MADISON, Wis. - A season ago, the Wisconsin defensive line consisted of three seniors and a bevy of younger players waiting to get a chance to show their worth. This season, with O'Brien Schofield as the only returning starter, that bevy of young players will get that chance.
Of that group, UW defensive line coach Charlie Partridge hopes to instill a rotation that will prevent the unit from becoming fatigued both in late game situations and also throughout the long conference schedule.
"I'm excited about the fact that we have a group of guys that we felt like last year were peeking around the corner," Partridge said following Tuesday's practice. "Now, we're getting closer to turning the corner. If we can get that group of six or seven guys to turn that corner, then we have a chance to be okay."
The group of six or seven players that Partridge mentioned would likely consist of some sort of rotation involving the following players in no particular order: J.J. Watt, O'Brien Schofield, Daniel Moore, Patrick Butrym, Jeff Stehle, David Gilbert, Louis Nzegwu, Dan Cascone and Brendan Kelly.
"That's my goal," Partridge said. "To have at least seven guys, hopefully eight."
And with camp in the early stages, the spots in the rotation are really up for anyone to grab.
"Really, in my mind, everybody is up," Partridge said. "We haven't redshirted anybody yet. With three weeks of camp still to go and another week of game prep for Northern Illinois, all those guys are eligible."
Physical Changes were noticeable:
Under new strength and conditioning coach Ben Herbert, the UW football team has undergone a new program that has the players doing different strength building exercises during the summer conditioning period. It's that program that has seen such players like Butrym work hard to get his weight over 290 pounds so he can be serviceable on the line.
"As you know by rule, we're not allowed to be around when they're in the weight room and that stuff during the summer," Partridge said. "But, all of them have made gains. There's not a guy in the group that I'm disappointed with how they developed. There's not one guy more than the other across the board. Guys have put on weight and strength so it's exciting."
With players such as Watt, it was obvious he was really benefiting from the strength and conditioning both in the winter and now again during the summer. And because of the gains he has made off the field, he has Partridge excited about the potential he has.
"He's doing good," Partridge said. "I think his story will be told a lot more tomorrow as we finally put shoulder pads on and then certainly more on Friday when we go into full gear. With our group, you need to be able to show those things where it's a more physical game.
"So the story will be told more soon."
Nzegwu recovered well from spring injury:
During March and April, one of the more intriguing players on the defensive line was Nzegwu. However, midway through spring camp, he suffered a knee injury that sidelined him for the remainder of the 15-practice schedule.
Now, with fall camp underway, Nzegwu is back at full strength and making an impact on the unit.
"It was a really minor deal," Partridge said. "He got the knee taken care of and he's full go. He's doing a nice job and looks good."
Entering his third year in the program, Nzegwu is the type of guy that seems poised to find himself involved in the rotation. But after playing primarily as a running back through high school, the transition to the defensive line has taken some time.
"The biggest thing I keep telling Louis is the old excuse of you're a new d-lineman," Partridge said. "You know he played running back in high school, but he's a d-lineman now. This is year three and you're no longer a running back. That stuff is gone. With that, he's come a long way."
Gilbert taking full advantage of strength program:
As one of four early enrollees that benefited from participating in spring camp, Gilbert continued to carry that momentum into the summer. When the Florida native arrived on campus in January, he weighed only 207 pounds. As of Tuesday evening, he had added nearly 30 pounds of weight to his wide frame.
"He's got himself up to the mid 230's and he came in here at 207," Partridge said. "He's done an amazing job developing quickly. So, we'll see how he develops mentally now. He's really bought into the whole nutrition and lifting aspect of things and done a great, great job."
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