MADISON - Wisconsin defensive line coach Chad Kauha'aha'a inherited an experience-laden position group from Charlie Partridge. But the defensive line is going through a major transition this spring as Kauha'aha'a and Gary Andersen start to install their 3-4 defense.
It's a major shift for a team that mostly played with four players on the defensive line over the last few years, but Kauha'aha'a thinks his position group is about where they need to be this early into the season. I caught up with Kauha'aha'a after practice on Wednesday, and we spent a little time talking about his position group. His answers are included below.
How's spring ball going for you guys so far? I suppose it's a big transition for the guys to move from the even front to the odd one so far.
The transition to the odd defense, the 3-4 defense, it's coming along. Obviously we're not moving at a fast pace. It takes a little while for these guys to grasp it but we've got a smart group of players. I think we are where we need to be as a front. There's going to be some growing pains. They're out of their comfort zone a little bit. But they're smart guys, they've bought in to the defense and they're excited to see things with it. I think progress is going well.
What's the biggest transition they have to make? Is it with the techniques they use or the mindset?
There's a lot of things. It's not a mentality, I think they'll kind of feed off of me as they get to know me. They'll start becoming like me hopefully. That's going to take some time. They've been with a guy for five years, so I don't expect that to change overnight just like how I don't expect the defense to change overnight. I think the difference in technique, there's not a lot of difference. There's some, but the main thing is understanding my terminology and kind of letting go of what they've done before. That's been something a little different from the guys but they're getting it.
And then just scheme wise, it's a little odd for them to be in that four (technique). What I'm telling them is that 'It's not as odd as you think, because if you're the left end playing in the left four (technique), just image you're on the right side playing in a five technique. The only difference is that you're facing a tackle and a guard. They didn't really see it that way at first, but when it go through their head it was pretty easy. We're doing a lot more two-gapping, so that's something new for a lot of these guys.
Our goal this year is to work behind the line of scrimmage. That's my stress point this spring. We've got to get to that point. We're lucky-we're going against some of the best o-linemen in the country, and that's what we've got to be prepared for in the Big Ten. We've got to be the number one in our conference (at stopping the run). And we should be able to. The o-line we go against, that's what we do at Wisconsin- we pound [the run.]
Are there any players so far who have impressed you?
You know, I've got a pretty veteran group. Warren Herring, I think he's an explosive athlete. We've bulked up Warren to a weight he wasn't at, and he's adjusted well to it because he's such an athletic and explosive guy. We'll put him at nose and at end. He's going to be a dual guy.
Also really pleased with Konrad Zagzebski. He's been really impressive. Explosive, physical guy up front. Also, a younger guy who hasn't been heard of is Jake Keefer. Jake's done a great job of grasping the defensive technique right away. It's going to be easier for me to mold the younger guys, the guys who haven't been here as long as the older guys. From that standpoint they're picking it up fast and I'm impressed with what those guys are doing.
And then you've got your veterans. Ethan Hemer is a warrior. He's playing with a jacked up finger and I can't stop him from doing anything. He's coming a long. Jesse Hayes is another one showing a lot of promise off the edge in pass-rush situations, and he's slowly picking up the run technique. Obviously we've got to put a lot of weight on Jesse. We'll get him there, but we've got some dept. And obviously Beau Allen is out. I can't wait to work with him. He's not going to practice this spring. He doesn't need to. He's a proven warrior. He's a smart guys so he'll pick up the defense pretty fast.
Do you need to have a set number of linemen who you can rotate in and out of games? That's something the last staff really stressed.
We need a solid two-deep. But in this defense there's so many different packages. This year there's going to be multiple packages to use different strengths here and there. That's a typical thing, but we're going to do it more than the norm. So these guys have to be on point with the different sub packages that are going on. We're going to need about eight or nine guys to do this thing.