Tuesday, April 8, 2014
Badgers' D to showcase speed, versatility
By Adam Rittenberg
MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin's defense appeared to offer a series of new looks, pressures and personnel groupings in coach Gary Andersen's first season.
Turns out, the reveal is just beginning.
Although the Badgers in 2013 showcased certain elements they hadn't under the previous coaching staff, defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, who inherited a strong and dominant line, catered his scheme to the players' power. The front seven is almost completely new this spring, which has brought different emphasis points, namely speed and versatility.
CB Sojourn Shelton is one of the few Badgers on defense not switching positions this spring.
The Badgers' 2014 defense will more closely resemble the units Aranda and Andersen directed at Utah State than last year's at Wisconsin.
"When you look at the people we've got, they're best when they're in space and on the move," Aranda told ESPN.com on Tuesday. "So we've moved some of the linebackers to defensive end, we've moved some of the safeties to linebacker, some of the defensive ends to nose [tackle]. Everyone's kind of moved down a spot to try to maximize speed."
Michael Caputo, who started at safety last season, moved to linebacker earlier this spring and then back to the safety spot. Michael Trotter moved from safety to join his twin brother, Marcus, as an inside linebacker. Promising redshirt freshman Alec James shifted from outside linebacker to defensive end. Joe Schobert has worked at both inside and outside linebacker, and Leon Jacobs moved from the outside to the inside. Vonte Jackson, whose recurring knee injuries have prevented him from entering the mix at running back, will get a shot at safety.
Aranda used Schobert and Ethan Armstrong in versatile roles last season, but most players stayed in one spot. He now has "an abundance" of players with flexibility.
"We wanted to see how guys fit in other places, and then they decided to move a couple guys around more," Caputo said.
Other than a few exceptions -- top cornerbacks Sojourn Shelton and Darius Hillary are staying put -- the coaches are shuffling players through different positions to see who best fits. For the most part, it's working.
"We're famous for taking guys and moving them to a different spot," Andersen said. "That has been invaluable in my career. Does it always work? No. But you never know if you don't try it. That's what you do as a coach.
"There is no free agency. It's college football."
Wisconsin hasn't abandoned the power element and boasts some size up front with Warren Herring, Konrad Zagzebski and others. Aranda likes practicing against the Badgers offense, which boasts a massive line and has always excelled at the power game, while incorporating a few more spread elements than in the past.
"There's a tendency to want to get big and strong, and we are that," Aranda said. "But to win some of the games we want to win and can win, and take that next step, being as fast as we can and as athletic as we can would be the goal.
"If you can have your cake and eat it, too, let's try it."