Merry-go-round: UW to rotate defensive linemen

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Jeff Potrykus
Friday, August 26, 2011
— Wisconsin’s coaches learned several painful lessons during the turbulent 2008 season, which ended with an ugly loss to Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl.

One involved the need for a deeper defensive line.

UW was long on quality and short on quantity in ’08, the first season in Madison for defensive line coach Charlie Partridge.

Starters Matt Shaughnessy, O’Brien Schofield, Jason Chapman and Mike Newkirk were forced to handle an onerous workload that led to diminished returns in the fourth quarter.

“I think after that year we really (said): ‘Hey, we have to develop depth because this isn’t going to work,’?” UW head coach Bret Bielema said. “We had some good players that year.

“We were relying on them and in the third and fourth quarters we just kind of wore down. We made a decision that we have to get better recruiting and get that depth in here and then develop a rotation.

“It has been a huge emphasis.”

Fast-forward to 2011.

Partridge believes he should be able to use 10 linemen—five tackles and five ends—in his fourth season at UW.

“We’re going to be rolling them through,” he said. “We’re going to have fresh legs and hopefully wear people down without our fresh speed.”

The projected starters at end are senior Louis Nzegwu and junior David Gilbert, with senior Patrick Butrym and redshirt sophomore Ethan Hemer at tackle.

The third and fourth ends are redshirt junior Brendan Kelly and redshirt sophomore Pat Muldoon, respectively. Redshirt sophomore Tyler Dippel has made a late push to join the rotation.

The No. 2 tackles are sophomore Beau Allen and redshirt sophomore Jordan Kohout. Redshirt freshman Kyle Costigan has come on late to take the fifth tackle spot.

“It really comes down to recruiting, really scouring the country by the whole staff, not just me,” Partridge said. “The staff saw that we needed to get some linemen in here.

“We just worked our tails off to get them. We were able to turn around the numbers part pretty quick.”

From Partridge’s perspective, the key has been adding beef in the middle of the line.

Butrym is up to 290 pounds. Hemer, a walk-on from Medford, is up to 300 pounds. Allen has dropped 30 pounds since the end of last season to get down to 310. He is quicker and has better stamina.

Kohout, who has missed time in camp because of a hamstring injury, is listed at 290. Costigan, originally projected to play center or guard at UW, is listed at 285 pounds.

“It is harder to recruit the inside guys because, honestly, I think there are fewer of them,” Partridge said. “To find a 300-pounder that can really move you’re going to be recruiting against everybody in the country.

“We can recruit with anybody in the country. Don’t misunderstand me. But the bottom line is that it’s hard to turn over a rock and find a 300-pound guy that can run. Everybody finds them.

“You can find a 6-4, 220-pound kid who could be 260 some day. There are more of them out there.”

At first glance it appears UW doesn’t have an individual standout to match the productivity of J.J. Watt last season. Watt became a first-round draft pick after recording seven sacks, 21 tackles for loss, 10 hurries and nine passes broken up as a redshirt junior in 2010.

For most of preseason camp, Nzegwu and Butrym have shown the ability to get into the backfield and make plays. Kelly could join that group if he can remain healthy.

Partridge is more concerned with developing a consistent rotation at tackle and end so he can keep everyone fresh and maximize their productivity.

“I could care less if one guy gets notoriety or if all of them (do),” he said. “All I want to do is win and get the production we need.”

Partridge acknowledged he has encountered resistance from certain players when he subs them out.

“And quite honestly I wouldn’t want it any other way,” he said. “I wouldn’t want a kid who wants to come off the field.

“But I say to them: ‘I need your best, your absolute best in the fourth quarter.’?”

Bielema, who played defensive tackle at Iowa, understands that mentality.

“I wanted to play the whole game,” he said. “In retrospect, I was probably better in the games I split with another guy.

“That’s what we’ve kind of gone with now.”

Last updated: 6:01 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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