August 15, 2011

Solid depth up front

MADISON - First year co-defensive coordinator Charlie Partridge admits that his defensive line is as deep as it's ever been, at least during his tenure in Madison. With a stable of six-to-eight players capable of seeing the field, it seems as though the position Partridge focuses on the most is in line for a big year.

Partridge spoke with the media following a recent practice. The following is a question and answer with one of UW's new defensive coordinators.

Has cohesion been an issues considering all the injuries so far in camp?

Partridge: I wouldn't say cohesion. There are certainly some guys that are up at the top of the depth chart that we miss their play and their leadership, but you know how it is. If one guy steps out then we need the next guy to step in and do whatever he can to play.

Patrick Butrym, down in Chicago during the Big Ten media days, was saying that Russell Wilson adds a new dynamic for your defensive line just because you have to stay more grounded. Are you starting to see that?

Partridge: Yeah, without a question. They're putting some plays in to take advantage of his mobility. The thing about Wilson is he's extremely smart. You see one rotation in the back end or you see one guy cheat and split a little bit and Russell knows what is going on. You add that to what you're talking about, with his feet, and it does add a dynamic. We're playing against a special athlete right there.

It kind of prepares you for the Big Ten season. You see a lot of those type of quarterbacks.

Partridge: It does, you go thorugh the schedule and you're talking about half the conference with quarterbacks that can run. I think it does definitely better prepare us for that Big Ten season.

How big of an issue is big plays?

Partridge: That's the issue. If we get better at tackling we're probably cutting at least three-quarters of those big plays. That's where we've got to make our improvements from here to the time we've got to play our first game.

What have you thought overall throughout the first week?

Partridge: I'm happy with how the kids are working. I think they're intent to get better everyday is in a good place. We've just got to get our guys healthy and we've got to get into a position where we're making the tackles when we've got the opportunity.

Coach Bret Bielema has emphasized the kicking competition as an open competition. How open do you see that competition?

Partridge: I think it's very real. I think it's very real that it's an open competition. We had a chance to have all the two's kickoff with Philip Welch a little bit nicked up. Alec Lerner did an outstanding job. He kicked them deep into the end zone with good hang time. So that's very real. Then Kyle French has been doing a nice job with the field goals so that competition will raise on throughout camp.

What's the biggest difference in French from last year, at least from what you've seen?

Partridge: I think the biggest thing is his confidence and his speed. We've got to get it off at this level real quick and he's picked his tempo up. He's confident out there and he's not rattled by Camp Randall. He's doing a good job.

David Gilbert talked about trying to get to 255 pounds and you tried to give him little motivational ploys. How excited were you when he finally hit that?

Partridge: Really excited. We've just got to make sure he doesn't lose any weight during camp. He can do some different things now that he hasn't been able to do during any point in his career against linemen at this level. I'm excited about where he is.

Is that kind of the same weight you want Louis Nzegwu at?

Partridge: Yeah, and actually that's what Louis is carrying. David weighed in at 251 yesterday and Louis is hovering around 252 pounds. They both have the same speed so it's exciting to see where they can go from there.

Louis said he got up to 260 pounds and wasn't feeling comfortable. Are you happy, I guess, that he's feeling comfortable at 255 pounds?

Partridge: I am. Like I said, he's moving well and by carrying that kind of weight he can do good things at that mid-250 range.

What have you thought of your defensive tackles overall?

Partridge: Really excited about Pat Butrym. He's playing at a really high level. Jordan Kohout is starting to see that form. We missed him from before he got hurt last season. He's starting to get back into that form and he's starting to show up. Beau Allen is still working on his footwork. At times it gets a little bit erratic. Ethan Hemer is playing extremely well, so I'm excited about all four of those guys. Then you have Eriks Briedis and Kyle Costigan that are continuing to fight in that mix. That, up front, is the best full unit of guys. We've got six guys that can play on gameday.

Are you starting to see the depth shake out with that group?

Partridge: I am. I'm starting to see, you know, you've probably got the four guys I mentioned first start to rise up a little bit. But Costigan and Briedis aren't going down without a fight. They're doing a great job of fighting to get up the depth chart as well.

How much has Antonio Fenelus grown up over the past year? Obviously with his play on the field, but he's also growing up off the field a lot, too.

Partridge: You can see his leadership start to rise. When we missed a few plays today he was one of the first guys to rally the troops and calm them down. He'd say, 'Guys, we've just got to make the plays we're assigned to make.' That's when you see a guy really mature and you can see how much it means to him right now.

Would you say Hemer has made the most strides just with pure fundamentals and technique?

Partridge: I'll be honest with you, I think Pat Butrym has. I think Butrym, like I said, is fundamentally playing at a high level and that's leading to some plays. But Ethan Hemer is doing a nice job as well.

What have you liked out of your freshmen? Obviously that's not your main focus right now, but some of the young guys, especially in your developmental drills with the young linebackers, too. It seems like they're going to be some good players, too.

Partridge: I'm excited about that whole class of linebackers and then they showed up at the end of the scrimmage (Friday) and made some nice plays. They're running hard. The defensive line spot you've got Joe McNamara and Bryce Gilbert coming out of their redshirt year and they're doing things they've never done. They're both over 300 pounds, they're both stepping well and getting into good position.

The next step for them is to start getting off blocks and getting into the backfield. Jesse Hayes has done some exciting things this camp, but still has a long ways to go. James Adeyanju is extremely athletic, but just has to learn the game.

That really speaks to your depth on the defensive line when you have guys like Bryce and Joe on your line that aren't really a factor this year even though they probably could be on a couple of teams?

Partridge: Yeah, you think about when I first got here in 2008, just sheer numbers. There was a time where you wondered if you were going to be able to practice 11-on-11 to a point where you truly do have a group of developmental guys. That's an exciting place to be.

It just speaks to the recruitment of defensive tackles and defensive ends over the past couple of years.

Partridge: I think so and there was a time where you know that there was a hole. A couple guys get hurt and a couple of things happen and you've got a big hole. So there was a class or two where we had to take big numbers and fortunately those guys are all working their tail off and progressing as football players. So that's added to the depth.

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