September 25, 2009

Defensive line play allows linebackers to succeed

MADISON, Wis. - The numbers are not gaudy. But they don't need to be.

Through three games, the Wisconsin defensive line has only accounted for 23 percent of tackles.

Meanwhile, through the same three games, the linebacking unit has been able to record 40 percent of all tackles. So, you combine those two percentages and the front seven of the Badger defense make up nearly two-thirds of all tackles.

And that is a sign that proves solid defensive line play sets up solid linebacker play and solid defensive play in general.

"If the defensive line plays good, we play good," senior linebacker Jaevery McFadden said. "And when the d-line and linebackers play good, the secondary plays good. So it all intertwines with each other."

On the surface, one would think the defensive line's main purpose is to stuff the run on rushing plays and pressure the quarterback on passing plays. But there is so much more than that.

Obviously not all four linemen will be in a position to make a tackle on a given play. What they can do, though, is take the attention from opposing offensive linemen and force them to block them.

By doing so, that offensive lineman is not capable of moving toward the linebacker and blocking him. Which, in turn, allows the linebacker to generate a better chance of making a play on the ball carrier.

"They keep blocks off us and give us time to read the play and just allow us to play a lot faster," junior linebacker Culmer St. Jean, who recorded a career high 15 tackles last week against Wofford, said. "It goes vice-versa. If we're playing faster, then they're going to get off double teams and they're going to have to get off blocks and come get us.

"It's a great relationship to have."

It's also great to have one of the conference's best 'tackles-for-loss' guys on said defensive line. In three games, senior end O'Brien Schofield has been able to rack up 20 tackles. Seven and a half of those have come behind the line of scrimmage.

By disrupting the flow of the offense in such a manner, Schofield really allows the linebackers a chance to be productive.

"Having a guy like OB putting pressure on the quarterback like he's doing, and helping us in the running game, it's definitely a breath of fresh air," McFadden said. "You don't have to make all the plays. You don't have to work extra hard to get to that gap when people are coming down and making that tackle for loss.

"It's definitely a good feeling when you got a guy like OB outside."

Inside, Daniel Moore, Jeff Stehle and Patrick Butrym have accounted for 18 tackles. A relatively small number on the surface, but the defensive tackle position is not necessarily one where tackles pile up.

Their main job is to remain stout against the run and get in the way of the offensive counterparts so they can't down block the linebackers. And in essence, that is how the linebackers have had success and what will need to continue if the defense is to succeed when conference plays ensues Saturday.

"Dan Moore and OB are telling us how they hold the extra block just a little bit longer for us linebackers to get free," McFadden said. "That's love man. Them holding that extra block so I can get the tackle. I can't complain.

"It's definitely a good feeling."

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