Green speed: UW defensive line gets quicker, younger
MADISON—Wisconsin's defensive line will sport a new look in 2014.
More youth. Less girth. More speed.
“Having smaller, athletic guys who can come off a block and make plays will help,” UW defensive coordinator Dave Aranda said.
Change was inevitable.
Four of UW's top six defensive linemen from last season, including three starters, were seniors.
The top two returnees are seniors Warren Herring (6-foot-3 and 285 pounds) and Konrad Zagzebski (6-3 and 277).
Herring was the No. 2 nose guard behind Beau Allen last season. Allen was listed at 325 pounds for the Capital One Bowl. Herring worked at nose guard for most of the spring but started the spring game at end and could get work at both positions this season.
“I'm open to wherever coach wants to put me,” Herring said. “I'll do my best to produce wherever he wants to put me.”
Herring, whose first position on defense at UW was end, made more plays behind the line of scrimmage than any other UW lineman last season. He finished with four sacks, tied for the No. 2 mark on the team, and six tackles for loss, the No. 3 mark on the team.
Both were marks were highest among the linemen.
“He was pretty good,” UW coach Gary Andersen said. “The ability to move Warren from the nose to the end is something that we will continue to work with in fall camp. It may be by package.
“If we have some other nose guards and then he ends up being the best end… he's spent many years of his career playing (end).”
How much time Herring is able to line up at end depends on the play of several reserve nose guards, redshirt sophomore Arthur Goldberg (6-3 and 290), freshman Conor Sheehy (6-5 and 279) and freshman Jeremy Patterson (6-3 and 326).
Goldberg showed enough progress in the spring for the staff to give Herring a look at end.
“He comes to work every day,” Herring said. “He competes every day, keeps the pressure on us. He is working his way up big-time. I've been very happy with is growth.”
Bryce Gilbert recorded seven tackles last season in eight games and could have contributed this season. However, he left the program and is looking to transfer.
Redshirt junior Jake Keefer, who missed last season after suffering a knee injury in camp, should be a solid backup at end.
Two redshirt freshmen ends of note are local products, Chikwe Obasih of Brookfield Central and Alec James of Brookfield East.
Obasih closed the spring at 6-2 and 255. His goal was to be up to 265 for the opener on Aug. 30, and he is listed at 268 pounds.
Although Andersen raved about his progress in the spring and noted he could open the season as a starter, Obasih wasn't happy with his effort.
“I'm not satisfied at all,” he said. “I need to get stronger. I need to get faster. I need to improve my technique. I need to get my butt in the film room.
“They hold high standards for me. It gives me something to work for. I need to improve myself.
“I need to get more aggressive. I need to get more comfortable at that spot.”
James, listed at 6-3 and 259, moved to end from outside linebacker before the start of spring practice and immediately impressed the staff with his ability to make plays behind the line of scrimmage.
“When he was on the scout team he played defensive end and they raved about him,” Aranda said. “They couldn't block him.
“I know when he would come with us he would stand up (at linebacker) and it just would not be what they were describing.
“There is a comfort level that comes with being where you are supposed to be.”
James isn't the only young player trying to make the transition from linebacker to end.
The staff also moved redshirt freshman Garret Dooley, who worked at inside linebacker last fall, to the line. Dooley was listed at 6-2 and 227 at the end of spring ball but is now listed at 6-2 and 238.
“We've had success in the past with those types of moves,” Aranda said, “trying to get as fast as we can. What we basically did was put safeties to linebackers, put field linebackers to bench linebackers and put bench linebackers to the D line.”