Friday, April 18, 2008

Spring Game-- the D

Yeah, I realized yesterday, when I was lying at home with a weird one-day fever and chills, that I wouldn't have enough time to individually discuss the various positions on the team before Saturday afternoon. So let's talk about the defense in broad terms.

In '06, the D was pretty great, although that might have been due to a relatively weak schedule. '07, after graduating Zalewski, Rodgers, Stellmacher and Monty, and Cooper getting thrown off the team in preseason camp, was not great. The d-line was mostly ineffectual all year, with little pass rush and hardly any depth. The linebackers seemed to regress. The defensive backfield was generally a mess, as Jackie I. didn't usually live up to his rep, the new safeties tackled like powder puff backups, and the no. 2 and 3 corners both tore their ACLs. Hell, the leading sacker on the team was the nickel back. Not a good year, although it can be directed, in part, to a tougher schedule (a better Illinois team, OSU), personnel losses and injuries. Still, way more was expected. Thus, the coaching staff purged its d-coordinator and only sexagenarian, Mike Hankwitz (now at Northwestern), and promoted a hard-charging up-and-comer type guy in Dave Doeren to the position. (With Henry Mason on leave, is there anyone on the coaching staff over 45?)

Unfortunately, Badger fans likely won't see much improvement on the field tomorrow. And that's because the defense is still injury-riddled. Five projected starters-- tackles Mike Newkirk and Jason Champman, corners Allen Langford and Aaron Henry, and end Kirk DeCremer-- are still recovering from various injuries and surgeries. Junior college transfer and defensive lineman Dan Moore hurt his knee and is out. It's rumored that Shaughnessy won't play. It's unclear whether Casillas will see any time. The top corner this spring, Josh Nettles, may be out. A primary back-up safety, Kim Royston, has decided to transfer. The bottom line is-- expect the offense to move the ball pretty easily.

So if you like the second halves of Packer pre-season games, you'll enjoy watching the defense tomorrow. Lots of back-ups running around means a glimpse into the team's depth and future. Look at the corners, particularly freshmen Mario Goins (#23) and Otis Merrill (#4), to see if they can avoid embarrassing themselves. Pray to all that is merciful that undersized wood-layer Jay Valai(#26) has wrested the strong safety spot from the bizarrely poor tackling Aubrey Pleasant (the guy was a competitive power-lifter but he can't wrap up?). See if back-up tackles Jeff Stehle(#79) and Patrick Butrym(#95) make any plays against a pretty stacked offensive line. Watch Jaevery McFadden (#47) take snaps at Casillas's spot-- he may be the most athletic LB on the team. In short, there should still be fun things to look for, even though you'll be watching a skeleton crew defense operating against a pretty stacked offense. Wait, what if the defense dominates the offense? Uh oh....

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