back to its 2006 form, when Wisconsin ranked second nationally in points allowed. The Badgers boast experience along the defensive line and at linebacker, and they return the Big Ten's interceptions leader in safety Shane Carter. But health has been a concern throughout the offseason, with linebacker Jonathan Casillas the latest to go down (ankle). Defending the spread offense also will be a focus for the Badgers after struggling against athletic quarterbacks like Illinois' Juice Williams and Minnesota's Adam Weber.
After writing about Doeren this spring, I caught up with him earlier this week and discussed his outlook for the Badgers defense in 2008.
You had the chance to get acclimated with the guys in the spring as the coordinator. How have they responded to you in preseason camp?
Dave Doeren: It's coming together. The guys are really working hard. You're starting to see that chemistry, stuff we missed in the spring due to all those injuries, so it's fun to start seeing those guys bonding and being out there together and working together and having the progress where some of our better players are actually out there and making plays again.
Do they have a better awareness of the expectations you have?
DD: They definitely understand. There's always a learning curve when you're trying to figure out what a guy wants from you, so they're on the same page as me from that standpoint most of the time, not always, but a lot better than where we were.
I've heard you don't hide your emotions too much. You're pretty easy to read.
DD: That's a big thing. I want those guys to feel like they can tell me what's going on, and by the same token, I'm always going to be up front and honest with them so that we're always on the same page with everything.
The guys have been pretty honest about not meeting expectations last season as a defense. Is that easier for you to come in and coach when they've already acknowledged that they want to do better?
DD: Two years ago, we were very, very good here on defense and a lot of guys took for granted that it would happen again. And it was a tough lesson to learn, so I'm walking into a situation obviously where the guys are hungry because they went through a tough stretch early on before we started getting better defensively as the year went on last year.
Would you say the leadership is in a better place now? Jonathan [Casillas], it seemed like he was a little bit ahead of his time last year as a captain.
DD: I think so, and those guys understand that the lack of it last year hurt 'em. There's a lot of experience. Last year, we had one returning starter on the defensive line, and there was only one senior in there. And then you've got Chappy [Jason Chapman], you're looking at [Mike] Newkirk, you're looking at [Matt] Shaughnessy, [Kirk] DeCremer's got experience, [O'Brien] Schofield's got experience. And then at linebacker, there's five guys with starting experience. So there's a lot more comfort within those guys as far as saying stuff to their teammates now that they've proven they can play.
Have you seen any examples of that leadership that have stood out in camp?
DD: At practice, you'll see guys coaching other guys all the time. Last year, I don't know if we were unsure of it or just not working the same way or what. You'll see a kid make a mistake, and half the time, before you can correct him as a coach, those older players are jumping on him and talking to him and helping him. That's great when those guys are doing that kind of stuff.
You mentioned the injuries in the spring, and a couple guys have been held out at times. Is there any update on Casillas? How is the overall health of the defense?
DD: We're still waiting for [cornerback] Aaron [Henry] to get back. They went in and fixed him up again and he's doing great. He's rehabbing and he's not on crutches or anything. JC had a little sprain he's trying to get healthy from, but the D-line's all out there. Those guys were beat up all spring and they're all going. The linebackers are all going except for Jon. And the only DB we're missing right now, knock on wood, is Aaron. So it's a lot different picture. With Jon, it really depends on how he recovers. He's coming off of a bad ankle in the spring on the same leg, so they're taking their time with it. But he was about as healthy as I've ever seen him before this happens, so hopefully he'll heal up pretty quick.
How is Matt doing? He's been back with the team a little bit now after his brother passed away.
DD: He was gone all week for his brother's funeral. It's great having him back. He seems like he's doing really good. Our D-line has great chemistry, those guys are very close friends, so he's got a good support group around him. And he got to spend six days at home after this thing happened, so he was around his family for a long time to go through the healing process. But I'm sure it's going to take him a while. Losing a brother is not easy.
Who are the young guys that have emerged so far in camp?
DD: Brendan Kelly, one of the true freshmen D-lineman, is really playing well. He's probably the best freshman right now. Kevin Claxton's doing some things, the safety. As far as true freshmen go, those would probably be the top two right now.
In terms of leadership in the secondary, does Allen [Langford] take that or does Shane [Carter]? Who is the go-to guy in that group?
DD: Both of those guys lead back there. Allen's not a real vocal guy, but he does his job right every day. There's not many people like that. His work ethic's unbelievable. And then Shane's pretty vocal, and he's playing at a high level right now, so a lot of guys are looking up to him. But those guys are a pretty tight unit back there.
What is the next step for Shane?
DD: Obviously his ability to play the pass is outstanding. We'd like him to be a balanced player where whatever's coming at him, he's successful with it. Nobody's going to make every tackle, but as a free safety, as our last eraser of play, you want to have a guy back that that takes care of that all the time. That's something he's worked extremely hard on this offseason.
When you get the whole defense together, what goals do you talk ab
DD: We talk about goals as far as individual, we talk about our defense, we talk about our team. We review those weekly and sometimes more, it just depends on how we're doing. And the goals are tangible. There's nothing secret about them. Obviously, your first goal is always to win, find a way. And then just the standard stuff. No loafs. Something we pride ourselves on is great intensity and swarm to the football and takeaways. We want to be one of the best takeaway defenses in the nation. We feel like taking the ball away and preventing big plays, just keeping the ball in front of us and running at it with great effort, those are the things that are important.
Is the no loafs thing something you put in just to emphasize effort and hustle?
DD: It's part of my makeup and our defensive coaches, we all believe in it. When you watch the best teams play, they're the ones that hustle the most, too. It's not just the most talented guys that win. That's the one thing I said. You never want to come in and watch film and see another team outwork you. Not that it's happened around here a lot, but we sure don't want it to start. That's something we're trying to do and it's carrying over, but it's never going to be the way you want it to be. There's always more you can do.