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Wisconsin Football’s Outfield Back Room Is Best in Years | National

Coach Paul Kristel said the injury to young full back Nick Herbig this spring was a good thing for that center group.

Herbig is arguably the best returning player in the University of Wisconsin football team’s defense, posting nine sacks and two forced plans during a breakout second season. He struggled with a left arm injury that sidelined him during 11v11 drills during spring practice, but Krist thinks the silver lining of Herbig’s leave is what has been done for the players who will have reps behind him.

The Redshirt’s sophomore Caden Johnson was in the first group taking the Herbig’s fieldside role outside the linebacker, and he lit up the sportsmanship that made him a four-star recruit. Johnson and freshmen TJ Bowlers and Daryl Peterson all took big strides forward with extra time on the court.

“I loved the way they handled him,” Crest said of the outside set-back. “We think DP, TJ, Kaden… these three, it was a really good spring. I loved the way they approached spring, and it is precious time.”

Herbig wasn’t shy about what he, senior CJ Goetz, and the trio of less experienced players thought.

“In my years here, it was the best room the place had ever been,” Herbig said. “I think he talks a lot about the work ethic and the kind of training that coach (Bobby) April puts us in.”

The fact was that it took a while for the lights to go off among the young group of outside linebackers was to be expected. Center coach Bobby April III – who was not available to speak with reporters when his players did on Monday – said several times that the number of responsibilities his group has made it difficult to learn quickly. Herbig, who started as a real freshman in 2020, is the exception to this rule.

UW outboard runners are required to set the rim against running, to be rushing on the first pass, and also to drop in coverage, trying to ward off roads to tight ends, rears and receivers alike.

“The hardest part is being able to do all of that and also being able to really focus on the little details while being asked to do all of that,” Goetz said. “Different target points or different foot movement with different calls, all of that.”

Christian said both Johnson and Bowlers have made great strides during their pot preparation practices, and that has carried over into the spring. Both showed faster first steps off the ball and made better passing dribbling moves to put a steady pressure on the midfielder. Johnson credited his rise to doing better in the weight room, while Bowlers said his confidence was boosted simply by feeling comfortable in his role after being a defensive end in high school.

“Once you understand what’s going on with defense, you can really start to focus on the key parts of what attacking does,” said Bowlers.

Peterson played 17 shots in the Las Vegas Bowl, which helped convince him that he could play at that level after he had some success in coaching.

“Being a freshman, you get kind of nervous about the whole thing,” Peterson said. “So being there is kind of nerve-wracking. I feel like once I get into the season it will be like coming off where we left off.”

The Badgers, who have a deeper talent to work with, may be able to rotate more at the outside centre-back than they have in recent seasons. Herbig played 647 of 746 (86.7%) of the team’s defensive shots last season, while senior Noah Burks played 618 (82.8%), according to the PFF. Having the second and third options in a key position as the outside quarterback is something that separates the UW from the likes of Ohio State, the Big Ten Conference class for most of the past decade.

The group is immersed in their praise of each other’s development and celebrates their victories during 1 on 1 passes and the team’s practice drills. They dined together at April’s house on a Sunday night, and Louisiana swarmed an April tribute to lobster etuff and Popeye chicken.

Herbig retweeted a photo of the group around the dinner table with the caption, “Organization of Likeminded Brothers OLB,” a reference to the short title of their post. Players have a strong belief in each other and what they will bring to defense this fall.

“We all come up with a slightly different style of play,” said Bowlers. “Some people may be a little more subtle, others may be a little more powerful, so it can keep people alert.”

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