Wisconsin looks to alleviate defensive line pains

first_imgDEREK MONTGOMERY/Herald photoOpening the year, head coach Barry Alvarez’s goal was to make Saturday’s match-up with No. 14 Michigan a big game.”That was one of the goals we set at the beginning of the season, was to make this a big game,” Alvarez said.And with a 3-0 record heading into the contest, Wisconsin has certainly met those expectations. However, Wisconsin wasn’t planning on getting to that record at the expense of three defensive linemen. Yet such is the case for the Badgers this season.Wisconsin was already down two players heading into last Saturday’s contest with North Carolina, but things got worse when sophomore Jamal Cooper suffered what appears to be a torn anterior cruciate ligament.”That was the area hit most by graduation … you lose one in the summer with a broken leg [defensive tackle Mark Gorman], you lose another one, for how long I don’t know, in [sophomore Justin] Ostrowski and now you lose Coop. Your best two going into fall camp are gone and three total after going in with not much experience, so I am concerned,” Alvarez said.Wisconsin was also without defensive end Kurt Ware for Saturday’s game after the sophomore contracted chicken pox. But Ware has been cleared to participate in meetings and practice this week and will certainly be a key player on the field this weekend as University of Wisconsin strives to replace the disruptive Cooper.Along with Ware, Wisconsin will look to its most veteran member, junior defensive end Joe Monty, to fill the void left by Cooper. Monty saw his most action of the season against the Tar Heels and his workload will only increase as UW tinkers with its defensive line rotation. Monty is not the pass rusher Cooper was, but coaches like the pass-rush ability of freshman Matt Shaughnessy, and feel Monty is a reliable fill-in for Cooper.”He’s not the fastest guy, he’s not the biggest, he’s not the strongest guy, he’s just a football player,” Alvarez said. “He’s very smart and he’s where he’s supposed to be. So you know exactly what you’re going to get from him.”Working in Wisconsin’s favor was the deep rotation employed by defensive line coach John Palermo in the Badgers’ first two games this season. UW habitually rotated eight players along the defensive line throughout those games, and with the high offensive output against Temple, UW had the luxury of playing several players further down the depth chart. Some of those players, including Shaughnessy and fellow defensive end Brandon Kelly, will see their time significantly increased due to the injuries. Yet the team doesn’t seem worried about the players they are forced to rotate into the lineup. “Everyone’s just got to step up and know their roles,” defensive tackle Nick Hayden said. “We’re not going to make any changes; we just have to keep working harder.”Another possibility to shore up the defensive line could be the use of left tackle Joe Thomas. Two years ago, as a true freshman, Thomas played defensive end for Wisconsin in the Music City Bowl and his presence on the line this weekend is not something the coaching staff has ruled out.”There’s a possibility,” Alvarez admitted. “Last week, we had him ready if need be for [a] goal-line situation. It might be for a play here or there, if need be — in an emergency, but that would be the only way.”Hampton focuses on special teams: Junior Zach Hampton’s time in the defensive backfield has been limited the past two weeks, mostly due to his gutsy play on special teams. Hampton proved his value on special teams again over the weekend, where, as a gunner, he helped Wisconsin down four punts inside the 20-yard line. Leading some to compare the Lancaster, Wis., native to last year’s special teams star gunner, Scott Starks. “Sparky I think was special,” Alvarez said. “He had done it for four years, and, let’s face it, he’s one of the faster guys on our team. Guys could not hold him up on the line of scrimmage. They could double him, they could do whatever, but no one could hold him up; he had a knack for getting off the ball.”While Alvarez is not yet comfortable comparing Hampton to Starks, Wisconsin’s head coach feels confident Hampton will give every bit the effort Starks did last year. Alvarez is also hoping a greater focus on special teams will make Hampton an even greater playmaker for the squad this season. “Effort-wise we’re going to get that from Zach. Zach is a tenacious competitor,” Alvarez said. “He did [play as a gunner] the first week, but he was playing every snap, and I think that took away from some of his effectiveness as a sprinter, just because, he was worn down … now, he’s more on special teams in certain situations, so he’s fresh, and I think that helps.”last_img read more