MADISON - As far as leadership goes on the Wisconsin defensive line, losing O'Brien Schofield will unquestionably hurt. But with junior J.J. Watt poised to assume that open leadership void, it seems the Badgers have a capable leader set to move forward.
At the conclusion of a recent practice, BadgerBlitz.com caught up with the junior defensive end. The following is a question and answer with Watt.
First of all, how did winter conditioning go?
Watt: Coach Ben Herbert does a great job with us in the weight room. Everybody made gains. The guys that needed to add weight added weight. I got a lot stronger, a lot faster and more flexible. Overall it was a good winter for our team.
Did you add weight?
Watt: I initially added about five or six pounds
my ideal goal to play defensive end is to play at 284 pounds. I dropped back down, right now I'm about 285 and that's where I want to be.
Are you pretty set, is there any talk of them moving you inside?
Watt: Right now we're talking at defensive end. That's pretty much solely what we've been focusing on. I really support the coach's decision on that and I'm really happy about it because I can finally focus on the position.
I came from Central Michigan where I had a year at tight end. I came here and I had a year at defensive end/defensive tackle so this is really going to be my first off-season where I can just focus on defensive end. So I'm really excited about my opportunities to improve my game.
How is that going to make a difference, just focusing on one thing like that?
Watt: It makes a huge difference. Being able to watch film of just defensive end work and being able to just practice that makes a lot of difference
so hopefully I'll be that much better on the field when it comes to August.
You guys lose a couple of leaders from last year in O'Brien Schofield and all those other guys. Do you kind of feel like you're a leader going into this season?
Watt: I definitely do. I'm trying to be a leader and I'm trying to step in and pick up from what O'Brien and Chris Maragos left behind. We need a guy like that. We need a guy that guys can look to and say, 'Hey, I want to follow him. I want him to lead our team into battle.'
I'm trying to be the guy every single day for our team out here and hopefully these guys follow the work ethic in the weight room, on the field and in the classroom.
Do you see that a little bit? Do you see some of the guys looking up to you?
Watt: I definitely do. Watching film on Saturday after practice last week, I saw Tyler Dippel and David Gilbert up watching it with me. I see guys doing the right thing. I'm in the weight room doing extra reps after and there are guys like Brian Wozniak and all the guys staying after to do work. Just stuff like that. You see Ethan Hemer and guys doing extra steps out here when they don't have to.
I feel like it's rubbing off a little bit on them and the work ethic on our team is just improving greatly over the past couple of years. We are all doing extra steps to get back to where we want to be.
Have you kind of noticed a change in the mantra around here, too, after that down year a couple of years ago.
Watt: Definitely. Our team, it's kind of like a 180, really
Every single day guys are up in the film room and guys are doing the right things outside of the football field. If we can stay clean outside of the football field and keep working hard here, we're going to have good results.
So you sense no complacency among anybody?
Watt: No, not at all. You might suspect that after a big win like Miami we would, but it's really just giving us more wood for our fire. We're just burning hungry to get back out there and get to work.
The offensive side of the ball is pretty stacked with a lot of people coming back. The defense is young with a ton of potential and a lot of it was reached last year. It's got to be an exciting time for you guys.
Watt: It's real exciting for Badger football and Badger football fans everywhere. I get comments all the time from fans that are real excited about the year. But inside our locker room we know every single day is a new challenge for us. So we have to tackle them every single day and the results will come.
I don't know if you look at it or not, the websites where people have you ranked top 15 or whatever for next year. How do you look at that and not let it elevate your confidence or boost your ego or anything like that?
Watt: We see that stuff. We can look at it and be happy about it, but what it does is it motivates us. If you take a look at that and get complacent for one second, you're going to drop down to No. 50 or No. 75. None of that stuff really matters to us as long as we take care of our business every single day in the weight room, on the field and in the classroom, we'll be where we want to be at the end of the year.
So one day at a time is the mantra we're going to follow.
It's all realistic goals, though aren't they?
Watt: Yeah, all of the goals that people have for us on the outside, the media, all the top 10's, nobody has bigger goals for us than we do. We have sky-high goals for ourselves and what we are doing is working every single day to obtain those goals.
Do you feel like this program is on the brink of being great?
Watt: I definitely do and not based on the reasons most people think the program is on the brink. Most people see the win over Miami and the wins we had last year and say we are going to be great. But what I see is our program has the accountability in the classroom, off the field and on the football field.
Our program has the work ethic in the weight room and on the field. Our team just wants to be a great football team. We're all itching to be coached and we all want to be a better football team so we're doing whatever we can.
Coach Bret Bielema, and the rest of the coaching staff, is doing a great job of putting us in the right positions and giving us the right information. All of the outside stuff is great, but what I see is a great football team brewing inside our locker room.
It seems like you guys have great character guys, too, and it seems like chemistry on this team is pretty strong already.
Watt: It's absolutely really strong. People who come in from the outside, they definitely make note of our chemistry and they see that our football team has a really tight bond amongst the players and we all care about each other. That's why at the end of the day we're all working super hard to help each other out and try to win the best for our team.
Talk about yourself a little bit. Have you gotten more explosive or anything off the line that you've noticed?
Watt: This year, one of the biggest things I'm trying to work on is my pass rush because I was a little disappointed in it last year. The first thing is my first step off the line. I'm definitely trying to work on that and the first couple of practices have been positive.
Every single day, if I can get a little bit better on my pass rush and keep improving in the run game I'll be just fine.
How do you get better at that? Is it in the weight room or is it through reps?
Watt: It's in the weight room, it's in agility pads, it's working with coach Herbs and doing anything extra work that I can to get an extra step on my opponents and get an extra step on all the other defensive ends in the country. My goal at the end of the day is to be one of the best defensive ends in the country. So I'm doing every single thing I can to try to get better and do that.
I know it's early in spring and you've only been through four practices (at the time of the interview), but is anybody standing out to you on the defensive side of the ball?
Watt: Louis Nzegwu is playing really well. He's my roommate and he's a guy I need to step up on the other side. He is being pushed by David Gilbert so he's really improving this spring. Our whole defense, really as a whole, is playing really well right now.
If we can really have guys just doing their part every single day, we're going to be just fine. So we need to work as one and we'll be alright.
What's it like living with another guy on the defensive line. There's probably a lot of football talk going on.
Watt: Yeah, there's a lot of football talk. It's a lot of fun to live with Louis because if he pops up in the middle of the night about one of our plays we answer it. We shoot the crap about, 'Hey, imagine this, imagine that.' I push him and he pushes me. Every single day I write a little quote on our whiteboard and we live by that quote every single day. It's been a lot of fun living with him and it's going to be a great two years with him.
The quote changes every day?
Watt: The quote changes every day but there is one at the bottom that stays the same. It's my 'Dream big, work hard.' It's something I follow and something I really believe in because if you have big dreams and big goals and you work hard to attain them, that's really all you need in this life.
At the same time, anybody on the offensive side of the ball stood out to you?
Watt: Shoot, Lance Kendricks is one of the best tight ends I have seen in the country. I faced 13 tight ends last year and not many of them blocked better than Lance Kendricks. He definitely stands out to me. Obviously he has speed and agility and can make the plays on the outside edges.
Montee Ball has really stepped up his game. He is running really hard. Obviously you guys have Jared Abbrederis making some plays so we can't let him get behind us like we have been. Abbrederis has been doing real well.
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