It's Spring Game Week here at MTB and with it means our look into some of the biggest headlines, position battles, and new things we'll be watching for come Saturday afternoon at Camp Randall. Yesterday we took a look at the wide receivers and the issue of having or not having a secondary option opposite of Jared Abbrederis.
Today, we flip sides of the ball and explore one of the biggest topics and biggest mysteries for most fans – what Dave Aranda has in store for his defense in 2013.
One of, if not the biggest complaints about Wisconsin's defense over the past four or five years, or hell for most of the past decade or so has been a lack of imagination or a sense of an aggressive nature to it. Well, it's a new era and a new set of coaches and with it comes a lot of intrigue as to what said defense will look like.
Saturday will be the biggest crowd to see exactly what the defense will look like to an extent and some answers could be gleaned, but what do you we know already about Wisconsin's new defense and what will be looking for on Saturday?
For as long as I can remember watching Wisconsin football, which is the better part of 28 years, the Badgers have always run a 4-3 defense and heading into 2013 the front seven wasn't going to be much different. In fact all four starters up front were returning and two of three linebackers were coming back. The secondary saw three of four graduate, but that's a whole different story for later this week.
There was little wonder about a unit that had ranked in the top 4 or better of scoring defense in the past three seasons (all Rose Bowl births and Big Ten championships coincidentally or not) and a team that allowed just 19.1 points a game last year.
That was all before Bielema left and the world of Badger football was flipped upside down. Insert Gary Andersen and his defensive coordinator Dave Aranda who will be using a 3-4 scheme from here on out. That meant a lot of change for Wisconsin's defensive roster and a lot of questions for fans and the media alike.
What's Happened This Spring?
Three main themes have emerged this spring – aggressivity, injury, and change. The later of those three was a given with the announced switch from the 4-3 to the 3-4 and on the good news side of things it appears those available this spring have really taken well to the change in scheme and identity. In fact some are reporting that the defense has had a lot more of a bounce to it and the kids really do love the new defensive system in place.
On the flip side of that is we honestly don't know enough about this defense and what it could look like on Aug. 31st because of injury. Major players in NT Beau Allen and now OLB Brendan Kelly along with Ethan Armstrong haven't been available to practice all spring because of recent surgeries or injury concerns. It's meant a lot of reps for younger players and the good news is that they seem to be impressing in their increased roles.
As for the aggressivity of this unit it's been a work in progress as the Badgers are slowly building out their full defense – in fact up until this past week they hadn't put in the full scale of what the defense will look like – but what has been reported is that the players are flying around a lot more from all over the place and the energy is just different amongst the players.
What to Watch for in Spring Game:
There are four players we'll really be keeping an eye on in the spring game and all for different reasons on the defensive side of the ball and they are Jesse Hayes, Reggie Mitchell, Vince Biegel, and Warren Herring.
Why those four? Well, as for Hayes it's because he's one of a few making the switch from hand down defensive end to upright outside linebacker (like Brendan Kelly) and his name has been one of a few that have had a lot of buzz around him all spring as a potential sleeper and a playmaker from that new position. So, we'll keep an eye out to see if the potential is there on Saturday with a bigger crowd on hand.
Mitchell is an easy one because he's young – being a redshirt freshman and all and if he shows well in the spring game and continues to progress throughout the summer he'll likely be a big time challenger to Donnell Vercher, the JUCO transfer coming in this fall.
As for Biegel, it's simply a matter of a healthy player and one of the brightest defensive recruits to come out of the state of Wisconsin and sign with the Badgers in some time. He's reportedly shone bright in his reps at outside linebacker and we'll be watching to see how he handles that new position and freedom to use his skills more.
Warren Herring is simply because the dude's got moves and he'll be an anchor of this defense all season long with Beau Allen. He's gotten a ton of reps this spring and even dating back to last season he was beginning to show signs of being a very good player. We'll be watching him to see how he handles his new position on the defensive line and to see if he can continue that upward progression to being a key playmaker along the line.