Friday, July 24, 2009

Questions from Adam Hoge

The latest round of Badger football questions comes from fellow Cardinal guy Adam Hoge, this time regarding the defense. Here are my thoughts:

Can you believe it has been five years since that great defensive line of 2004? Depth is once again an issue this year, but there seems to be some promise in J.J. Watt among others. Do you see any newcomers stepping up on the D-line to provide some depth?

It's funny, because when you mentioned 2004, the first thing I thought was "I thought 2005 would be a down year, and we ended up winning 10 games, great year." But thinking about it further, that was in spite of the defensive line! Even so, while injuries killed that unit (remember Beckum playing end?), but guys like Shaughnessy, Hayden, and Chapman showed promise. I don't see those guys on this unit. O'Brien is a solid starter. Watt seems to have a Hayden-like ceiling. But are there difference-makers? Doesn't look like it. I'll be happy if these guys can keep offensive linemen off our linebackers.

Speaking of a lack of depth, the linebacking corp seems to be scrambling to replace Jonathan Casillas and DeAndre Levy. Blake Sorensen didn't have a great spring, but he is still listed ahead of Mike Taylor on the depth chart. Are you worried about the linebackers?

Yes, very. Don't want to join the chorus questioning Sorenson, but I've never seen it with him. Saw Taylor play in high school and he was a stud, but we certainly can't count on him to be a standout this year. McFadden and St. Jean are average at best. And there is no one else. What about playing Pleasant at linebacker? We see so much Spread it might make sense to have a guy like that in the front seven.

Is it safe to say (and a little scary to say) that the secondary is the strength of the Badger defense? It seems like every guy listed on two-deep has shown flashes of brilliance at some point in the last few seasons, but they also have had their hardships. And will Aaron Henry really be as good as he looked like he would be before the knee injury?

It is scary, and I'd even question the "flashes of brilliance" assertion. We've seen flashes of competence from these guys, and I'd settled for sustained competence. But every one of the starters has question marks. Henry with the knee. Maragos still learning the position. Valai and his all-or-nothing hitter MO. Brinkley and big plays. But I'm actually optimistic about these guys, and the young guys too. Shane Carter is a wild card, if he could come in and force some turnovers that would be huge.

What are your thoughts on the defensive coaching staff? Toughness seemed to be an issue at times last season. How will this unit overcome the mental and physical shortcomings that were apparent in 2008?

I don't know about toughness, it's hard to get to be a guy who plays a lot on a Big Ten defense and not be at least somewhat tough. Remember, there were a lot of injuries on that side of the ball last year: Casillas, Levy, Chapman, Henry, and that hurt productivity. What sticks with me is comments made on my blog after the Iowa game. I forget who said it, but the point was made that our defense had finally adapted to deal with the Spread, but when we go against a power line and back like Iowa had, we get run over. That probably won't always happen, but there's a lot of truth there.

So by making the seemingly necessary adaptation to deal with the Spread, we have lost our identity as being a stout, stop-the-run defense, and become just another defense with a bunch of undersized guys running around in space. If these undersized guys were racking up sacks and interceptions, that would be on thing, but the unit seems mediocre at best, and it's not like next year looks any more promising. Some of that's on X's and O's coaching, but it's also recruiting and player development.


frye said...

I brought up the fact that the Badgers D seems to have a better time against the spread teams than the traditional power teams the last few years. I posted it before the Illinois game.

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